2022 TV and Radio News Salaries
By Bob Papper and Keren Henderson
One year after a large increase in salaries, the latest RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University Survey found local television news salaries rose just 1.1% in 2021. That’s down sharply from the 3.5% growth in 2020. Adjusted for inflation, salaries actually fell 5.9% in terms of real wages. More than 85% of TV news directors said they found it harder to recruit people this past year.
There were sharp differences in what happened to salaries generally based on market size. Markets 51 to 150 fared the best – by far. In those two groupings, about two-thirds or more of the positions went up in salary. Markets 151+ came next with 35% of positions going up. That’s the same as markets 1 to 25, but in the biggest markets, 60% of the median salaries went down from last year. At the bottom: markets 26 to 50, where three-quarters of the salaries went down and just 15% went up.
Sorting by size of newsroom sometimes leads to some sort of meaningful information, and this is one of those years. Newsrooms with 21 to 30 staffers did the best in salaries overall, but the bigger picture is that newsrooms with at least 21 staffers did much better than smaller newsrooms. It wasn’t even close.
Starting pay in TV suffered a worse fate than salaries generally. Both average and median starting pay rose just $100 (per year) ahead of a year ago. That’s 0.3%, compared to a 7% inflation rate.
After a 4.5% increase in 2019 and a 0.9% increase in 2020, local radio wages rose just 0.4% in 2021. Accounting for 7% inflation, real wages fell by 7.3% this past year.
Mostly, salaries go up as market size goes up. No surprise there. They also tend to go up as staff size increases, but much of that is a function of market size as well. Number of stations in a local group has no consistent effect on salaries. Overall, salaries in the Northeast and West were higher than in the South or Midwest. Major markets are those with 1 million or more listeners. Large markets are those from 250,000 to 1 million; medium markets are from 50,000 to 250,000; and small markets have fewer than 50,000 listeners.
Commercial vs. Non-Commercial
One thing that makes a huge difference in pay is commercial radio versus non-commercial. Overall, non-commercial salaries are substantially higher than commercial ones. But that’s not a completely fair comparison. The vast majority of non-commercial stations in the Survey are in large and major markets. So we compared commercial and non-commercial salaries only in the two largest market groups. It’s still not a clean comparison, but there’s no question that non-commercial salaries are higher than commercial salaries. Substantially higher.
Perhaps reflecting that difficulty in hiring, starting pay rose at a much higher rate than salaries generally. Median starting pay went up by $2,000 to $32,000. That’s an increase of 6.7%. Average starting pay rose $1,200 to $34,000. That’s an increase of 3.7%. Either way, it beats the 0.4% increase in radio overall – but not the 7% rate of inflation. Note that the minimum pay of $15,000 corresponds with the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25/hour. Of course, there are cities and states where the minimum wage is higher.
Bob Papper is Adjunct Professor of Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University and has worked extensively in radio and TV news.
Keren Henderson is Associate Professor of Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University. This research was supported by the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and the Radio Television Digital News Association.
About the Survey
The RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University Survey was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2021 among all 1,780 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 3,379 radio stations. Valid responses came from as many as 1,336 television stations (75.1%) and 765 radio news directors and general managers representing 2,310 radio stations. Some data sets (e.g. the number of TV stations originating local news, getting it from others and women TV news directors) are based on a complete census and are not projected from a smaller sample.