These recommendations represent what is fair when stations commission new work. Many public radio stations pay independent contributors substantially less than the rates described here, and in most cases standardized station rate cards are designed with the assumption that freelance pieces are not wholly new reporting, but rather re-edits of existing reporting for a larger (or more local) audience. We also recognize that some segments of the industry will need some time to bring rates for new commissions up to fair standards.
These rates represent a floor. There may be, and often are, circumstances where a freelance or other independent contributor warrants a higher rate. That may be because the contributor brings exceptional experience or is based in an expensive market, or because the story is more demanding.
Note: We’ve revised this document to clarify the circumstances where the rates described here apply, and elaborated on some descriptions, particularly in cases where it wasn’t clear why a story was classified in a particular way. If you have feedback or input on this or other rate guides, we would love to hear from you! Our contact information is at the bottom of the guide.
Our recommendations on tape sync rates are described in a separate document: https://airmedia.org/rate-guide-tape-syncs/
In general stations should expect to pay no less than $150 to $175 for the first hour of a straightforward tape sync.
Our recommendations on compensation for feature commissions extend our day rate recommendations and should be based on appropriate day rates as described in our Guide to Day Rates — these recommendations only address producer compensation. Travel, tape sync and other expenses should be addressed separately.
Level 1 / Enterprise Features often take at least 5 full days to report and should be compensated at least 5x the appropriate day rate . These stories require research and original reporting and a reporter with substantial subject matter expertise. The reporting itself is likely to be time-consuming and may require travel (travel expenses should be addressed separately).
They have a sophisticated narrative and are rich in sounds that demonstrate or support the story.
To calculate a fair rate for an enterprise feature, review our Guide to Day Rates and multiply the appropriate day rate by 5 (or by as many days as the story should take — some in-depth features will take more than 5 days of work).
Samples of 5+ day feature stories:
- Japan’s shrinking labor force is finding new ways to fight karōshi — ‘death by overwork Ibby Caputo, PRI’s The World; Jan 10, 2019 — Length: 05:17
- Celebrating The 150th Anniversary Of The Transcontinental Railroad Jeff Lunden, Here and Now (WBUR); May 9, 2019 — Length: 05:50
- Brooklyn Police And The People They Serve Improvise ‘Understanding’ On Stage Jeff Lunden, Weekend Edition Saturday; Dec 31, 2016 — Length 08:13
- Solar Power Makes Electricity More Accessible On Navajo Reservation Ibby Caputo, Morning Edition; Apr 21, 2015 — Though this is shorter than a typical enterprise feature, this story about people who live in rural areas where the telephone network and electric grid do not reach, required substantial travel. The reporter made multiple trips to remote areas to identify and interview subjects, each one an 8 hour round drive. — Length 03:53
Level 2 / News Features can generally be expected to take 2.5 days of work. They incorporate multiple interviews, including interviews that capture the sounds of an interviewee carrying on activities relevant to the story or sound, scenes, and advanced radio storytelling techniques. These features require good prior knowledge of subject matter, but any travel should be local.
To calculate a fair rate for a news feature, review our Guide to Day Rates and multiply the appropriate day rate by 2.5.
- Poets And Poetry Lovers Alike Lament Loss Of ‘The Writer’s Almanac’ Nancy Rosenbaum, Here & Now; Dec 06, 2017 — Length: 03:20
- ‘You Have Dark Skin And You Are Beautiful’: The Long Fight Against Skin Bleaching Nancy Rosenbaum, Weekend Edition Sunday; Feb 25, 2018 — Length: 03:44
- Arizona Jury Deliberates Border Agent’s Manslaughter Case Ana Adlerstein, Morning Edition; Dec 21, 2018 — Length: 03:40
- Historic Recordings Revitalize Language For Passamaquoddy Tribal Members Erin Slomski-Pritz, All Things Considered; Sep 3, 2019 — Note that the online edition of this story includes substantial reporting and photography above and beyond the audio piece. — Length: 04:33
Level 3 / Daily Features are the quickest feature to turn around. They generally feature sources identified through publicly available reports or news conferences, interviews conducted by phone or at a single site, and minimal sound design and scenes. These stories can usually be turned around in a day and a half and would be compensated at 1.5x the appropriate day rate.
To calculate a fair rate for a daily feature, review our Guide to Day Rates and multiply the appropriate day rate by 1.5.
- Real Steam Whistles Return To Ferries On Cape Cod Monique LaBorde, All Things Considered; Jan 1, 2019 This audio postcard incorporates some layered sounds of steam whistles, ferry horns, and a little Van Morrision clip but was reported in a single day on site at the ferry terminal on Cape Cod and the three characters in the story were straightforward to find. With three characters and a variety of sound elements, this story is right on the edge between Level 2 and Level 3. (Length 02:47)
- California’s Largest Legal Weed Farms Face Conflict In Wine Country Clair Heddles, All Things Considered; Aug 14, 2019 (Length: 03:55)
- Atlanta’s Mayoral Race Too Close To Call Stephannie Stokes, Morning Edition; Dec 6, 2017 This election night story draws heavily on archive audio. (Length 02:37)
Superspots and Postcards
Super spots are typically one-day turnaround stories of two minutes or less in length. Individual station definitions vary, but in general any piece that is longer than a spot but not quite a feature might be classified as a superspot. Superspots often include scene sounds and narration, but they don’t have to. Some stations call these pieces “audio postcards.” They should be compensated at a day rate that assumes a single day of work.
To calculate a fair rate for a super spot, review our Guide to Day Rates and multiply the appropriate day rate by 1.
- During Renovations, Atlanta Library Takes Its Computer Lab Outside (Stephannie Stokes, Morning Edition — Aug 2, 2018)
These estimates are based on past rates, adjusted for inflation, and may not reflect the time involved. A “voicer” spot is narrated entirely by a reporter, while a “wrap” includes narration and tape. A “Q & A” includes prerecorded answers to questions sent by the host or editor.
- Domestic Voicer: $63 – $80
- Domestic Wrap: $71 – $90
- Foreign Voice: $71 – $90
- Foreign Wrap: $79 – $100
- Q&A: $47 – $60
- Pre-existing Actualities: $47 – $60
- Individual Photo: $39 – $50
- Review / Blog Post: $315 – $400
- Commentary: $394 – $500
- Two-way: $236 – $300 (a two-way is an interview between a host and a reporter, often either about a larger feature the reporter has produced, or on the scene of a breaking news event.)
- Additional Writing for the Web (eg. a digital story above and beyond a basic transcript of the piece): $236 – $300
We worked with experienced radio freelancers to estimate the number of days they spent on stories at various depth levels. To estimate recommendations on spots and actualities, we compared the 2012 day rates to 2012 spot and actuality rates and updated the recommendations to reflect the increase in day rates that AIR recommends.
AIR’s work on rates
AIR is actively developing a series of guides designed to help independent producers set fair and reasonable rates, and to help everyone create accurate and realistic budgets. We want to hear from you! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have feedback on our rate recommendations.
This guide was posted in September 2019 and updated for clarity. The numbers have not been adjusted since it was published. Our hope as an organization is that AIR can keep these rate guides up to date but if you’re reading this and it is more than a year old, you should adjust the recommended rate to reflect changes in the cost of work and living.