It’s no secret that the starting salary for a broadcast meteorologist is pretty low. There are a lot of eager, young candidates out there, all looking for a handful of jobs across small-market America. You need to work in those small stations for at least a little while to get the experience you need to move up to bigger markets and higher paying positions. But starting out is tough. Once you get that first job, not only will you likely have to move to a town you’ve never been to before, you’ll probably be paying off student loans and other expenses too. Working a full-time, and often case part-time job, may not be enough to keep all the bills paid and you might find yourself looking to other ways to pull in some extra cash.
You’ll often find that news directors and station management discourages its on-air talent from working side jobs, especially in the public eye. The station wants to keep the public perception that all its on-air people are well-compensated members of the community, even though it’s not always the case. It might even be written in your contract that other jobs are off-limits. This can make it really hard to make ends meet.
The key is to find a gig that will help you pay the bills, not get in the way of your broadcast job, and still keep your news director happy. There are some options out there, but you’ll need to work at it. Here are a few ideas:
Radio weather forecasts – This was probably a lot easier to pull off ten years ago, but if you are in a small market, it’s worth a shot. Offer to provide weather forecasts to local radio stations each weekday morning for a small, monthly fee. What ever they can pay you can usually be made up by a local business sponsoring the weather forecast. One station might not be all that lucrative, but when you are providing the same forecast to four or five stations all at the same time, the opportunity scales well. It’s also great promotion for you and your TV station, which doesn’t cost the boss anything. Jobs like these are dying out though, as TV groups pair with radio groups in a cross promotion share, meaning you do all the work and don’t get anything extra for it.
Teach a college class – TV stations love to promote how smart their weather team is, so this is a great way to show that off. Most community colleges have a Meteorology 101 class and you might find an opportunity to teach that class at a time that fits your schedule. I happen to be lucky enough to teach two classes a semester in Broadcast Performance for Meteorologists. If you have a college with its own meteorology major, this might be an even better option. It’s a great benefit for the school, and can be very rewarding for you as well. My station is happy to have me there, and it’s been a very fulfilling experience. Great work if you can find it.
Substitute teaching at a grade school – Before I got into teaching at the college level, I almost gave this a try. Again it’s good because you are out in the community in an academic role, which might satisfy your station management. It’s also flexible enough so that you can work when you want to and still be able to fill in for the morning guy when you need to. Schools like having someone there that they know and can rely on, and chances are you are already doing school visits anyway. This way, you can get paid for them.
Doing more at the station – If you are part-time, the best way to become full-time is to offer to do more. That might not be in weather right away, but there is plenty around that a capable person can contribute to. Maybe you end up shooting a high school basketball game for the sports department, or picking up a shift in master control. Learn new skills and offer to help where you can. It might not be exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life, but it beats a lot of other things you could be doing instead. It also helps you get to know the people at your station. Working in different departments can be the stepping stone you need to go from part-time to full-time.
The key is to be open and honest with your news director, and keep them in the loop. You don’t want to bag groceries or work the drive thru just as much as they don’t want you to. Eventually you’ll get there and you might not need that part-time job, and perhaps you’ll be like keep and keep doing it anyway.
Are you a broadcast meteorologist with a side job? Please let me know what’s worked for you in the comments below.
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