Northern Calif. combo lays off 30, including much of San Jose staff

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Northern California Public Broadcasting, licensee of KQED-TV/FM and KTEH-TV in San Jose, laid off 30 employees and cut its budget 13 percent as it reacted to double-digit losses in corporate support and major-donor revenue.

The restructuring, announced Feb. 2, also eliminated 14 vacant jobs and shuttered the broadcast studios of the San Jose station, which merged with KQED in 2006. The layoffs included 10 KTEH employees. A core staff of eight, including a small field production team, remains at San Jose.

The Bay Area pubcaster cut spending $8 million, reducing total outlays to $54 million. “This exercise is intended to keep us in good stead through this year and carry us through 2010,” said Jeff Clarke, NCPB president.

Corporate support and foundation gifts started to soften last spring, Clarke said, and his management team built “safety valves”—such as freezing the 14 open positions—into this year’s budget. But during the first two quarters of fiscal year, underwriting revenues slid 24 percent and income from major donors dropped 15 percent.

In addition, earnings from KQED’s endowment will contribute less than expected. The endowment’s value declined to $24 million, a 29 percent drop since September 2007 despite $2 million in contributions.

“We’re looking at a landscape in which the economy continues to soften,” Clarke said. “It’s not that people aren’t giving — they’re giving a little less.” Membership remains comparatively stable — the stations’ number of individual contributors has declined about 6 percent—but Clarke anticipates bigger losses in the upcoming spring pledge drives.

“Until the economy settles down and people are able to stay in their workplaces, we will see a continual softening,” Clarke said.

With new episodes of its local and national TV fare in the works, KQED was spared from canceling programs. New episodes of Quest; Check, Please! Bay Area; Spark; ImageMaker; This Week in Northern California and Truly CA will air locally this spring. Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures, KQED’s contribution to the PBS schedule, delivers three new programs in April. But the station emphasized that continuation of its TV productions depends on the availability of future funding. Both Quest and the Cousteau series are seeking renewal grants, Clarke said.

The radio lineup escaped major cuts, but four radio staff members, including two part-timers, were let go, spokesman Scott Walton.

Several mid-manager jobs were affected as KQED combined its interactive and education departments, reorganized its financial services unit and consolidated its technical operations for radio, TV and information technology. Two managers were given larger roles: Tim Olson, executive director of interactive, is now v.p. of digital media, a division that includes KQED’s education services; and Steve Welch, formerly the v.p. of television engineering, now heads all technical operations as v.p. of engineering and technology.

Managers at the v.p. level and above volunteered for pay cuts that reduced executive compensation by a total of 13 percent, according to Clarke. With the exception of essential operational staffers, all employees will be furloughed for one week.