by Alex Cosper (7/23/13)
The radio business in general does not pay well, except for nationally syndicated hosts and drive time entertainers such as morning or afternoon hosts. Those two shifts are the key timeslots when radio listening is typically at its highest level. Listenership quickly drops off after the afternoon commute. Since radio makes the bulk of its money attracting advertisers during these drive times, those shifts tend to pay the most. One of the reasons the radio industry does not pay announcers well is that the top radio corporations borrowed too much money from banks and paid astronomical prices for stations after the Telecom Act of 1996 loosened radio ownership limits, allowing corporations to buy out lots of independent stations.
The internet and other new media choices severely cut into radio listening time, which limited radio industry advertising profits. Established radio sales executives have earned decent salaries over the years, despite radio's financial struggles since about 2002. Many radio companies are still deep in debt from over-buying radio station at high prices in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A station might make millions of dollar per year, but still has to make high payments on loans and operation costs, which include high electric bills.
In order to cut costs, many radio chains have had to downsize their on-air staffs and replace live voices with automated programming. In fact, many stations are only live during the two drive time shifts while the rest of the day is pre-recorded and plays back on a computer. Part of the huge budget cuts has meant paying DJs hourly wages with no benefits instead of salaries with benefits. The era of high paid DJs was from about the early 1980s through the late 1990s. After that, radio personalites were lucky to meet the cost of living.
As crazy as it sounds, there are many radio stars who live in poverty and are not well prepared for their post-radio careers. Many radio stars who made six figure incomes in the 1980s are out of work in the 21st century and stuggle to earn a living. Only a very small percentage of radio personalities still command six figure incomes. The path to earning good money in radio usually takes a long time bouncing from small market to small market. Once a personality gets a drive time shift in a major market, there is a chance at making $50,000 per year. But the radio personnel most likely to earn a steady income and stay employed for a long time are those with production skills and know how to make highly professional commercials that appeal to advertisers.
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