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WBUR cuts more than 10% of staff as revenue shrinks

The Boston University-owned station lays off 29, ends "Only A Game" sports show

Robin Young, cohost of WBUR's "Here & Now," interviewed author Angie Thomas in 2018.
Robin Young, cohost of WBUR's "Here & Now," interviewed author Angie Thomas in 2018.Robin Lubbock

WBUR-FM is cutting 29 employees, more than 10 percent of its workforce, amid a recession-driven drop in revenue that is battering all corners of the media business.

The layoffs across the organization are part of a realignment aimed at creating “the right structure for the future,” Margaret Low, chief executive of the Boston University-controlled NPR station, said Wednesday in an interview.

Among other steps Low announced in an e-mail to staff: eliminating wage increases in the fiscal year that begins July 1, except for negotiated union adjustments; withholding retirement fund contributions; and reducing spending by 13 percent, to about $40 million, in the upcoming fiscal year.

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Low, who joined WBUR in January, will take a 10 percent pay cut.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a painful decline in revenue at many news outlets, and layoffs have been significant at traditional news organizations and digital publications alike. Public radio stations, which are navigating the shift to digital programming such as podcasts, haven’t been spared.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Public Radio and its American Public Media unit eliminated 28 jobs, canceled a podcast, and said they would end national production of “Live from Here,” the program that evolved out of “Prairie Home Companion.” On the same day, Chicago Public Media, parent of WBEZ-FM, cut 12 jobs.

At WBUR, underwriting revenue declined by “millions of dollars” after local businesses that support the station closed or stopped promoting events, Low said.

“We’ve been really pressured due to the fallout of the last couple of months,” said Low, a former NPR executive who most recently ran The Atlantic’s events business. “So we had to cut deeper than we liked.”

Several senior executives will be leaving the station: executive news director Tom Melville; John Davidow, managing director of digital; and director of operations Peter Lydotes. Sam Fleming, managing director of news and programming, will retire, a move in the works since last year.

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WBUR will end production in July of “Kind World,” an NPR “Morning Edition” feature and podcast hosted by Andrea Asuaje and Yasmin Amer. “Only A Game,” a nationally syndicated sports program whose executive producer is Karen Given, will be discontinued in September. Meterologist David Epstein has been let go.

The New York Times, WBUR’s partner on “Modern Love,” will take over production of the podcast at the end of the month. Meghna Chakrabarti, host of the podcast, will remain at the station, where she also hosts “On Point,” Low said.

WBUR’s union, which last week reached its first contract agreement with the station, criticized Low for refusing to consider alternatives such as buyouts, furloughs, or pay cuts that would save jobs.

“We are also dismayed that Boston University and WBUR management implemented these layoffs while our unit is voting to ratify our first contract,” the union said in a statement.

Union members will get severance pay as laid out in their contract, even though it has not been ratified. The union declined to provide details.

Nonunion employees will receive pay and benefits for 10 weeks, as well as Boston University’s standard severance of one week of salary for each year on the job, a WBUR spokeswoman said.



Larry Edelman can be reached at larry.edelman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeNewsEd.