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High NPR Star Salaries Curb the Appeal of Small-Dollar Donations

Tim Graham's picture

The next time a public-radio station goes into pledge-drive mode and begs listeners to chip in $100 for those snazzy premiums like the Nina Totin'-Bag, it would be wonderful if, in the spirit of balance and fairness, they would read off some salary numbers for NPR stars. Do people on modest incomes really want to chip in $25 to make sure an anchor can take home $375,000?

Instead, pledge-drive announcers often plead that stations need donations to pay for program fees, not anchor salaries. Blogger and news-app developer Andy Boyle pored over a few IRS 990 forms and revealed some of the highest-paid public radio poobahs:

Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition.” 2009-2010: $361, 093, base salary of $319,370. 2010-2011: $373,097, base salary of $334,560.

Renee Montagne, co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition.” 2009-2010: $357,037, base salary of $328,117. 2010-2011: $369,552, base salary of  $321,919.

Michele Norris, former co-host of “All Things Considered.” 2009-2010: $298,360, base salary of $264,9009. No 2010-2011 numbers listed.

–  Robert Siegel, cohost of “All Things Considered.” 2009-2010: $362,687, with a base salary of $309,479. 2010-2011: $375,652, with a base salary of $321,860.

Terry Gross, host of WHYY’s “Fresh Air,” broadcast on hundreds of NPR affiliates. 2009-2010: $254,933, base salary of $233,483. 2010-2011: $256,611, base salary of $233,483.

He also had numbers for the popular public-radio show "This American Life," heard on many NPR stations:

-- Ira Glass, host and producer of “This American Life.” 2009-2010: $171,224, base salary of $127,871. 2010-2011: $170,190, base salary of $148,782.

Alex Blumberg, producer of “This American Life,” cohost of the Planet Money podcast. 2009-2010: $154,801, base salary of $123,220. 2010-2011: $201,734, base salary of $134,400.

Julie Snyder, senior producer of “This American Life.” 2009-2010: Not listed. 2010-2011: $156,153, base salary of $146,175.

Boyle added this point on the anchor of the public-radio show Marketplace: "Couldn’t find Kai Ryssdal’s salary in updated 990s for American Public Media."

Boyle had no objection to these high salaries: "So, here’s your general mind-blowing takeaway: Great talent costs money. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Also, many of the organizations listed showed much more than the required five top salaries, thus adding an extra layer of transparency that isn’t required by law."

What's not transparent is how NPR talks about its salaries on the air. They don't. Donors probably assume that nonprofit broadcasters are living on small-time wages for idealistic reasons. That might be true....if they were compared to network TV stars, but not compared to average Americans.

Earlier: Those Soft-Voiced Anchors at NPR Make the Big Bucks