WMNF to end its afternoon news and talk shows

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Tampa Bay area community radio station WMNF 88.5-FM is making some changes in its programming for 2015, and that includes eliminating its locally produced afternoon news and talk show programs.

The WMNF Drive-Time News has been airing from 4:00-4:30 over the past two years, followed by the half-hour talk show called The Last Call from 4:30- 5:00 p.m. Those shows will be jettisoned in favor of music programming, which will now run from 1:oo p.m through the rest of the evening, with three five-minute newscasts airing at 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

In a note distributed to interested programmers and other observers at the Tampa radio station on Tuesday night, Program Director Randy Wind wrote, “We will compete better with (WUSF’s) All Things Considered with music with newscasts.”

The station will also be moving one of its most popular programs, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!, from 12:00 noon to 9:00 a.m. That will be followed by a block of different public affairs programming airing between 10:00-11:00 a.m., and then Rob Lorei’s talk show running from 11:00 a.m.- 12:00 noon, maintaining its current place on the schedule. There will be an additional hour of public affairs programming from 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. before music takes over for the rest of the broadcasting day. Wind notes that he hopes listeners to NPR’s Morning Edition “will join WMNF not just for Democracy Now but for all four hours of public affairs.”

When asked to elaborate on his decision to eliminate the afternoon news and public affairs shows, Wind told SaintPetersBlog that, “Competing with ATC with news programming is futile and our news can reach more listeners in short newscasts. Our loss of audience at 4 pm is dramatic.”

But Rob Lorei, the station’s News & Public Affairs Director, disagrees. He wrote in an email that, “The 4pm news and Last Call has an advantage over All Things Considered because the hour is mostly state and local, it is interactive, and it covers a lot of issues that no other local radio station will cover. I think it’s a mistake to cut back the afternoon news and public affairs on WMNF,” adding that “It seems like a rash, short-sighted decision.”

Some observers say the writing was on the wall for the news program to be eliminated once the station made the decision this summer not to hire a replacement for reporter Janelle Irwin (who now works for SaintPetersBlog). WMNF Drive-Time anchor Sean Kinane says not having a regularly paid news reporter on staff has been “tough,” and hopes that situation is remedied at some point. The station has been using volunteers to cover news stories since Irwin’s departure.
The station in recent years had cut back the length of both the news program and The Last Call. 
The WMNF Evening News ran from 6:00-7:00 p.m. from 2003-2011, and then moved to the 4:00 p.m. time slot for an hour, with the Last Call debuting for an hour running from 5:00-6:00 p.m.
But in January of 2013 the newscast was cut down to a half-hour, and the Last Call as well.
Among the hosts of the Last Call currently are the aforementioned Irwin, former Fox-13 reporter Warren Elly, and this reporter, who also previously served as the assistant News & Public Affairs Director at WMNF from 2000-2009. But Elly recently stepped down from the program, after growing frustrated with the show’s reduced airtime.

“I loved Last Call, but I found myself spending way too much time producing it — worrying about it — for only half an hour of air time,” he wrote to SaintPetersBlog via Facebook Tuesday night. “After taking a month-long road trip in October, I decided to step away from the show and see what programming changes WMNF would make. As for the proposed afternoon news cuts, I’m not happy to see them. We need more, not less public affairs.”

The community radio station is facing a number of challenges in a changing media landscape. Some of those issues were reflected in a recent story written by freelance reporter Curtis Ross in Creative Loafing earlier this fall.

Last night’s unveiling of the tentative schedule will be finalized on December 1. The new schedule begins on January 19.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.