WHYY president got a massive pay raise last year: It’s ‘a slap in the face’

Bill Marrazzo made about $842,000 in total compensation, and some of his employees are furious.

Bill Marazzo, inset, and WHYY's HQ on 6th and Race streets.

Bill Marazzo, inset, and WHYY's HQ on 6th and Race streets.

Billy Penn photo / Marazzo via WHYY.org
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Times are good for the head of Philly’s public media station.

Recently released tax documents show Bill Marrazzo, the president of WHYY, received an increase in compensation of nearly 20 percent, taking his total to the high six figures. His employees, many of whom haven’t seen a substantial raise in years, are questioning whether his gain is a loss for the station.

Marrazzo’s compensation for fiscal year 2016 was $842,832, well over the $703,000 he took home in 2015.

“How much Bill makes is a slap in the face,” one WHYY staffer told Billy Penn. “Coming off of a pledge drive, where we tell our listeners that we need their money to survive, and then to see in the 990 how much goes to executive compensation – it doesn’t feel like it aligns with our mission.”

The salary is publicly available via the station’s Form 990, a tax document required for nonprofits. The $842,000 puts Marrazzo well ahead of his peers in other major cities, save for New York. At New York’s NPR affiliate, WNYC, president Laura Walker pulled in $888,110 for the same fiscal year.

But there’s a major difference: WNYC’s revenue totaled $80 million. WHYY’s totaled $34 million. Proportionally, Marrazzo’s salary is taking up more than twice as much of the budget as Walker’s. At WGBH, the Boston NPR affiliate, president Jonathan Abbott’s compensation totaled $624,930. His payment represented an even smaller slice of the station’s $161 million in revenue. WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate, didn’t yet have its FY 2016 data available but in 2015 paid its president $250,060 in total compensation. WBEZ’s revenue, at $27.6 million, is comparable to WHYY’s.

It’s not the first time Marazzo’s salary has drawn scrutiny. In 2007, Philadelphia magazine published a lengthy examination of a salary described as excessive — when it was $430,786, almost half of his total compensation last year. (Adjusted solely for inflation, as the raises of most WHYY staff generally are for cost-of-living increase, that salary would be $496,000 in 2016.)

A few years ago, Marazzo justified his hefty pay package thusly in a conversation with the Inquirer‘s Jane Von Bergen:

“Contentment for me has never come by the size of my paycheck, but by the knowledge that I’ve given no less than what I take out,” he said. “It’s dangerous to measure somebody on the basis of their W2, no matter how big or no matter how small. It’s less about what they make; it’s more about how they live, and what they do with it.”

His jump in payment outpaces other station executives, rank-and-file employees and top talents like Terry Gross and Marty Moss-Coane.

Compensation for Marazzo included his base salary, bonuses and $85,668 in deferred retirement payments he had already collected. The previous fiscal year, Marrazzo’s total compensation equaled $703,718 and included $97,296 in deferred retirement payments.

Marrazzo, whose automatic email reply indicated he was on vacation, did not respond to an interview request. Art Ellis, the station’s vice president of communications and member relations, responded on his behalf, emailing that Marrazzo did not request a raise.

He noted that Marrazzo’s total compensation included two years of bonuses and the deferred retirement payments and that his base salary of $524,769 was six percent higher than the base of the previous fiscal year.

“The raise Bill received was a consequence of meeting some and exceeding most stretch goals established by the WHYY board prior to the beginning of the performance period,” Ellis said.

Membership and revenues have increased in recent years at WHYY, and Ellis said 71 percent of its budget is invested in production. In 2003, the number was at 52 percent. Ellis said the bonuses were for $101,000 and $85,000 and based on performance.

Board chairman Fred Sutherland could not be reached for comment. Vice chairman John F. Salveson did not respond to an interview request.

The 20 percent increase in compensation for Marrazzo doesn’t compare to fellow employees of WHYY. Fellow executive Kyra McGrath’s compensation went up about 10 percent from fiscal year 2015 to 2016. Gross, the host of “Fresh Air” and by far WHYY’s biggest star, went from about $320,000 to $331,000.

The staff in general tends to be eligible for maximum 3 percent annual raises. Those raises must be determined by individual managers and are essentially considered standard, cost-of-living raises.

The increase of Marrazzo’s compensation has been a topic among employees of the station, though most have been unwilling to speak openly about it out of fear of reprisal.

Another WHYY staffer said salaries for reporters and editors remain below those of public media competitors, to the extent the station is having trouble attracting good editors. The staffer agreed the timing of the release of Marrazzo’s compensation was particularly bad.

“Publishing this 990 after a big summer pledge drive in which Marrazzo cried victim to listeners about how Trump was going to cut public media funding — it won’t happen — as a way to guilt people into opening their wallets makes his disingenuous pitch even more manipulative and self-serving,” the staffer said. “Let’s not kid ourselves. Marrazzo cares about maintaining his lifestyle and powerful rich-guy image and far, far less about public media or journalism.”