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As WUSF looks to take All Night Jazz off the air, fans say it is a 'huge loss'

 Tampa-based jazz trio La Lucha performing with vocalist One Kirei at the WUSF studio in 2021.
WUSF Public Media
Tampa-based jazz trio La Lucha performing with vocalist One Kirei at the WUSF studio in 2021.

A beloved WUSF jazz format that has been on the air for 56 years will soon go online only, prompting strong pushback from a Tampa Bay audience that has accumulated across the decades.

Starting Oct. 31, the All Night Jazz format will be taken off the air, according to plans recently announced by WUSF station management. After that, local jazz programming from WUSF will live on the platform ArtsAxisFlorida.org, WUSF General Manager JoAnn Urofsky told staffers in an internal memo.

The decision is part of a switch to purely “news and information” programming, moving the station away from a mixed format.

The news – first reported by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay – has led to a Change.org petition asking the station management to reconsider the move. As of Thursday evening, the petition had reached more than 700 signatures.

Comments left by several petition signers say the program has long been an “institution” in the community, and celebrated the fact that it often put a focus on local musicians. If the program no longer airs on the radio, several signatories say they will stop making donations to the station.

A Reddit thread consists of listeners lamenting the decision and sharing stories about late-night listening sessions.

“There’s nothing else like it on the dial,” said jazz pianist and University of South Florida music professor Pablo Arencibia, who created the petition. “The show provides information about concerts, venues, local artists, all of that. Every night they play music from local artists at 11 p.m. People will not find new local artists, because they just won’t hear them. If that’s lost, that’s a huge loss.

“They do interviews with musicians that are touring in the area," he added. "I’m guessing there will be less audiences in the performances because people will just not hear about them."

In an email, Urofsky said WUSF's management does not “make these programming changes lightly.” She said the management decided to prioritize news and information over music in the future.

With the proposed change, Urofsky says the station will fully complete a transition from being a split-format news and music station to becoming “all news and information.” Syndicated programs like 1A and BBC World Service will fill the air times previously dedicated to music.

The station’s current slogan, posted atop the WUSF News website, is “News, Jazz, NPR.”

Urofsky downplayed any concerns about a slowdown in donations to the station following the programming switch.

“When people give to public radio stations, they do it at the time that’s convenient for them,” Urofsky wrote. “It’s also rare that someone gives for just one show or format on a station. We’re always focused on raising funds to support the station, but doing something that was right for the community outweighed the possibility of a financial loss.”

Comments on the All Night Jazz Facebook page have been disabled over the last few days.

Even prior to the announcement that All Night Jazz will soon be taken off the radio, the station moved to reduce music programming.

All Night Jazz for years broadcasted between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., until March, when the frequency of breaking news updates about Russia’s war in Ukraine prompted station management to roll the schedule back, from 9 p.m. to midnight.

In her internal memo, Urofsky told staffers that the March decision was made “to ensure that our audience would be served with the latest breaking news on the war because the BBC, like NPR, would be able to break into the programming to keep listeners updated.”

Urofsky said in a statement to media that the proposed change to move jazz to an exclusively digital format will mean it “will have an enhanced home” on the ArtsAxisFlorida.org platform.

“We’re currently searching for someone to lead this initiative as the Arts Axis Brand Manager for jazz,” she wrote in a memo. “This new staff member will have the opportunity to add jazz videos, live performances, podcasts and streams to the site and to keep WUSF connected to the jazz community.”

Arencibia, the USF professor, doubts that revamped, fully online jazz programming will “enhance” anything for the audience, compared to the level of engagement and community penetration the show already generates on broadcast radio.

“As you can imagine, here in Tampa and arts followers in this region are older adults. Not all of them will be following online content,” Arencibia said. “It’s really not the same to be on the radio [as] on a much smaller platform.”

Recent studies and surveys show that radio listening is declining slightly across all age groups, but it remains highest among the elderly. Yet even as more audiences switch to digital streaming, broadcast radio still dominates the audio field.

WUSF is the 18th most-listened-to radio station in the Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater market and second in news talk, according to Nielsen ratings measuring the average quarter hour "share." However, that rating does not include listeners who tune in between midnight and 6 a.m., which used to make up the bulk of All Night Jazz’s time slot.

Editor's note: The news teams at WUSF and WLRN frequently collaborate, as sister stations under the Florida Public Media network. This story was independently reported by WLRN reporter Daniel Rivero and edited by WLRN Senior Editor Jessica Bakeman. No executives at WUSF Public Media were allowed to see this article before it was published.

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Daniel Rivero - WLRN News