WMNF program changes leave staff feeling uneasy and doubtful

A bit of sibling rivalry was detected, as Wynne and News Director Rob Lorei each handed out his ideas for the new schedule. The schedules appeared to be identical at first, but the distinction came from the decisions as to what airs during the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., prime listening times for most radio stations.

With radio a declining medium, WMNF-FM like all stations must find new ways to be more inviting and tempt the public away from their iPods and CDs.

“I only listen to the radio while I’m in the car. I flip from station to station until I find something I like and if nothing's on, I switch to my Ipod,” said Andrea Cullins, a local radio listener.

Many programmers debated music versus news during the intense meeting last night. Which one do people want to hear more of and when do they want to hear it?

“People don’t like to listen to people talking during rush hour, on the drive home from work. They want to relax and unwind from their busy work day,” said one WMNF programmer.

Others believed that news and talk shows such as Democracy Now, which is currently being aired during the hours of noon and 1 p.m., should be aired later in the day because it requires the attention of listeners and cannot just simply be played in the background.

Currently, Wynne has the Amy Goodman program listed at 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., which he stressed is tentative.

The issue of not enough fundraising and finances came up when current president of the board of directors, Letty Valdes, urged the staffers and Wynne to take a harder look at the station's funding.

“The board of directors is extremely concerned about the financial state that the station is in. I want to know how these changes in programming are going to affect the station's ability to raise funds because without them, we’re not going to be here in a few months,” said Valdes.

A slew of concerns were voiced openly at Wynne, as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat,  attempting to respond to each staffer adequately.

Many listeners have expressed their concerns as the dispute has gone public.

“I always listen to WMNF throughout the day and at work, it’s the most diverse station in Tampa. If they change everything it’ll throw my whole day off balance,” said Sandy Belling, a local listener.

“I like that you can go to one place for both news and music. They’re taking a huge risk in changing. I hope it works,” said David Andrews, a frequent WMNF listener.

Some listeners feel like a change would be nice and allow the station to compete equally with other popular stations in Tampa.

“88.5 tends to be dry most of the day and it’s really more geared towards older people. The music isn’t really what younger people are listening to. I don’t like all that talking throughout the day, so I usually switch off to Lite 94.9. It’d be nice to see them livin’ it up a bit and pick up the pace,” said Kirstin Hermansen, a college student from USF.

“I like the idea that they’re trying to put a little of everything for every taste, but it seems to be inconsistent. When you flip in and out the station throughout the day it sounds like a bunch of different stations, you never know what’s on, at what time,” said Quinton Cowley, a local listener.

The opinions of staffers and listeners alike seem to be unanimous that the station lacks unity. However, Wynne ultimately has the final say on what the change will be.

The new schedule is set to be announced next Wednesday, December 1. Programs who do not appear on the new schedule must reapply for a spot.

Temperatures rose last night as members of the WMNF 88.5 community huddled in the bright teal room. With splashes of concern, worry and disappointment on their faces, they took their places, anxiously awaiting the start of what was obviously not going to be a comfortable discussion.

With the economy in turmoil and people continuing to struggle for their next paycheck, many nonprofits and small businesses are struggling, and WMNF-FM finds itself in that same place, desperately clinging onto their devoted listeners, all while attempting to attract new listeners to help fund the station.

Program Director Randy Wynne, facing a firestorm, has chosen to rework the current schedule in hopes of bringing in more revenue and attract more listeners to the station.

“We have a process here, every year where we look at possible schedule changes in our programming and evaluate how the programs are doing. A lot of pressure is always on to keep it the same because people love what we’re doing because we’re doing it already,” said Wynne.

According to the WMNF Program Change Policy, “programming changes are an integral and inherent component of programming.”

The criteria used for decisions on which programs to change, alter or eliminate is based on a combination of Arbitron surveys, marathon totals and listener surveys, as well as phone calls and letters from the listeners.

“It’s about being responsive to the broadcast environment,” said Wynne.

WMNF-FM has undergone a change like this one before, eight years ago. According to Wynne, people till this day continue to complain about the changes that were made back then. He strongly believes that this change is necessary in order to pull the station out of its financial rut.

But many current programmers and some staff members are not having it. Major changes in the schedule could result in many programmers losing their shows. Pleading their cases individually, most of those in attendance were unhappy with the tentative schedules.

“This feels like a reinvention!” said one staffer.

“We’re losing what makes us who we are!” said another audience member.

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