"They get what they pay for. I make four times as much money now, and I work four times as hard. They’re just screwing over themselves with those slave wages."
That's NPR's Luke Burbank reflecting on the sad paydays he had as a newstalk producer.
Burbank, on air nationally now and living in LA, says, "The pay is insulting, that’s why I got out of there. I talked to a buddy of mine who's taking on a similar position at KVI to the one I left 8 years ago… the job still pays the same amount."
Despite that it's a low overhead, profitable business, radio is cutting back. There's a turndown lately in radio, but like with so many corporate entities these days, investors aren't satisfied with mere profitability, they want growth and even wider profit margins.
In our recent series on producers, we discovered that producing jobs are among those being most flagrantly cut by the industry. They're a dying breed, especially in smaller markets and off-hours. It can be argued that one of the reasons why KIRO evening radio is so bad is because it's virtually unproduced. Hosts such as Frank Shiers, New York Vinnie, and Bryan Styble are all flying without pilots.
More and more stations are telling talk jocks to "produce thyself." They are depending more on bright, ambitious board ops such as KIRO's Gary Mantz to help out; or they subscribe to show prep services who serve up off-the-rack vanilla pudding research for the under-informed.
Sytman & Boze, the conservative KTTH morning show, is hosted by two ex-producers, (Dave Boze and Dan Sytman) who finally got their talk-hosting break in a drive-time. Who produces Sytman & Boze? That would be: Sytman & Boze. This drive-time show which has been gaining stature book by book is produced by the talent. Rumors that the hosts do light janitorial around the studios is apparently unfounded.
There is no producers around KIRO week nights after Vinnie comes on at 7p. Weekends, too are producer-free.
It's not that they're an excessive expense- industry-wide, producers are grossly underpaid.
A source told us: "The industry has a bad habit of looking at the job as an entry level position, a glorified paid intern for the star talent… but I’m not bitter, much."
AM newstalk is at the bottom- music station producers do much better. KMPS's Stephanie Rose, who used to produce at KIRO says, "Our producer is paid twice as much as any of the KIRO daytime producers."
Rose grants that it's hard being a host. "There's pressure being on the air- but it's also a lot of pressure being a producer- more organizing, more hours in a day. To be making slightly over minimum wage is upsetting."
Hosts usually appreciate what their producers do for them, but, as someone observed: "Never in a million years would they give up 10k of their salary so the producer could make a living wage."
Many felt they are appreciated by their individual stations. Dave Ross/Ron Reagan producer Tina Nole: "I feel valued with the company I work for. My boss is a good guy. He cares about me. The industry as a whole gives a rat's about producers." The money? "Compared to sales, compared to the host? It's ridiculous."
Matt Haver says, "I do OK for a 24-year-old in a major market, but at the same time, if I did it for the money, I'd have moved on a long time ago. Producers do 75% of the work for a tenth of the pay."
"Management," says Burbank, "thinks that because there are 200 people on the street who'd take the job in a minute (which is true) they can treat producers like disposable diapers."
"Once you're on the air," says Rose, "you can demand anything you want. That doesn't mean you're going to get it, of course, but if they want you, they'll pay whatever you believe you're worth. The sky's the limit when you're on the air."
Meanwhile, as a producer described the job to us: "a producer [is] simply there to make the host shine by highlighting the good qualities and hiding the bad ones."
With starting salaries at 18k a year- it's no wonder so many bad qualities keep shining through.