;As part of its growth plan, local PBS-affiliate television and radio station WMFE made a series of draconian changes several years ago. In order to afford the FCC-mandated digital conversion, then president/CEO Stephen McKenney Steck essentially pulled the plug on local programming, save The Arts Connection, the Friday-night radio special reported, produced and hosted by WMFE soldier Becky Morgan.

;;When the cutbacks virtually wiped out almost all employees associated with generating original content, WMFE promised that local content would one day return, even as the station vigorously followed the trend of recycling nationally produced content beamed from satellites as well as the airing of commercials to raise revenue – both are consequences of the unstoppable revolution in public broadcasting. Starting this week, viewers will witness WMFE making good on the promise stated in its "A Vision for Our Future" initiative. That overhaul finally has been enacted, after years of community input and fund-raising to the tune of $807,000 on top of the roughly $7 million annual budget. At the heart of the visible change is the Arts Connection. After 15 years of airing on 90.7 WMFE-FM, the cultural affairs program will be cut in half on radio, with double exposure on TV.

;;Morgan has been with Arts Connection since 2002; Ben Brotemarkle was the show's creator/host from 1992-2000 (followed by a short stint by Patricia Madden). Morgan sees the shortening of her program, from one hour to 30 minutes, as an opportunity for more focus.


;"We would like to get more ears in the program and to really make it a very good program. [At] an hour long, and only one person doing it, I would say that what I put in an hour wasn't always the best material it possibly could have been."


;With a background in music and community theater, Morgan, whose career in public radio spans 16 years, calls Arts Connection a rarity in public radio. "Many other stations will cover arts as an occasional story," she says. "This is actually a very unusual thing to have a chunk of time devoted every week."

;;Starting Aug. 2, Arts Connection moves from its longstanding time of 7 p.m. Friday to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, which Morgan says will enlarge the scope of her coverage. "If it was a Friday-night [event], I could never talk about it because it would be over by the time the show aired." Morgan's segments also will run as weekly features during 90.7 FM's popular national programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend America, which average audiences of more than 177,000 listeners a week compared to Connection's 10,000-plus draw.


;"Right now it's sort of like a specialty program," she says. "If it's a part of a bigger program that they are listening to, they'll stick around for that four-minute feature on some new ballet competition." she says. Morgan supports the added visual afforded by the sister TV show. "There are some things that I can't do on the radio and do it justice," she says, though Morgan won't be involved in the TV equation.


;The Arts Connection on TV (the title may change) debuts 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 26, hosted by Secily Wilson, former traffic reporter for WKMG Local 6. Brian Johnson, WMFE's executive producer for local programming (who joined the station only a few months ago, in March), says that the two programs will remain distinct. While the radio program covers a variety of traditional arts including music, theater and dance, Johnson says that the TV version will "shine a light on what people may not consider to be art"; topics such as architecture, unconventional music and lifestyle reports are a sampling of what he envisions.

;;Another locally produced TV show debuts at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 26 — This Week in Central Florida, a news program. On the radio side, On the Line, a call-in show focusing on community issues, is slated to air weekly in late August.


;In January, José A. Fajardo completely took over the reins at WMFE to serve as both its president and CEO, after working 11 years in other capacities at the station. He was groomed for the position by Steck, whose more than three-decade rule shaped the station. As local content has always been the forte of public broadcasting, the quick implementation and quality of these new programs serves as a litmus test of Fajardo's leadership and what has come from years of planning, millions of dollars raised and the mission to serve the community. Maybe WMFE will start to win back the confidence of their dwindling membership.

; arts@orlandoweekly.com

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