Into the Air

WUOT restructures staff, programming may follow soon

Anyone who's read the recent "From the Manager's Desk" posting on the top of 91.9 WUOT's website may have already suspected there are some changes afoot at the local public radio station. The short letter announces a "recently completed strategic planning process" that when implemented will allow the station to "become a stronger and distinctive voice in the cultural, civic and intellectual life of this community."

What readers may not have gotten out of station manager Regina Dean's cryptically cheerful wording ("restructuring" and "rejuvenation" both make cameos in there) is that some of them have already gone through, starting with a little staff restructuring.

In early March, Dean elevated former business manager David Williamson to the position of assistant station manager and director of finances. As part of his job, Williamson oversees all of WUOT's departments and reports only to Dean.

If you follow the station, you might now be wondering if Williamson's job sounds a tad redundant. WUOT, after all, already has program director Daniel Berry, host of classical music shows "Morning Concert" and "Afternoon Concert" and a longtime fixture at the station.

"I still retain the title of program director," says Berry. However, he's no longer news director Matt Shafer Powell's direct boss. While music and much of the support staff continue to report to Berry, both Berry and Powell now report to Williamson.

"What we're trying to do is work smarter and better," says Dean, who has recently put together a new plan for the station. So what does Berry think about all this?

"Let me say this: Most radio stations have one person overseeing the operations, and that person is the program director," he says before declining to comment further.

And there may be some programming changes on the horizon soon. While Dean is tight-lipped about what that could mean, she does say she has heard interest in introducing more National Public Radio (NPR) talk content to the station's roster.

"I think there are a lot of people who are interested in that," she says.

But she says listeners should not expect the station to switch to an all-NPR news-talk format, as NPR affiliate station WAMU in Washington, D.C. did in January 2007, much to the dismay of many of its longtime listeners. Dean says she'd like to see an increase in both national and local content, if possible.

"I have a fantastic studio in the back of this station. We have a grand piano back there. I'd love to see us do a little more live music at the station," Dean says. "We want to do both kinds of things."

But at least one former WUOT employee says he doesn't buy it. "I think we're going to see that station make a transition to talk, at least during the daytime schedule," says Norris Dryer, who formerly served as both program and music director at the station. "Regina Dean has no interest in music, personally or professionally, especially classical music."

But Berry says that as of this moment, there's only one programming debate actively taking place at the station, about replacing some of its afternoon and evening music programming—he didn't say which shows, specifically—with the nationally-syndicated show "Classical 24," which now airs Monday through Thursday at 10 p.m.

Part of the impetus for all the change, Dean says, is all that "new media"—podcasting, Web content, digital radio—that has had old media in such a panicked tizzy for the past few years. They're busy gearing up their website for more "interactive content" and are preparing to launch a digital station, Dean says. The other part is, of course, ratings. While WUOT's numbers haven't seen a recent decrease and the station's donations have been steadily going up, says Dean, public radio's ratings, both nationally and at WUOT, have also failed to grow over the past few years.

"We're not just in the radio business. We're in the content business now," she says.

But she does understand the nervousness that words like "restructuring" and "rejuvenation" can cause. They have often been known to mean "mass firing." That is not the case here, she says.

"We've probably got enough work for 16 full-time people here," she says. "And we've only got 13." And, she says, there are no current plans to restructure the staff anymore.

While hesitant to reveal any more specifics of the new plan, Dean will say that listeners should expect the new face of the station begin to show itself within the next three months.

"It's kind of a ‘stay tuned' sort of thing," she says.