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John Kean to Depart NPR Labs

NPR cuts three tech positions, including Kean’s; lab to continue its research work

Three technical staffers are losing their jobs at NPR. The move includes a further reduction at NPR Labs, where staff size has been shrinking in the past couple of years; but NPR officials said the labs will continue its work.

Senior Technologist John Kean, right, whose papers at conventions and in trade publications including Radio World have been a visible manifestation of the lab’s work, was told his position will be eliminated in mid-September, RW confirmed. Two other NPR technical staff are losing jobs; they were not identified.

NPR Media Relations Director Isabel Lara said, “Three positions were eliminated in our technology division; we can’t comment further on this out of respect for employees’ privacy. NPR is committed to reaching a balanced budget again in FY16; investing strategically and finding efficiencies are some of the necessary steps to achieve this.”

In an email, Lara told Radio World that NPR Labs will continue its research work with a focus on issues relating to the public radio system at large. “The loudness standards project continues in partnership with PRSS and other producers to develop standards and ways to meet them,” she stated. “There are new projects coming up for FY16, including an updating of the station coverage online mapping to better understand who we serve and where we are; as well as a collaborative project to facilitate metadata associated with broadcast shows be available to stations and listeners.”

NPR Labs is based at NPR headquarters in Washington. It calls itself the nation’s only not-for-profit broadcast technology R&D center; it offers research and consulting, as well as tools and software to help public radio engineers work with program-associated data, implement HD Radio and improve signal reception. Its work has included R&D in digital radio and accessibility, including emergency alert messages for the deaf or hard of hearing.

The lab is 10 years old. Mike Starling, who was VP of engineering and operations for NPR at the time, pushed the idea and helped create it. He left NPR in late 2013 during an employee buyout. In summer of 2014, as RW reported, the company moved NPR Labs out of its Distribution Division and put it under its corporate budget. In doing so it let go Rich Rarey, then its director (he now runs a contract business and is technical editor of Radio World Engineering Extra, a contract position).

Marty Garrison, NPR’s vice president of technology operations, distribution and broadcast engineering, said the lab’s mission will continue and that five full-time staff remain involved in its work, including Director Chris Nelson, Technical Researcher Alice Goldfarb and Senior Product Manager, Content Production David Julian Gray. He added, “NPR Labs will look forward to working with John Kean in the future, and he and I are both excited about that,” without providing details.