With a surprise announcement, WHYY laid off 16 full-time workers and one part-timer yesterday as part of what the organization characterized as "an employee restructuring plan" designed to keep the budget balanced while WHYY moves "in new directions."

The move, encompassing 8 percent of WHYY's staff, should trim about $1.2 million in salary and benefits, about 4 percent of the station's budget, said WHYY spokesman Art Ellis.

Employees, who say they have been continually reassured by management that the station was economically healthy, got wind of the layoffs yesterday afternoon. For most of them it will have been their last afternoon at WHYY, though a few will stay into May to wrap up continuing projects, Ellis said.

Layoffs came from throughout the organization, which operates Philadelphia's major public TV and radio stations.

No on-air staff were eliminated. WHYY would not confirm the names of any of those affected, and Ellis was very careful to say, "No one directly involved in news or content production" would be leaving.

Staffers received an e-mail from William Marrazzo, WHYY president and chief executive officer, just before 4 p.m., said several employees, speaking anonymously to protect their jobs. It notified them of a 4:30 meeting "to candidly discuss" the layoffs, which he said were necessary "in difficult economic times" to build a balanced budget for fiscal year 2010, which starts in July.

The e-mail said all those fired would receive "an appropriate severance package, extended benefits and career counseling."

"While very difficult on a personal level," Marrazzo wrote, the layoffs were necessary to "keep our fiscal house in order."

Marrazzo's compensation, including $280,000 in deferred compensation he is scheduled to get this year if he meets performance goals, totaled $740,090 for the year ending June 30, 2007, the most recent tax filing to be made public - or 62 percent of the amount to be saved by the 17 layoffs.

Staffers reported that at the meeting, Danny Miller, executive producer of Fresh Air, WHYY-FM's flagship program, asked Marrazzo if executive salary cuts were considered as a way to save jobs and that Miller himself volunteered to take a cut if it could save staff.

Marrazzo said that was not an option, people at the meeting said. The CEO told The Inquirer in February that a cut in his compensation would be on the table if the station had economic troubles.

Responding to a question about executive pay yesterday, spokesman Ellis said, "We're still working through a lot of details in next year's budget."

Ellis said that the layoffs came in a bad economy after Gov. Rendell asked the General Assembly to end state support of public broadcasting. WHYY also needs to put more resources into new media, Ellis said.

Contact Jonathan Storm at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com.