Do public radio executives make too much?

Do public station heads make too much money, as non-profit executives? The answer is in the beholder, and the American University School of Communication has made it easy to behold. In its Currents publication, executive salaries are laid out in sortable online tables, juxtaposed with station expenses.

Some buzz has emanated from this, notably around the top public-radio earner, Laura Walker of New York Public Radio. Walker reportedly earned $790,000 in 2013, against stations expenses of $65-million.

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New York Public Radio is a small station group that includes WNYC, WQXR, and a digital content development division.

Public comments around the release show cautious reaction, as people note that executive salaries in the for-profit universe are more stratospherically separated from real-world livelihoods. Many people recognize that optics are an issue — public radio fundraising drives emphasize need for public support, sometimes with a bootstrapping appeal, which can seem at odds with executive compensation deep into six-figure territory. Since part of a non-profit exec’s job is fundraising, one missing comparison here is whether individuals bring favorable direct returns on their salaries.

If the salary disclosures in Current surprise some people, those people are in good company. An article in Harvard Business Review shows data indicating that nearly everyone thinks CEOs are paid too much — and the actual salaries are much higher than people estimate, most notably in the U.S.

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Brad Hill