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

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)

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.

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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 11/04/2009 - 03:43 pm.

    I have never understood why people like that are considered so incredibly valuable. Strange world we live in, indeed. I’d be happy with about one fifth of those salaries!

  2. Submitted by Jason DeRusha on 11/04/2009 - 04:10 pm.

    These salaries seem extremely reasonable to me. These are national radio hosts – making in the $150k range.

  3. Submitted by Matt Wells on 11/04/2009 - 04:17 pm.

    Pretty sure that payments to “Prairie Home Productions” are lumped in line 43a, “PROGRAMMING”.

  4. Submitted by Kassie Church on 11/04/2009 - 08:41 pm.

    I was a little surprised by Krista Tippett because I didn’t know her show was so popular, but otherwise it isn’t that much money. I think Chris Farrell is a Senior Economic something or other. A senior economist at a large firm is going to make more than he does. I’m sure Alton Brown or Bobby Flay makes A LOT more than Lynne Rossetto-Kasper.

  5. Submitted by Paul Scott on 11/04/2009 - 09:06 pm.

    Whoa, whoa whoa…Bobby Flay actually cooks. Or he did, sometimes, when I worked for him. LRK, you know, really talks a good talk about food, and I am sure she is an er, splendid, cook. But still. The part that gets me is Kai Risdal and those Wall Street genuflecters getting paid so much to read press releases.

  6. Submitted by Jane McWilliams on 11/04/2009 - 10:28 pm.

    As an MPR junkie – I never gave much thought to salaries. I wonder how much people like Cathy Wurzer and Kerri Miller who on air every weekday make. Is their salary included in the 43a figure, I wonder?

    If it takes that kind of money to produce the outstanding public radio station is, I guess I can accept it. It sure makes my monthly pledge look paltry, and it explains the increasing number of “brought to you by . . . ” announcements.

  7. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/05/2009 - 06:55 am.

    I like how they say they only disclose what is required by law. That’s funny from a company that receives so much government money. They’re about as transparent as another government media outlet – Pravda.

  8. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/05/2009 - 07:25 am.

    BTW – I wonder how many listeners took the craptacular economic advice of Chris Farrell and rode their savings “investments” all the way to the bottom of the market, afraid to buck the “advice” of MPR and try market timing. Farrell also has an unfortunate tendency to parrot Republican talking points, such as when he said, without evidence or argument, that the reason for our economic woes is the state of public education.

    If you think those salaries are too high, there is a reason: If you overpay your “talent” then they tend to be overly loyal to the people responsible for that pay. No, not the public, but people like Bill Kling, who are beyond public accountability.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/05/2009 - 08:48 am.

    Chris Farrell’s salary also caught my attention for the same reasons Mr. Levine mentions above. I think he’s slightly different that the others on the list because he pretends to be an economist and he’s not. This recession pretty much pulled back the curtain and revealed his limitations.

    In Farrell’s defense however, the problem I’ve always had with NPR economic reporting is that is pretends the financial markets are the economy. That’s the thing with Farrell, he’s a market guy, the only time he ever talks about the real economy is when he tries to explain or predict how it will effect the financial markets. But I don’t think that Farrell’s call, that’s on NPR. For some bizarre reason NPR and MPR have always acted like all their listeners are interested in is investments and financial markets. We get half reports on the markets even if absolutely nothing is happening. This presumption renders much of their economic reporting irrelevant because it basically ignores the real economy. The one really huge trend, the over financialization of the economy, has still not been recognized or reported by NPR/MPR.

    I don’t wan to pick on Farrell but I do think NPR and MPR’s conduct during this recession bordered on negligence. As recently as February of this year they had “financial advisers” as guests who were still telling people not to move their money, to stick with their “long term” strategies. Mr. Levine is correct when he points out that this advice cost people billions of dollars. This was outright shilling for the financial markets and nothing else. You can monitor your investments performance, and you can move money around, there were some places that were safer. I never never never heard any of the so-called market gurus on MPR or NPR explain this or give any instructions on how to do this. The pitch with these investment products was that they’re set-it-and-forget-it instruments, they’re not.

    I don’t mind if Mr. Farrell makes a living, but it bothers me that his reporting hasn’t been discredited. I mean he just did a piece about how he hopes the unemployment rate goes up because that means more people are looking for work, as if more people looking will actually create jobs. It’s not about how many people are looking for work, it’s about how many people are actually working- this is basic economics and he doesn’t get it. What you need to be looking at are the job vacancy rates. Of course the unemployment numbers can affect Wall Street regardless of actual employment, and that’s all that matters right?

  10. Submitted by Paul Scott on 11/05/2009 - 09:37 am.

    I think you can sum up the Marketplace philosophy by their choice of music when telling us how the market did that day. “Stormy Weather” when the Dow is down, and some iconic happy song I can’t recall at this time, when it up. Because, of course, that’s all that matters. When the Dow is down, something is wrong, and that must be changed, and when the Dow is up, everyone can stop thinking and celebrate.

  11. Submitted by Paul Scott on 11/05/2009 - 09:49 am.

    While we are piling on the public radio ideology, I really want to know why a show like Future Tense must unfailingly view all technological change as good and all who oppose such change as hopeless dead-enders. Think of the reporting it could provide about this transformative era we are going through if it did not position itself as a cheerleader for that change, but rather took a technology neutral approach. They remind of the wide-eyed people in the school system who think third graders need to be online in order to get the most out of their education/compete. “Compete!” Third graders!

  12. Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/05/2009 - 01:13 pm.

    ” As recently as February of this year they had “financial advisers” as guests who were still telling people not to move their money, to stick with their “long term” strategies. Mr. Levine is correct when he points out that this advice cost people billions of dollars.”

    Hogwash. If I had sold in February, I would have locked in enormous losses. Or does your perfect hindsight also exactly time the market bottom to get back into whatever should have been sold in Feb?

    My portfolio today is far better than it was in February, which it likely wouldn’t be had I sold then. Market timing is for gamblers, not investors.

  13. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 11/05/2009 - 01:32 pm.

    MPR’s reporting on the economy has been consistently pollyanna in the sense that it’s had a flavor of “recover is just around the corner!”. However, they aren’t much different than most outlets in that sense.

    I did my best to take them to task on it:

  14. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 11/05/2009 - 03:01 pm.

    I have to agree with Brian and Chris Farrell, not Mr. Levine. All the people who sold a year ago locked in horrible losses, which have since been mitigated by a partial recovery. Furthermore, I think Marketplace does an excellent job of explaining how everything relates together in terms beyond the stock market. The reporting from China and Europe is great. I just wish they’d update their cheesy theme song!

  15. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/05/2009 - 03:45 pm.

    Brian Simon and Matt Steele are under the misapprehension that the investors who lost all the money are the ones who gained some of it back. Plus there is the notion that the market has merely re-inflated a bubble that is unsustainable (see Nouriel Roubini). Events of the past few years have proven beyond a doubt the corruption of the financial system and its main players. This is not a point of view that is welcome on MPR.

  16. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/05/2009 - 10:45 pm.

    Hogwash. If I had sold in February, I would have locked in enormous losses. Or does your perfect hindsight also exactly time the market bottom to get back into whatever should have been sold in Feb?

    It’s not simply a matter of buying and selling. With annuities for instance you can’t just cash them out without paying penalties or taxes. The point is you can move money around and find safer havens, you don’t have to leave it where it is. And you can typically do this yourself online. The annuities my wife and I have allow up to 12 free trades a years. I moved our stuff into treasury bond based conservative, wealth preservation stuff in the summer of 08, and I moved it back into more aggressive stuff about three months ago. We lost 16% of our value instead of 30%, and have seen gains of 18% in the last few months. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m just pointing out that most people don’t even know they could’ve done something like that. They don’t know because the people who could have told them were telling them NOT to move money but rather to leave it where it was. Our financial adviser was a complete waste of time, I fired him and took over myself. All I did by the way was look at the options and pick the ones that were losing the least, then you keep an eye on it, check every two weeks or so. Did the same thing with my wife’s state retirement investment.

    Now imagine, if millions of Americans had done the same thing, instead of being down 20%-40% they’d be even or looking at maybe a 10% loss. How do think that would affect confidence and spending?

    And we haven’t even gone into how it is so many people ended up with so much money in the market in the first place.

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