Well. This sure is depressing.
The voice of an impoverished person can be heard at any time in most small cities and towns across Canada simply by turning on the radio. But it’s not the people interviewed on talk shows or in news sound bites who could use some extra cash.
Retired broadcast radio instructor George Orr said some of the poorest people on Canada’s airwaves are the personalities and reporters that listeners tune in to every day.
Orr taught broadcast journalism at the British Columbia Institute of Technology for 19 years before he left the profession, feeling guilty about preparing students for a career that often pays more in heartache than money.
“I couldn’t in good conscience convince young people this is a field you should walk into and find a good future,” Orr said.
According to Service Canada, in 2013 12 per cent of radio broadcasters made less than $20,000 per year and 46 per cent made between $20,000 and $49,000.
Orr said the low wages and erratic hours keep many people away from the microphone and result in high turnover, making it harder to find journalists on the airwaves with a connection to the community that leads to an understanding of local issues.
“There were times at BCIT when people would be offered a job and we would tell them, ‘No, you can’t take it, because it’s below the minimum wage,'” Orr said. “That’s indicative of how the industry looks at well-trained, young, ingenuous labour.”
Kate Leinweber was one of those people earning less than minimum wage when her salary was compared to the hours she worked at a radio station in B.C.
After getting a four-year communications degree from Mount Royal University in Calgary, Leinweber ended up in Penticton as a reporter and morning show host.
She had her face on billboards, but was making less than a fast food worker. “It seems extremely glamorous to other people, and it was definitely fun. But it was definitely not sustainable,” she said.
After realizing a part-time job at Starbucks to support her finances wasn’t possible — she was working too hard — she left the business in 2006 and now works as a massage therapist.
“After I was done working at the radio station, I ended up serving at restaurants and on average I would make $20 to $25 an hour,” she said. “And I didn’t have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning.”
Of the people she worked with in the industry, Leinweber could only think of one who still has a job in radio, eight years on. The rest switched into other careers.
Those are sections from an article on a proposal to raise the minimum wage for workers in federally regulated industries to $15 an hour. Yes, pay for broadcasters really can be that bad.
Of course I think this is a good idea in a broad sense. People should be able to afford to pay their bills. But I worry about the unintended consequences.
Most radio stations, even the ones in bigger markets, are already criminally understaffed. If you’ve ever tried to get up to date information on a power outage or a major storm especially one that has the nerve to take place after about 6 or 7 at night or any time on the weekend, this becomes immediately apparent. If there’s one thing radio companies hate to do, it’s spend money on useful things like live humans who can tell you what’s going on in your back yard. Combine that stinginess and dubious claims of being financially hard done by even though you’re still a billion dollar industry with a legally mandated pay raise for everybody and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Unless government is also going to tackle the not so simple issue of telling employers how many people they’re required to hire and maintain, things are going to get even worse for the media people we desperately need to be developing for the future.