Programming changes are common at radio stations, but news this week that WUSF-FM was dropping its veteran late-night jazz show sent shockwaves through social media.
Jazz has featured nightly, with local hosts, on the Tampa-based public radio station for 56 years. Until last spring, music played all night, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Jazz was reduced to three hours – from 9 p.m. to midnight – in March.
It will be “replaced with great public radio programs starting Monday, October 31,” said WUSF chief executive JoAnn Urofsky. Creative stroll editor Ray Roa on Tuesday.
According to Urofsky, “WUSF 89.7 will focus entirely on news and information, including weather and safety, so that we can better serve Florida residents.”
She told Roa that jazz programming will be moved to the station’s Arts Axis online site. The station posted a job search, for an “Arts Axis Florida Jazz Brand Manager.”
Calls and emails from Catalyst at Urofsky, as well as program director Sheila Rue, were not immediately fired.
On-air host Steve Splane, who had been on the WUSF jazz team since 2017 (having started behind the mic there in the 1970s, followed by a 25-year stint with CBS News in New York), also spoke with Roa for her story.
Splane was fired by phone Tuesday morning.
Mike Cornette served as the station’s jazz director from 2008 until his retirement a year ago.
“When I was there, the share — which is the percentage of audience listening — was always in the Top Ten during that time,” Cornette said. “So I don’t understand what their logic is for getting rid of it, but I feel like they’ve been thinking about it for a while.”
When he left, he added, “They wanted to put the thing on autopilot, without a Jazz manager. It’s not a part-time job. They assigned him to another member of staff, from a different department, to handle much of the day-to-day work. But he had a full-time job; he didn’t have enough time to do it properly. There was a lot of work to do. »
Cornette, like his predecessor Bob Seymour (35 at WUSF), was a well-known figure in the Tampa Bay music scene. WUSF Jazz has been heavily involved in local concerts and other community events, as well as artist promotions and studio performances.
“Over the decades it’s been on the air, a community has been built,” he said. “You can see it in the number of jazz concerts that take place throughout the year. We have jazz concerts all summer at the Palladium.
“Partially and as a whole, I think it’s because of the role that WUSF Jazz has played in the jazz community – where all the young players have listened and found their inspiration. What we were trying to do was bring the gospel of jazz to the masses.
“And I think we were doing a good job.”
Bassist Philip Booth is a member of Acme Jazz Garage, a venerable band from Tampa that often appears on WUSF jazz programs.
“It’s like an old friend was brought back and shot, and thrown into a ditch,” Booth said. “And no one wants to take responsibility for it.
“My question would be: do they really believe that there is a much larger audience of serious news listeners who want more news content from BBC News or NPR? Has it turned out to be a real financial boon for other stations across the country? »