Sara Willis, host of “In Tune” on Maine Public Radio, is retiring in October. Photo courtesy of Maine Public

Three longtime voices of Maine Public radio have accepted voluntary retirement offers, a move the nonprofit network says is needed to guard against future financial hardship as the pandemic continues.

Music hosts Sara Willis and Robin Rilette, along with news reporter Ed Morin, will retire from the network in early October. Willis has hosted the contemporary music series “In Tune” for 19 years and was on Blue Hill radio station WERU for 11 years before that. Rilette has hosted “Morning Classical” for six years and was on public radio in Washington state for 24 years. Morin has been a reporter and news producer for the Maine network since 1979.

In announcing the three retirements Wednesday, Maine Public President and CEO Mark Vogelzang said the network has avoided drastic shortfalls in revenue during the pandemic but retirements were offered to staff as a “proactive measure.” Vogelzang said other staff members at the station also took retirement offers, but he would not say how many or in what areas. He said the three on-air retirements were announced so listeners could be informed of their departures.

“We don’t know what future revenues will be like as this goes on, so we’re being cautious and prudent about how we’re budgeting,” Vogelzang said. “So far we’ve been lucky.”

Robin Rilette, host of “Morning Classical,” will retire from Maine Public in October. Photo courtesy of Maine Public

About 70 percent of Maine Public’s nearly $14 million budget comes from memberships, foundations and corporate support, Vogelzang said. About 25 percent comes from state and federal funding. Budget summaries provided by Maine Public show that the amount budgeted for corporate support and foundation revenue went down about $440,000 from fiscal years 2020 to 2021, and that revenue from other sources, including broadcast towers rented to other stations, went down about $160,000. But membership revenue went up more than $200,000 and state and federal funding increased by about $300,000.

The network reduced its budget for 2021 to $13,961,350 from $14,069,650.

The network includes seven Maine Public radio stations playing news and information programs, seven Maine Classical radio stations playing classical music and five Maine Public Television stations.

The pandemic has caused revenue shortfalls and cuts at public radio stations around the country, including at National Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio and WBUR in Boston. WBUR this summer announced it would lay off 10 percent of its staff.

Rilette’s hosting duties on Maine Public Classical will be taken over by a combination of other hosts, including Aaron Engebreth, Sarah Tuttle, Sydney Anderson and Gale Parmelee, Vogelzang said. Morin’s duties will be filled by other reporters at the network, Vogelzang said. He said the network hopes to hire more reporters in the future.

Rebroadcasts of Willis’s program will be available online and will air on Maine Public stations on the weekends for the foreseeable future. The weeknight version of her program will stop airing, and Vogelzang said he’s not yet sure what or who will take its place on the schedule.

News reporter Ed Morin is retiring from Maine Public after more than 40 years. Photo courtesy of Maine Public

Willis has done her show for years from her Blue Hill home. She said Wednesday she took retirement at least partially because the music business keeps changing and makes it harder for her to do her show the way she wants. She focuses on new music, and most recording companies send her digital files instead of records or CDs. So she burns the music onto CDs for use on her show.

“It’s going to be weird for me to hear a song, on the radio or in the supermarket, and not think about what song I’d play next,” said Willis.

Rilette has worked in radio for 33 years and is not sure what she’ll do next. She hopes to take day trips around Maine for a while. But she said she’ll probably eventually move back to either Washington state, where she worked previously, or her home state of Oregon.

 

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