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Several ValleyPBS staffers were laid off Friday in a cost-cutting move that station president/CEO Lorenzo Rios said was due to revenue losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

President/CEO Lorenzo Rios

Rios said the staffers were administrative and not the operational employees responsible for keeping the station on the air. He would not confirm how many were laid off or their positions.

But sources with knowledge of the layoffs said the employees who were let go were the station’s operations/traffic manager, a production director/editor, a videographer/editor and a Ready to Learn program coordinator.

The station’s social media manager also left this week, sources reported, because she had asked to work from home because of her concerns over COVID-19 and her newborn child, but her request was rejected.

Station Faces Dropping Revenues

Rios said the decision to lay off employees was not an easy one, and the employees laid off were “some remarkable individuals who we care for dearly.”

But, faced with a decline in revenue, the station had to act to “make sure the mission is not compromised,” he said.

ValleyPBS, which serves the portion of the San Joaquin Valley stretching from Merced to Bakersfield, will continue to provide the same programming without interruption, he said.

Rios said the station’s revenues were affected when academic programs provided for school districts were terminated after the coronavirus outbreak closed schools and required that school events be canceled.

ValleyPBS had to cancel several fundraisers because of coronavirus-related restrictions, including the popular travel raffle, he said: “We’re not sending folks to England.”

Revenue Challenges in Recent Past

But revenue shortfalls have been a problem for ValleyPBS in recent years, according to nonprofit tax exemption reports required by the IRS.

Form 990 reports filed over a three-year period show that the station posted an operations loss of nearly $400,000 in 2014, a loss of more than $230,000 in 2015, and a loss of about $200,000 in 2016.

In 2017, the station reported that revenue exceeded expenses by more than $1 million.

One of the laid-off employees who asked not to be named said the station staff was warned at a meeting in February that revenues in 2020 were coming in lower than expected and to be prepared to “buckle down.” The warning was issued before the COVID-19 outbreak hit the region, the employee said.

Rios said he did not recall having that discussion with staff last month.

Leadership Change in November

Rios became CEO of the station in November, following the ouster of former local newscaster Jenny Toste from the position after seven months on the job.

In addition to running ValleyPBS, Rios is also the CEO of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.

Revenues Also Down at KVPR

No layoffs are planned for KVPR, the region’s public radio station, although some employees’ hours have been reduced to trim costs because of lowered revenues, president Joe Moore reported Friday.

Moore could be heard on the radio this week making a personal appeal to listeners to support the station now. That strategy apparently struck a chord: Donations this week picked up, he said.

It hasn’t been an easy time to operate, he said, with almost all staffers working from home during the virus outbreak.

“If we had built the radio station to operate remotely, that would be one thing,” Moore said. “Trying to build that capacity at the same time that you are working remotely, it’s a really big challenge. It’s like trying to rebuild the engine of a car while the car is going down the highway at 55 miles an hour.”

The station had to postpone major fundraising events, including the annual wine-tasting —  the station’s biggest annual fundraiser — which will be rescheduled for October, if conditions permit, he said.

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