National Public Radio, the crisis-ridden broadcasting system, yesterday announced its budget would be slashed by nearly a third for fiscal year 1984, meaning more dismissal of on-air personnel but saving the essence of its award-winning news magazine shows.
"We must stop the hemorrhaging here as soon as possible," said Steven Meuche, chairman of the NPR board's finance committee.
The budget reductions range from 79 percent for the arts and performance division to 15 percent for news and information. They are part of a plan to save NPR from financial woes stemming from an estimated $5.8 million deficit revealed shortly before the resignation of NPR president Frank Mankiewicz.
The projected budget of $17.65 million compares with the 1933 figure of $26 million.
"It's a financially conservative budget we felt was doable," said Meuche.
At the network's Washington headquarters yesterday, several board members, along with interim managers and division directors, held a 2 1/2-hour give-and-take session with representatives of NPR's 270 member stations over a communications hookup.
"We are in a perilous state," said Ronald Bornstein, acting chief operating officer of NPR. "It pains any administration deeply when good people have to leave, especially when they haven't caused the problem."
The news and information division will lose 20 people, including seven reporters. The daily and weekend versions of ""All Things Considered" and the daily "Morning Edition" will be saved. At the beginning of the year, the division had about 100 people; it lost 20 employes in the first round of dismissals in March. The division's budget dropped from $5.3 million in January to $4.9 million after the initial cutbacks, and now will be $4.5 million.
"The programs will be less able to cover the hard, breaking news," said Barbara Cohen, vice president of news and information. "The most dramatic effect will be the product of the reporters. The average reporter does 10 stories a month. That's 70 reporter pieces a month, averaging 4 1/2 minutes apiece. We have to fill that. You'll hear more book authors, in a scramble to fill up air time."
More dismissals are scheduled to be announced today.
In the arts and performance unit, the budget has been reduced from $1.8 million for fiscal year 1983 to $400,000 for 1984. It already has lost "The Sunday Show," and the Peabody Award-winning "Jazz Alive!" is scheduled to go off the air Oct. 1. Plans right now, said NPR officials, call for the division to retain "a core staff," and basically acquire and assemble entertainment packages.
Several station representatives raised questions about eliminating the contemporary music, jazz and drama shows.
"Audiences tune infor news and classical music," said John Bos, director of performance programming. "Jazz and drama are not going to be ignored, but there are no plans to launch anything at this moment."
Board and management executives said yesterday they planned to ask the member stations to "redirect" to NPR $1.6 million the stations will receive in community service grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The stations will vote on the proposal by mail, and the results, as well as the new budget projections, will be presented to the full NPR board when it meets here June 21. An audit of NPR finances, conducted by Coopers and Lybrand, is due about June 10.
Appealing to the stations on the funding vote, Bornstein said, "There is no 'maybe.' It is yes or no. A no answer means this organization will have to close down."
Bill Kling, president of the influential Minnesota Public Radio, described the call for $1.6 million as a "hardship" for many of the financially strapped stations. "We should be called on as a source of funding only as a last resort," he said. Will Lewis of KCBW in Santa Monica, Calif., disagreed, saying, "The stations have to make a good-faith effort."
Last week NPR received a $500,000 interest-free loan from CPB to meet its payroll and other expenses The loan must be repaid by Aug. 31.