Media

WLRN's Sundial Goes Dark, Host Abruptly Leaves Station

Sundial host Luis Hernandez during a WLRN fundraising drive in 2020.
Sundial host Luis Hernandez during a WLRN fundraising drive in 2020. Screenshot via WLRN/YouTube
It has been a week since Sundial, a daily program produced by South Florida public radio station WLRN-FM (91.3) that features news stories and interviews about the region, went dark.

For the past five years, listeners throughout the region have tuned in to the hourlong show, which was hosted by Luis Hernandez and aired Mondays through Thursdays at 1 p.m. But after broadcasting its regularly scheduled live episode on Monday, July 19, Sundial vanished from the airwaves, its only trace a daily tweet, proclaiming, "No Sundial today." Gone was the daily program and the familiar voice of its host — with scant explanation from Hernandez or the station.

Until New Times began asking the station about the changes at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, July 26.

At 5:46 p.m. Sundial's Twitter account announced Hernandez's departure, stating, "Luis Hernandez, the long-time host of WLRN’s afternoon program, Sundial, is moving on to a new chapter in his career. Luis will be missed by his WLRN colleagues and his many listeners. We wish him all good things for his new adventures."

As of Monday night, Hernandez's bio page was still live on WLRN's website.

WLRN CEO John LaBonia responded to New Times' inquiries in an email, reiterating the station's and explaining that Sundial's absence would be temporary.

"The hour-long Sundial program is taking a brief hiatus while we identify a new host and do some reimagining of the series," LaBonia wrote. "Elements of Sundial will continue in the 1 p.m. hour of NPR's Here & Now, with an initiative called Sundial Now. These segments will retain the signature Sundial sound and focus on South Florida. WLRN thanks Sundial listeners for their ongoing support of public radio."
Asked to elaborate on the circumstances of Hernandez's abrupt departure, LaBonia demurred.

It remains unclear why Hernandez, who joined WLRN in 2014, left the station.

"At this time I do not have any comment on the changes to Sundial or my departure from the station," he wrote in a text message to New Times. "All I will say is that it has been an honor to serve this incredible community these last eight years."

The upheaval at Sundial comes as several key WLRN journalists have been lured away by other opportunities.

On July 18, WAMU-FM announced that Tom Hudson, WLRN's vice president of news, would soon join Washington, D.C.'s National Public Radio (NPR) member station as chief content officer. A week later, on July 25, veteran news director Terence Shepherd announced on Twitter that he had taken the same position at KPBS Public Media in San Diego. And Alicia Zuckerman, WLRN's editorial director and executive editor of on-demand audio recently won a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University, which begins in September.

"We are proud of their accomplishments and they are grateful for the community support of WLRN," LaBonia wrote in his email to New Times.

The main NPR member station for South Florida and the Keys, WLRN has earned a shelf's worth of journalism awards in recent years, including 14 Florida News Awards for journalism produced in 2021, nine Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards, and three National Headliner Awards. In 2021, the station won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for General Excellence.

Correction published 11:15 a.m.: The original version of this story erroneously stated that WLRN offered no explanation for Sundial's disappearance from the airwaves. In fact, beginning July 21, the station aired spots announcing that the show was being retooled and would be off the air temporarily. (There was no Sundial on July 20; the show was pre-empted for a regularly scheduled meeting of the Miami-Dade County school board.) The above version reflects the corrected text.
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Alex DeLuca is a staff writer at Miami New Times.
Contact: Alex DeLuca