Big changes appear in store at Houston Public Media as longtime KUHF CEO John Proffitt and Channel 8 general manager John Hesse were dismissed from their current duties on Monday. The shakeup comes one day before new Houston Public Media CEO Lisa Trapani Schumate takes over as head of the entity that operates both radio stations (KUHF and KUHA) and the public television channel.
The University of Houston released a statement via email saying, "After much consideration and with the formation of Houston Public Media (HPM), a decision was reached to reorganize the management of the University of Houston's radio and television stations. Mr. John Hesse and Mr. John Proffitt have been placed on special projects in support of HPM and will be serving in these roles until Dec. 31, 2011."
Proffitt told CultureMap he was not surprised by the news, but was disappointed to be leaving his staff after 26 years with the University of Houston. "When we start talking about restructuring, you know you can very easily find yourself restructured out of job. I didn't think it was likely then, but that's what happened," he said.
Since joining KUHF in 1986, Proffitt saw the station budget grow from less than $500,000 to more than $8 million as its listeners grew from fewer than 80,000 to more than 360,000. It is now the most listened-to station in Texas for classical music and National Public Radio.
Proffitt considers the past season's acquisition of KUHA (FM 91.7) to be a career highlight. "Getting the all-classical station on the air and watching it become a great success, it couldn't be a better crown to my career," he said.
"I'm leaving a terrific staff here," Proffitt continued. "We just finished the most successful fundraising drive in the history of the station — almost $1.2 million between the two stations — and I couldn't be prouder.
"I'm most proud of having assembled a team of broadcast professionals that are quite literally the best people I've ever worked with. My big takeaway is a huge congratulations. They've got an incredible future ahead of them."
When the University of Houston purchased FM 91.7 this spring from Rice University and merged operations of what are now KUHF and KUHA, Proffitt told CultureMap in April that he didn't anticipate any staff changes, and indicated he might toss his hat into the ring when it came to running the merged operations of KUHF, KUHA and public television station Channel 8.
After a nationwide search for a CEO to oversee the combined operations, which merged officially in January, Houston Public Media named Shumate, former marketing director at Channel 11, executive director and general manager earlier this month.
Both Proffitt and Hesse had served on a task force assembled by UH chancellor Renu Khator to assess the roles of KUHF, Channel 8 and the Association for Community Broadcasting, whose fundraising board supports the stations. That task force recommended the Houston Public Media concept, and Proffitt said in a later email that he had not decided whether to apply for the CEO position, but hoped "to continue with Houston Public Media in some fashion going forward." He ultimately decided not to apply for the top job.
Hesse was unable to be reached at Channel 8. He had headed programming at KUHT Channel 8 since 1997, where he also managed production, development and community outreach. His broadcast career spanned more than 40 years across the country at both private and public stations.
Shumate declined to comment on the changes. "My first day isn't until tomorrow. It's really nothing I can talk about right now," she said.