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Behind the mic: exploring employment patterns in radio broadcasting

Radio broadcasting is an industry with a rich history and valuable contribution to human connection, to the sharing of knowledge, information, and culture. It is an industry that has persisted despite many changes and challenges, particularly related to consumer demand and technological transformation, demonstrating an impressive ability to adapt and remain relevant. On this World Radio Day, we take a deep dive into data derived from the ILO Harmonized Microdata Collection, to gain a better understanding of how trends are reshaping the employment landscape in this remarkable industry.

Technological change and employment growth in the radio broadcasting industry

In recent years, the radio broadcasting industry has been confronted with many changes, including the rise of podcasts, music playlists, digital platforms and online radio streaming, and advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) enabling the personalization of content. All of these have resulted in both challenges and opportunities. But what does this mean for the industry’s workforce? Are the digital transformation, changing consumption patterns, and other factors leading to net job losses or net job creation in the industry? Among the countries for which available data are sufficiently detailed to isolate trends in the industry from those of the broader programming and broadcasting sector (which additionally includes TV broadcasting), the answer seems to be, unfortunately, net job losses. Indeed, employment growth rates for the radio broadcasting industry over the pre-COVID pandemic period have been negative in 12 out of 13 countries. These include seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay), three countries in Southeast Asia (The Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam) and two in Europe (the United Kingdom and Serbia).

A recent ILO study analyzing the overall effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the broader media and culture sector emphasized how the pandemic has simultaneously accelerated the technological transformation of the sector and fueled new business models. Notably, however, the pandemic seems to have had mixed impacts on the industry’s employment across countries. In Ecuador, Mexico, Thailand, and Viet Nam, employment in radio broadcasting increased in 2020, before declining again in 2021. In the United Kingdom, the pre-pandemic decline seems to have been reversed as employment in the industry has increased rapidly since 2020. In Brazil, following important losses in 2020 and 2021, employment in the industry rebounded strongly in 2022. These different trends are undoubtedly a result of the confluence of factors shaping the industry to a varying extent in different contexts, from changes in consumer preferences, to technological adoption and changing business models and processes.

The management of those long-term transformations, also as result of COVID-19, will require putting in place resilient systems to ensure the economic viability of radio broadcasting, supporting the livelihoods of those working in the sector, and designing public policies to support the sector in responding to similar crises.

Radio Jobs - Employment characteristics in the industry

Employees constitute the lion’s share of employment in the programming and broadcasting industry, and the proportion of these employees who work in medium and large enterprises (defined here as having 50 employees or more) is significantly higher than the all-industry average in nearly all countries with available data.

In the radio broadcasting industry, the share of formal sector enterprises in employment is also very high in most countries with available data. The share of informal employees, while lower than the national average, can be quite high in some countries, with more than two-thirds of the industry’s employees in Bolivia in 2019 and approximately a third of employees in Argentina and Uruguay in 2022.

The share of employees on permanent contracts is also relatively large in the radio broadcasting industry with approximately 90 per cent or more in countries like Austria, the Philippines, Viet Nam and Ethiopia), 80-85 per cent in others (Argentina, Bangladesh, the United Kingdom). But in a few countries, like Serbia, Mexico, Slovenia and France, the industry’s share of temporary employees can be quite high (28-40 per cent). In many countries with available data, the share of temporary employees declined during the pandemic, as these workers were more likely to lose their jobs than permanent employees, as is often the case in crises times.

The programming and broadcasting industry has a highly skilled – and generally well paid –  workforce. In the last year for which data are available, professional occupations represented more than half of the industry’s employees in approximately two-thirds of countries with available data (31 out of 47 countries), while technicians and associate professionals represented more than 20 per cent of employees (28 out of 47 countries). The key professional occupations in the industry are journalists; film, stage and related directors and producers; and announcers on radio, television and other media outlets; while the technician and associate professionals category included primarily broadcasting and audiovisual technicians.

Job-biased technological change - Is the rise of internet radio broadcasting and remote work affecting some jobs more than others?

Technology applications are transforming the whole media and culture sector. In the case of broadcasting or recording enterprises, technologies have made it easier to create and distribute content and this has facilitated enterprise development to a certain extent, as well as reduced associated time and costs. Such transformations are also driving a shift in the occupational structure of the industry. Specifically, a shift towards online radio broadcasting and away from traditional, studio-based broadcasting is reflected in an increasing share of professionals in the industry, and a declining share of technicians and associate professionals, and clerical support workers. For instance, in 7 out of 10 countries, the share of professionals in employment increased in the pre-pandemic years, often at the expense of the share of technicians and associate professionals. In some cases, this was due to employment growth for professionals coupled with a decline in employment for technicians and associate professionals (e.g. Brazil and France), and in other cases it was due to a relatively lower decline in the employment of professionals (e.g. Ecuador and Mexico). These trends were accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a mixed impact on journalists and other professionals for whom remote work is more feasible, while more consistently affecting broadcasting, audiovisual and other technicians who often must work in studios or offices.

While larger structures such as broadcasters and major cultural institutions still resort to traditional employment contracts, changes in the business models are resulting in an increasing number of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and start-ups resorting to new and more flexible contractual and work arrangements, including remote work. Furthermore, technology advances are shifting the place and space of production, as well as the place of broadcasting, to “home settings” which has implications in terms of the need to adapt rules and regulations to ensure adequate work conditions in these new work environments.

The programming and broadcasting workforce: Are youth and women well-represented?

The programming and broadcasting industry’s workforce is quite young in general. With the notable exception of Latin America, for most countries in other regions, the share of youth aged 15-29 in the industry’s employment was higher than the average for all industries in the last year for which disaggregated data are available. But even in Latin American countries, and in the United States, where this is not the case, the youth share in the industry’s employment is often close to or only slightly lower than the all-industry average. In the subset of European countries, youth engagement in the industry is relatively high, with some notable exceptions (e.g. Switzerland, Albania, and the United Kingdom). Detailed data available for a handful of countries only (all of them in Latin America: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay) indicate that the youth share in radio broadcasting specifically is found to be lower than the average of the broader programming and broadcasting industry.

Regarding women’s employment, the picture is quite different. In approximately two-thirds of countries (41 out of 63 in this case) including in all the African and Latin American countries with available data, the female share in the programming and broadcasting industry’s employment was lower than the all-industry average in the last year of available data. And among countries where this is not the case, women represented a larger employment share than men in only a handful of countries: the Dominican Republic, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore and Georgia. Women’s share in employment in the radio broadcasting industry specifically tends to be even lower than for the broader programming and broadcasting industry in most countries (6 out of 8 countries) with reliable disaggregated data.

Looking at the share of women in the sector’s key occupations also reveals interesting insights. Among Latin American countries with available detailed data (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Uruguay), women accounted for a lower share, and in some cases, far lower share, of journalists in the programming and broadcasting industry in comparison with their share in the journalist occupation in general. On the other hand, women represented more than two-thirds of the industry’s journalists in France and in North Macedonia in 2022, compared to respectively 54 per cent and 58 per cent of journalists overall. The programming and broadcasting industry is the largest employer of journalists, or second largest, after publishing activities, which include newspapers. Other industries that employ a large share of journalists in many countries are information service activities; creative, arts and entertainment activities; advertisement and market research; and public administration.

Among film, stage, and related directors and producers, the women’s share in employment in the programming and broadcasting industry was 26 percent in Brazil and 21 per cent in Mexico, close to their share for the occupation across all industries (at the national level). Other industries employing large shares of this occupation’s workers are ‘motion picture, video and television programme production, sound recording and music publishing activities’; and ‘creative, arts and entertainment activities’.

In the last year for which data are available, women represented only about 15 per cent of announcers on radio, television and other media in Ecuador and Uruguay, approximately 25 per cent in Brazil and Colombia, 32 per cent in Mexico, and 39 per cent in Thailand. But the lowest female shares in employment among the programming and broadcasting industry’s key occupations are among broadcasting and audiovisual technicians. In the latter occupation, the women’s share in the industry’s workforce, mirroring their share in this occupation’s workforce across all industries, ranged from less than 5 per cent in Colombia to 27 per cent in Uruguay.

Although the median gender pay gap in the programming and broadcasting industry across all countries with available data is on the lower side (7 per cent, compared to an all industry median of 14 per cent), the gender pay gap can be important in the industry’s key occupations in some countries. Indeed, while the number countries is not sufficiently large to draw definite trends, we observe that in the latest year with available data, women journalists earned less than men in 7 out of 10 countries. Among film, stage and related directors and producers, women earned less than men in 4 out of 6 countries, and pay gaps were quite high, ranging from 20 per cent in Brazil to 46 per cent in Mexico. Women also earned less than men in most countries for the announcers on radio, television, and other media occupation (4 out of 6 countries), and among broadcasting and audiovisual technicians (7 out of 10 countries).

In general, a more gender-balanced labour market in the sector may benefit from the provision of funding earmarked to increase the share of women’s productions and broadcasting jobs, actions to address gender pay gaps and women’s under-representation and skills gaps in those broadcasting occupations linked to fast-growing technologies.

Concluding remarks

While the radio broadcasting industry is certainly resilient, the changes underway are affecting its workforce, often leading to a decline in employment levels, in addition to shifts in occupational structure and most likely, in the task content of occupations and in the underlying working conditions and types of contracts. As the industry continues to adapt and confront challenges, it will be important to promote and recover its potential for generating high quality jobs, particularly for women, often underrepresented in the industry’s key occupations. For instance, upskilling and reskilling can contribute to mitigate job losses and help the industry’s workforce keep up with rapid changes. Some of these key issues are addressed in the conclusions of last year’s sectoral meeting on the future of work in the arts and entertainment sector, calling for long-term strategies to create a resilient sector, equipped to respond to labour market transformations and future crises. The meeting also identified clear actions by governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations to develop coherent policy and regulatory frameworks to adapt the working conditions in the sector to the digital transformation, to promote an enabling environment for businesses in a changing digital environment, and address skills shortages through retraining and upskilling.


  • Souleima El Achkar

    Souleima is an economist and labour market information specialist, with expertise in skills development systems. Since 2010, she has been working as a consultant on various projects for the ILO, Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

    View all posts

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