Houston arts folks are still reeling from the news that most of the on-air staff at classical radio station KUHA-FM was laid off Thursday morning. The Dallas Morning News called it “bad news”; Culturemap Houston’s Joel Luks called it a “bloodbath.” The layoffs, which included some behind-the-scenes employees as well, meant the end of long-time show The Front Row and its producer Bob Stevenson. There is already an online petition in circulation politely pleading for the return of the show.
The Front Row featured in-depth interviews with artists and art organizations—usually from the musical and theatrical arts, but it often included enthusiastic interviews with visual artists. Just in the past few weeks, artists Michael Crowder and Todd Hebert were interviewed, as was filmmaker Barbara Hammer, in town for the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, just Wednesday. (Podcasts are sill online.)
Now, according to a KUHA press release, The Front Row is being “re-imagined into multi-platform local content that exposes artists and arts organizations to wider audiences,” said Lisa Trapani Shumate, executive director and general manager of Houston Public Media.
When a dozen employees were let go in February 2011 as part of a reorganization plan that combined KUHF 88.7, KUHA Classical 91.7 and PBS affiliate KUHT Channel 8, Shumate said, “This is a one-time move we’re going to make to align expenses and revenues.” But Culturemap also reports that Shumate let go several more staff members in June, including station manager Debra Fraser. Fraser’s departure upset the station’s most generous single donor, who withdrew a $500,000 matching challenge upon learning of Shumate’s decision.
Since the news of these latest layoffs came at the very tail end of KUHA’s membership drive, it will be interesting to see if any of their members balk at mailing those checks in support of now non-existent programs.