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Radio Station Innards: The Program Director

The Man Who Makes it All Good


The “Program Director” is the person at a radio station responsible for “directing programming”. Program directing usually begins at 10 a.m. when the “PD” (as he’s affectionately called) strolls in with a steaming Grande Mocha Cappuccino Latte which he actually got free through a station trade with a local Starbucks.


Radio stations sometimes “trade” advertising for products or services. In this case, the PD is taking advantage of some coffee trade a former account executive set up a year ago. At this point, the station probably owes Starbucks $2800 dollars in ads because the PD has been wrongly mooching on the trade and since the account executive that set up the deal was fired 6 months ago - nobody is keeping track.


“It’s all good,” says the PD.


Beware of Program Directors who use that phrase. Nothing is ever “all good” when somebody tells you it is – especially at a radio station. When a PD tells you “It’s all good,” he is really saying, “I’m ignoring the bad stuff because my latte is getting cold.”


The PD is Like a Boat that Wears Many Hats


Program Directors hire and fire the people on-the-air. Just like boats, the best day and worst day in a deejays life is the day he gets a new job from his Program Director and the day the DJ is canned and finally gets rid of the loon who hired him. Most Program Directors can spot great talent. They have a nose for that. Unfortunately, once the talent is hired, most PDs also have another aptitude: annoying the crap out of talents over stupid, picky, meaningless issues which eventually force these generally unstable talents to fantasize about a murder-suicide involving the Program Director.


Sometimes the Program Director is also the Music Director. That’s called wearing two hats. Unfortunately, no one can afford two hats in this economy which is where the record companies come in. Record companies provide gifts to PDs like hats and other promotional materials including concert tickets, trips for listeners, CDs, t-shirts, etc. (It used to be cash, cocaine, and hookers but the F.C.C. screwed that up. Thanks a lot you bunch of killjoys!) Everything a Program Director receives has to be accounted for and disclosed. Why? Because the PD’s boss, the General Manager, wants to make sure he gets his cut.


I’m kidding. Disclosure occurs because the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t want the radio station doing any back room deals and promising to play crappy songs in return for anything of value.


Well, at least unless the public knows. In the good old days, radio had Payola (See “cash, cocaine, and hookers” above). That was great because the DJs and Program Directors were able to make a decent living by taking bribes and playing the record company’s crappy songs.

Congress finally stepped in and cleaned all that up. That’s why today, a DJ or PD can still make a decent living by taking a bribe and playing a song but ONLY if they disclose it to the listeners. Unfortunately, most radio companies frown on Payola and make employees sign a paper and swear to God they’re not taking any.


It seems the only folks who can legally take Payola anymore are the politicians who stepped in to clean up radio. Of course, they don’t call it Payola. They call it “campaign contributions”.

By the way: what’s the difference between a seedy record promoter and a lobbyist? You can trust the seedy record promoter.


There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch


Anyway, back to the Program Director. Besides directing programming and maybe overseeing music, the PD has to go out to lunch everyday – usually with the guy who does the afternoon show. It is usually embarrassing when the bill arrives because the PD is never sure whether to offer to pay the bill with another station trade or let the afternoon DJ pay with the money he made by illegally selling station t-shirts on eBay.


As you can see, being a PD is a day full of hard decisions.


Sometime in the afternoon, the Program Director might have to do face time at a meeting. He will bring in a yellow legal pad and pen but seldom write anything down. This is because anyone with ideas will usually offer to “forward” the info to the PD. Email has been a boon to the art of program directing. Plus, Program Directors agree they can delete more listener complaints faster now thanks to broadband.


At the end of the day, the Program Director hangs around just long enough to make sure the General Manager leaves before he does. This paints the Program Director in a very positive light and suggests that he’s working himself to the bone. (This tactic also works in other professions.)


Other things you should know about the Program Director:


Sometimes he has to wear a third hat and “jock” on-the-air. He will often use a pseudonym because the last thing the PD wants is for listeners to know that the idiot on the air is also the idiot who is doing the program directing.


Most Program Directors have offices with signed memorabilia from rock stars. Nothing says success like a framed jock strap with Kid Rock’s signature on it.


Doing What the Program Director Does Best: Drinking Coffee out of a Free Promotional Coffee Mug

Program Directors do not look like Andy Travis from the old TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. They look more like Les Nessman from WKRP in Cincinnati.

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© 2020 Corey Deitz

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