The Compensation Crisis

Compesation-CrisisBy Michael R. Lee, Ph.D.

Another year has passed. The Radio & Records 2000 Radio Industry Salary Survey has arrived, and radio Production Directors have cause for outright alarm.

These compensation figures “are for the calendar year 1999 and include salary plus bonuses and incentives.” Where to start? The overall average compensation of Production Directors was $40,416.00. While that is a livable wage, depending on what market you live in, it was a whopping increase of 1% over 1998. Yes, it’s hard to believe that Production Director salaries would decrease in relation to the cost of living, but there you have it.

Though it is true that there are lower paying jobs in radio, such as receptionist, traffic director and air talents outside of drive time, the compensation disparity with other radio personnel is growing distinctly wider.

For instance, your friendly general manager may now run four, five, or six stations, but at least his or her pain is assuaged by dinero. Average compensation is $209,429.00, up 23% over 1998. Though less gaudy, general sales managers are paid an average of $135,207.00, up 12%; local sales managers are at $120,100.00, up 15%; national sales managers averaged $120,872.00, up 9%.

It’s evident that advertising dollars soared in 1999, but what is not so clear-cut is that managers or salespeople worked harder to get those dollars. Indeed, account executives are taking home so much more than Production Directors that it seems absurd. Highest paid account executives averaged $107,650.00, up 20%; second highest paid account execs were up 22% to $90,000.00; and even the average account executive took home 35% more than Production Directors — $54,000.00, up 21%.

Did Production Directors work harder last year than ever before? I can’t name five who didn’t. Do Production Directors have more to do with the success of their stations than ever before (including grinding out the spots that make the account executives/managers so much richer)? I can’t name a top radio executive who doesn’t think so.

Why did program directors receive an average increase of 13% to $79,209.00? If it’s because they program more stations (and most don’t), that’s a spurious argument. Production Directors are adding more stations in and out of market than two or three program directors combined. With radio’s de-emphasis of air talent, how is it that afternoon drive talent scored an 8% increase to $44,846.00? Music directors/assistant program directors were also up 8% to an average of $45,000.00.

Does market size matter? You bet it does. Production Directors in top 15 markets averaged $53,739.00 compared to half of that, or $26,930.00 in markets 101-175.

How important is the format you work in? Compare markets 1-30 in News/Talk at $63,000.00 versus the same market sizes in Spanish ($37,500.00) or Country ($39,518.00). What format is the Production Director most under-compensated in relative to other employees? Try CHR, where market 1-30 Production Directors average $50,000.00 compared to general managers at $339,200.00, program directors at $144,000.00 and afternoon drive talent at $82,600.00.

Data can often be misleading or give you only part of a picture. But here it can only serve to make the numbers more depressing. There are Production Directors who deservedly make way beyond these salary figures. What would the overall numbers look like if they didn’t? How many underpaid Production Directors didn’t even participate in this survey?

In point of fact, it’s a compensation crisis that reflects two things: 1) the historic undervaluing of Production Directors and over-compensation of sales personnel; and 2) the lack of aggressiveness by Production Directors when it comes to compensation.

It is very clear as to who are the bourgeoisie of local radio. It is equally clear that Production Directors are the proletariat when it comes to compensation. Yet they work harder, are more important to the success of the station than ever before, and throw less tantrums per year than your average morning show producer.

One percent isn’t right. $40,416.00 per year isn’t enough. The penalty this industry pays for bleeding Production Directors is that they go somewhere else. Almost every day managers ask me where all the good radio Production Directors have gone. The answer is simple. Despite their love of their work and the medium itself, they left to pursue a better life. Until we get it right, and maybe not even then, they aren’t coming back.

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