Don’t Work for Free (Or for Cheap)

The results of the 2017 Salary Survey are in!
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Radio magazine is aimed at the community of radio engineers, of which you're a member. Towards that end, we want to present the most accurate salary and compensation information that we can for people in our community. How well we're able to do that depends upon the responses we get to the survey. For those of you who took it this year — our many thanks. To those of you who didn't — you can make up for it next year!

As we've seen in past surveys, there is a definite relationship between what you can earn from a station and the amount of money it makes, and that amount is likely to go up with market size. It's clear from the responses we got that you can add to your earning potential by moving up in market size. And, if you're someone who supplements your income with freelance work, you would do well to learn the going rates for local services. Survey results show many inconsistencies in the way clients are charged.

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We'll start our analysis of this year's salary survey results by taking a quick look the respondents by market grouping.

In response to the question "At which market level do you normally work?" we have the following results:

We're also interested in the job function of respondents. Those surveyed indicated they identify as:

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Next, we like to break down compensation by market size.

It's unfortunate that we collected less than the ideal amount of responses from market groups 100 > 75, as well as 74 > 50; all we can do is share the information we got from those that did respond.

We haven't asked questions about compensation as related to job function. However, you can clearly see in markets 49 and above what the typical staff engineer receives in yearly pay. Going up the pay scale, you can see where the salaries of department heads stand, as well. It also appears that the difference in pay between the department head and staff members widens as you go up in market size, and we also note that the likelihood of a raise was much higher for engineers working in the top 10 markets.

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As you have just seen, we break down some of the results by market size, and we also consider some of the information in the context of all markets. Let's take a look at those now.

Doing outside work. We won't call it "contracting" because the majority of the relationships between radio engineers and their clients are not governed by contracts.

Looking at results for all the market groups, we learn a few things about engineers who freelance.

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Half of radio engineers who responded do no outside work whatsoever; 2.78 percent only do contracting and are not otherwise employed; and 47 percent do a combination of contract and full-time work.

Contractor rates are all over the place. We find it hard to believe, but at least one respondent indicated they give away their time at the rate of $11 per hour.

Most respondents charge more for emergency response; you can see the average hourly rate for that service is higher than what is charged for "normal" work.

Some charge clients for travel time (and not just the hourly mileage charge).

A number of respondents also make their clients pay a monthly retainer — although at least one respondent charges only $35 per month for the right to call on him/her.

Setting rates can be difficult in any specific market. Ideally, one can learn what "the other guy" is charging before determining one's hourly or monthly rates.

At a bare minimum, we suggest you do the following.

  • Study auto repair shop rates in the town where you reside. Remember that car owners bring their vehicles to the shop. The repair guys don't make house calls (unless they are charging way more).
  • How much do HVAC companies charge for techs to visit your transmitter site? This is another good way to gauge the market rate. Surely your time fixing consoles/automation/transmitters is worth just as much as air-conditioner repair.

Many respondents to this survey bemoaned the state of compensation in our industry. We suggest you do all you can, in terms of research, into how much your services are worth.

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College degrees. While many respondents have a college degree (55.65 percent) only 41.77 percent of those have a degree in an engineering discipline, meaning just over 23 percent of all respondents have a degree in an engineering discipline.

Certifications. Specialized certifications are very prevalent in the broadcast engineering field:

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Responses to "other" include amateur radio licenses, Amazon Web Services and RF safety certs.

Of those who indicated they have SBE certifications, the results were as follows:

Professional organizations. Based on the results thus far, one would expect a high level of membership in the SBE, and that is indeed the case.

We find it interesting that, though 62 percent of respondents indicate that they are SBE members, only 46.5 percent actually hold certifications.

"Other" professional association memberships include the Western Association of Broadcast Engineers a nonprofit organization, based in Canada, which has "the objectives to promote and advance the dissemination of engineering knowledge among its members, and to represent the interests of the majority of its members to duly appointed technical, educational and legislative institutions."

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Personal aspects. Anecdotal evidence indicates that broadcast engineers are predominantly "advanced" in age, and our survey results show largely confirm that idea.

This begs the question "What can we learn about the retirement plans for these respondents?" The survey asked respondents in how many years do they anticipate their retirement?

Another question related to the retirement issue asked: "On a scale of 0 to 100, how confident are you that you will finish your career in radio? 0 means you're positive you'll be doing something else; 100 means you are positive you will retire as a broadcaster." The average of all responses was 78.

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The survey results don't appear to portend any mass exodus from the business. However, as the business evolves (as it always does, usually shifting toward fewer and fewer people), the chances are that the number of people remaining in the field will more or less match the number needed.

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After all, though 57.52 of respondents are between the ages of 55 and 74 years old, 41.58 percent of the respondents are younger — many of whom are bound to keep at it.

Job satisfaction. Just how happy or unhappy are people working in the field of broadcast engineering?

Asked "If you could change one thing to improve your current job, what would it be?" many responded with similar answers. These include: adding more staff (this is a big one); better compensation; better work/life balance.

This comment sums up many responses well: "Tired of working 60-70 hours a week with no pay raise, no bonus and increasing expectations from corporate. We need to be respected for our role in the operations."

Still the question: "On a scale of 0 to 100, how much do you like your job?" Zero would mean you hate it; 100 would mean you love it. I earned an average response of 78.

Radio is an industry that you either love or hate. Those who hate it find other things to do; those who love it stick with it, probably too readily and could benefit by knowing their professional worth.

Remember, there is a relationship between what you can earn from a station and the amount of money it makes; and that amount is likely to go up with market size as well. Therefore, it makes sense that you can add to your earning potential by moving up in market size.

And if you're someone who supplements your income with freelance work, you would do well to learn the going rates for local services.