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Speaking of pay: Just how much do MPR’s top national hosts make?

If you’re curious how much Krista Tippett, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Chris Farrell make, we have just the tax documents for you.
By David Brauer

This is prurient, I admit, but if you’ve ever wanted to know how much Krista Tippett, Lynne Rossetto Kasper and other Minnesota Public Radio national show hosts make, I’ve got the data.

It comes from Form 990, filed annually by nonprofits such as MinnPost and MPR (technically, Minnesota Public RadioAmerican Public Media, according to the form. APM is the national programming arm, but it’s all one organization). Public disclosure is the price of nonprofit privilege.

The 990 compels organizations to list the highest-paid employees who aren’t officers, directors or trustees. MPR/APM’s 2007 form — the most recent available, covering the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008 — lists four hosts well known to local listeners. The first figure is compensation; the total with deferred comp and employee benefit pay is in parentheses:

2. Kai Ryssdal, Marketplace: $167,590 ($183,118)
3. Lynne Kasper, The Splendid Table: $154,633 ($173,487)
4. Chris Farrell, Marketplace Money: $152,612 ($172,222)
5. Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith: $146,992 ($160,722)

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Who’s number one? Marketplace China bureau chief Scott Tong pulled in a total of $266,803, but that included $160,717 in expenses the other four didn’t have. If you want to view the full 990, the link’s at the end of this post.

One thing I don’t know: Where is Garrison Keillor? Is he missing because he produces his own show? I checked other MPR-affiliated 990s, but the Bard of Wobegon is not to be found.

MPR, as you might expect, passed on an opportunity to clarify. “We don’t discuss staff salaries or other aspects of their employment beyond what we’re required to by law,” spokeswoman Christina Schmitt e-mailed. “So I have to decline to expand on the information in the 990 … beyond saying our general approach to compensation is to pay competitive rates for every position we hire, including our national hosts.”

So is such talent pay excessive? Consider that one Twin Cities TV anchor, Don Shelby, pulls in a reported $900,000. A seasoned Star Tribune columnist could top $100,000, at least before recent pay cuts. On the nonprofit side, another national host, NPR “Weekend Edition’s” Scott Simon, took in $300,648.

(Reporter types obviously make less. Your humble correspondent, working four-fifths time reporting for a nonprofit startup, makes about one-quarter of Ryssdal’s paycheck, and isn’t outraged by that.)

Obviously, MPR’s national shows all bring in sponsor dough, and personalities are often key to such sales efforts. According to the 990, MPR/APM grossed $82.2 million that year, including $55 million in direct public support and $16 million in “program service revenue.”

It’s possible that 2008’s economic meltdown, which began after MPR’s fiscal year ended, nudged pay downward. We won’t know until next year. MPR filed this 990 in May.

I know some folks will want to know what the 990 says about executive pay; I’ll cover that in an upcoming post. Also, MinnPost’s 990 will be public any day now; we operate on a different fiscal year. I expect bossman Joel Kramer will give you a complete report at Inside MinnPost, but if he doesn’t, I will.