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Sarah Morris Named New General Manager Of KCUR And Classical KC

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KCUR
Sarah Morris has been at UMKC since 2004. She takes over as KCUR's and Classical KC's general manager after serving as interim general manager for the last 15 months.

Morris said she plans to focus on growing KCUR and diversifying its staff, leadership and audience.

Sarah Morris has been named general manager of KCUR 89.3 and 91.9 Classical KC following a national search to replace Nico Leone, who left in December 2019 to become the president and CEO of KERA in Dallas.

Morris, 56, had served as interim general manager of KCUR since Leone’s departure and oversaw its operations during an especially challenging time, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced most of KCUR’s personnel to work from home.

She also made the decision last year to launch 91.9 Classical KC, a sister station focused on classical music and local arts organizations, even as the pandemic put a dent in fundraising for the station and left the station’s prospects unclear. Classical KC began broadcasting last summer and has since surpassed listener and financial projections.

“Sarah assumes permanent leadership after serving as interim general manager during a tumultuous year, a year with many challenges but also a year of accomplishment,” Anne Hartung Spenner, UMKC Vice Chancellor for Strategic Marketing and Communications, wrote in a note to KCUR staff announcing Morris’ appointment.

“In partnership with staff, Sarah has managed through a global pandemic, the resulting economic downturn and an intensive examination of how the station must grow and change to better address equity and racial justice in its coverage, its outreach and its own internal operations.”

Morris comes to KCUR from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, KCUR’s licensee, where she was assistant vice chancellor of marketing and communications from 2004 to 2017 and executive director for continuing education from 2017 to 2019.

Before joining UMKC, she was employed at Fred Pryor Seminars and worked as an independent management consultant.

Morris said she plans to focus on growing KCUR and diversifying its staff, leadership and audience.

“I think we need to think about diversifying the voices on the air, our sources, our programming,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s a broad objective but it’s inextricably tied to our success.”

Morris said the rapid increase in grants and journalists at the station had outpaced the infrastructure needed to support them.

“We’re kind of buckling under our own success and our own growth,” she said. “Because of the constraints put upon us by COVID this year budget-wise, we’ve had to figure out ways to keep going with one arm tied behind our back.

“So if you’ve tripled the size of your newsroom over the last 10 years but haven’t even doubled your infrastructure, you can see that we need to catch up a little bit there and make some more investments.”

Her other priorities, she said, include planning for a new facility to replace the decades-old building that currently houses KCUR and Classical KC; affirming and enhancing KCUR’s role as a core part of Kansas City’s civic life; and growing the budget and audience of Classical KC.

“Classical KC is right down the middle for us in terms of being a civic institution and providing a service to Kansas City,” Morris said. “I mean the people who have discovered us are so excited and so happy. We just haven’t had enough time and money to get the word out about it so that we can build our audience even further.”

Morris grew up in the Kansas City area and graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado, where she majored in journalism, and holds an MBA degree from Baker University.

As general manager of KCUR, Morris will oversee an operation with a staff of roughly 75 full- and part-time employees and an annual budget of nearly $9 million. The NPR member station serves 159,000 listeners in the Kansas City metro.

KCUR’s news operation has grown rapidly over the last five years as it seeks to meet the growing demand for local news through its radio, web and podcast platforms.

The station is the lead organization for several national and regional collaborations, including Harvest Public Media, which reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues; Kansas News Service, a partnership among NPR member stations across the state focusing on politics, health and education; and Midwest News Hub, a recently launched partnership with public radio stations in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska.

KCUR also recently joined another collaborative effort, American Homefront, a public radio initiative reporting on the lives of military personnel, veterans and their families.

Other collaborations in which KCUR has participated include American Amplified, a recently concluded national reporting project covering the 2020 elections; and Guns & America, another recently concluded national reporting project covering guns and the culture of guns in America.

Among her outside activities, Morris has served on the boards of Win for KC, a division of the Kansas City Sports Commission, and Rose Brooks Center; and has been a mentor at the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with essential news and information.
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