Thursday, August 6, 2020

Philly Radio: No Furloughs Planned At WHYY

In April, when large swaths of the economy were shut down because of COVID-19 and commuters stayed put, their car radios off, WHYY’s radio audience plummeted 39% from March. That led to a steep revenue drop from corporate underwriting and other sources.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports but unlike some of its peers around the country facing the same evaporation of listeners and advertisers, WHYY, the Philadelphia region’s largest public media organization, has not cut staff or instituted furloughs and doesn’t expect to in the foreseeable futur

That doesn’t mean the nonprofit has an easy road ahead, given continued uncertainty over how corporate sponsorships and individual giving will fare as the pandemic’s economic disruption continues. WHYY is expected to report a net loss for the year ended June 30, its first since 2009.

“While we feel good about where we are, we are hardly without financial challenges. We got a boatload of them,” but they “won’t trigger some of the more arbitrary or unfortunate cuts in staff or cuts in benefits or cuts in wages, at least not for the foreseeable future,” chief executive William J. Marrazzo said.

To save money, WHYY has frozen wages this year and will consider a reduction in its matching contribution to employees’ retirement accounts, if necessary, a spokesperson said.

The average weekly number of individual listeners fell sharply in April, the first full month that COVID-19 stay-at-home orders were in effect in WHYY's market area.

WHYY, which has expanded in the last decade through the acquisitions of news sites PlanPhilly and Billy Penn and of radio licenses at the Jersey Shore, still has plans to hire, including a mid-day radio host. It is something of an outlier in an industry that has seen peers in some other big cities, including Boston, Chicago, and Houston, cut jobs and institute furloughs, according to a tally by the Poynter Institute.

National Public Radio, which supplies a substantial amount of news to local affiliates such as WHYY, is among those instituting furloughs.

At WHYY, corporate and nonprofit sponsorships — elsewhere in media known as advertising — fell by $1 million in fiscal 2020, to $4.4 million. Two-thirds of that decline came in the three months ended June 30. The station is budgeting for even lower numbers in the current fiscal year.

This year’s final total revenue figure was not yet available. In 2019, WHYY had total revenue of $42.7 million, which means that advertising accounted for 13%. The organization’s biggest revenue source are memberships and contributions, comprising $18 million last year.

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