Many of you have heard me make the case that radio's most unique asset is its on-air talent. This is because so many music formats have become commoditized by playlist services. But a great jock, host, or show can bring context to a station's music, while entertaining, informing, and connecting fans to the communities in which they live.
But as has always been the case, the gap between salaries in radio often runs the gamut, sometimes defying logic. There are clearly some very highly paid personalities not providing ROI, while there are other less-well-compensated jocks who are probably not making enough. Like any subjective scale – whether it's the value of art, classic cars, or even professional athletes – value is often in the eye of the beholder.
This came to mind the other week when two stories hit my email inbox around the same time. You very likely saw the first one – it was a countdown of some of the highest paid radio personalities in the world. Of course, Stern, Limbaugh, and Seacrest were all in this elite group.
But the story highlighted an Australian show who you may not have heard of – Kyle Sandilands and Jackie “O” Henderson of KIIS 106.5 in Australia. The Daily Mail Australia reports they've inked a five year $80 million deal which pays them each $8 million a year.
That buys a lot of Vegemite.
In some ways, this team actually may be the highest paid radio personalities on the planet when you consider the aggregate worth of their coverage area. As writer Candice Jackson points out, the Australian radio market has a value of about $800 million in ad dollars a year. That means Kyle & Jackie O are taking home 2% of the industry's revenue – pretty impressive.
No, I haven't heard their show, but a Google search reveals a fair amount of old school “shock Their most recent stunt was an off-handed remark about the Virgin Mary that blew up the audience and the media, leading to a dramatic 8-minute on-air apology by Kyle. You get the idea.
Now, contrast this happy radio story to a sad tale that ran in Penn Live earlier this month. At the same central Pennsylvania (Harrisburg) cluster, three morning show hosts – Charles “Chachi” Angelo (below left) and Ryan “Puff” Downes were relieved of their on-air duties, along with Downes' partner, Steph Pagliaro (both below right).
In Downe's case, his termination ended a nearly 15 year run of his Morning Madhouse show. Angelo's departure concluded seven years on the station.
I haven't heard these shows either, so there are no consulting judgments from me on these firings. I do suspect this – unlike Kyle & Jackie O's 8-figure deal, my guess is that Angelo and Downes were both being paid in the mid-5-figure range. They were certainly not doing these jobs in central Pennsylvania for the money.
But that's nothing new. The “have's” and “have not's” – especially in on-air positions have co-existed – not always peacefully – for decades. Some personalities make it to the major markets and enjoy all the perks, while others have to adapt to where their talents – and their luck – will take them. In the U.S. or Australia, there are many different sizes, shapes, and flavors of local (and syndicated) radio.
Each of these former Harrisburg talents had their benchmark bits, charities, and audience interaction activities. As Pagliaro told Penn Live “My favorite part was just being able to entertain people and be a part of their morning.”
Downes summed it up this way – a comment very indicative of the “gap” between talent in this country, Australia, and perhaps the world:
“I knew going into this I wasn't going to be Ryan Seacrest. I knew going into this I wasn't going to be a multimillionaire. But I did know going into this that I had an amazing opportunity to change people's lives on a daily basis…”
As someone who is often on the other side of this bitter decision-making, I know all too well there are many factors that go into making these painful calls. While station management opted not to comment for the story (their call, of course), they have their side of the story.
But it is remarkable how so many air personalities are managing to retain their resilience and their spirits, often in the face of crushing disappointment. Earlier this year in our AQ2 study of on-air talent, we saw – once again – a great deal of optimism about the industry and their place in it:
When nearly seven in ten have high or very high passion for what is becoming a tough career terrain for many personalities, note that nearly one-fifth are feeling the air hissing out of the balloon.
That's reflected in these Harrisburg “exit interviews.” Steph Pagliaro wants back in: “It's all I want to do. I'm just so in love with doing radio, and it's a really tough industry.”
“Chachi” Angelo – immediately after being let go – worries about his career security: “Am I going to have a job tomorrow?…It might be time to reevaluate.”
“Puff” Downes finds himself somewhere in the middle:
“I need to reassess where I am, and where radio is….At this point, in the state of radio, I'm afraid (this) could happen again, relatively soon.”
These fears become especially real for thousands of on-air talent as 2019 winds down. As virtually everyone in the radio business has learned – many the hard way – the last few weeks of a calendar year can be especially challenging, precarious, and cruel.
As owners, operators, and corporate execs are faced with no shortage of tough calls in a very challenging media environment, there's no “right way” to reduce expenses or staff. There are no so-called “best practices” for instituting cutbacks.
As the R.E.M. song goes, “Everybody hurts.”
But know this – while perhaps the most fortunate and maybe the most talented enjoy wonderful careers, most others entertaining and informing on the radio waves are scrapping and hustling to stay in their jobs.
And that leads us to another question from AQ2. It goes to the heart of why our 1,000 DJ sample does what they do for a living:
There's a great deal of truth at both the top – and the bottom – of this chart.
Our wishes for all of you reading this post is that the end of the year comes and goes quietly, peacefully, and uneventfully.
And whatever you do, don't make jokes about the Virgin Mary – unless, of course, you're Kyle & Jackie O.