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CapRadio lays off 12% of staff, cancels music programs amid financial issues

CapRadio's office on Folsom Boulevard, pictured on Sept. 1, 2023.
Mike Hagerty
CapRadio's office on Folsom Boulevard, pictured on Sept. 1, 2023.

CapRadio last week announced it laid off 12% of its staff and canceled four music shows because of ongoing financial issues.

Management on Wednesday, Aug. 30, laid off nine employees based in Sacramento and three employees in Chico who worked at North State Public Radio (NSPR), which CapRadio operates.

CapRadio gave three additional workers a final employment date, Interim General Manager Tom Karlo said Friday. Before the layoffs, the NPR member station had 102 positions.

The canceled Saturday music shows are “Mick Martin’s Blues Party,” “Hey, Listen!,” “K-ZAP on CapRadio” and “At the Opera,” the station announced Friday. Three of them aired on CapRadio’s news station, while one ran on the music station. Karlo called the show eliminations unfortunate, but said ending the mixed format of news and music on the same channel could help the station financially.

“It was a hard decision, but I think it will actually increase our audience and hopefully increase membership,” Karlo said. “It's not to say that the music stuff wasn’t very valuable for us. It is. But you know, our anchor store — what really makes CapRadio — is our news and public affairs and information service.”

NSPR had two locally hosted music shows canceled — jazz on Monday nights and “Tapeta Lucida.” The station additionally lost CapRadio’s “Hey, Listen!,” which was on NSPR’s schedule.

Former Modern Music Director Nick Brunner, who had worked for the station for 16 years and hosted “Hey, Listen!” since 2016, said human resources told him his position was being eliminated on Wednesday. Brunner said he wasn’t able to say goodbye to local musicians, industry insiders or listeners and was supposed to represent the station at the upcoming Sacramento Pop Fest.

“Now that dries up immediately thanks to this incredibly poorly thought out, reprehensible action on behalf of Tom Karlo and the CapRadio board,” Brunner said.

Brunner added the abrupt end to “Hey, Listen!” is devastating and that he doesn’t think management has a plan in place to support the station’s music services. He pointed out CapRadio isn’t a journalism-only outlet and said local music programming is a public service. On Instagram, local artists have posted recordings of “Hey, Listen!” broadcasting their songs, Brunner said, showing music programming connects communities and has meaning.

CapRadio Board Chair Andrea Clark declined an interview request. In a Wednesday press release, she said the station will continue providing content across all platforms.

“Our board is working closely with CapRadio’s management team and our license holder Sacramento State to strengthen leadership, ensure financial sustainability and safeguard the organization’s journalistic independence,” Clark said in the statement.

In addition to music hosts, the layoffs also included news hosts and staff working in digital, Karlo said. The station plans to pre-record hosts ahead of time and automate voicing with playlists, he added. National programming is scheduled to replace the canceled music shows.

Brunner said there are misconceptions about the connection, skills, drive and work that goes into music hosting.

“It's looked at as completely disposable because of internet streaming services that have come up,” Brunner said. “But it's very, very different and people know that. And it's a shame.”

Station cites budget issues

CapRadio announced the layoffs the same day the board approved the budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, two months after the year began. Of the $21 million in expected revenue, at least $5 million are one-time funds, according to information Board Treasurer Bena Arao presented during the public meeting Wednesday. Operating expenses are projected at $19.2 million, an increase of 8% compared to the prior year.

To prepare for a revenue drop next fiscal year, Arao said the finance committee recommended layoffs and holding an unspecified number of positions vacant. The cuts will reduce employee costs by $1.3 million for CapRadio and $183,000 for NSPR compared to the previous year, according to the presentation.

Of the 102 positions before the layoffs, 82 were based at CapRadio and 20 were at NSPR, said Chief Brand and Development Officer Shirlee Tully. Three of the 12 employees laid off on Wednesday were full-time and the rest were part-time, Tully said.

The budget’s expenses also include $3.3 million in outstanding bills CapRadio has yet to pay from the 2022-23 and 2021-22 fiscal years.

“There are numerous programming services that we owe money to,” Karlo said. “And I’d really rather not say their names at this point because we are working with them and there are some other vendors that we're going forward with. People understand these difficult times in the world of media.”

Staffing cuts at other outlets earlier this year include NPR and Southern California Public Radio, which both announced plans to layoff roughly 10% of its staff. Other NPR member stations have reduced positions since the COVID-19 pandemic, such as KPBS in San Diego, which cut positions and staff hours in June 2020.

Karlo was KPBS’s general manager at the time, and retired in December 2020 after working for the joint NPR and PBS station for 47 years. Karlo began working as CapRadio’s interim general manager on Aug. 16 and said he doesn’t know when the need for layoffs in Sacramento became apparent to station management.

Costly multi-year projects CapRadio has worked on in the past five years include building both a new headquarters and a live event space in Downtown Sacramento. The station is also relocating the KXPR broadcast tower to expand the music station’s reach.

Management has delayed the move into the new headquarters to January, Karlo said, and is trying to determine whether it can open the event space sooner than next year. But the 2023-24 budget includes roughly $500,000 in expected revenue from the event space. Depending on when the space opens, Karlo said the station will adjust both the revenues and expenses tied to it.

In a Friday statement, CapRadio said the tower relocation project has been in the works for more than 15 years.

The next public CapRadio Board of Directors meeting is scheduled for Sept. 28. Details on how to join the meeting are available on the station’s website.

“CapRadio has been working over that time to secure the necessary resources, partnerships and regulatory approvals to bring this vision to life,” the statement said. “The new tower is going through final inspections, and there will be more information made available.”

Disclosure: This story was reported and written by Sacramento Government Reporter Kristin Lam and edited by Digital Editor Claire Morgan. Following NPR’s protocol for reporting on itself, no CapRadio corporate official or news executive reviewed this story before it was posted publicly.

Editor’s note: Information regarding North State Public Radio show cancellations added by NSPR Assistant Program Director Sarah Bohannon.  

As CapRadio’s Sacramento Government Reporter, I focus on covering Sacramento City Hall and connecting policy decisions to people’s daily lives.
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