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The Midweek Motivator – What IS a Program Director?

Like the title, “Broadcasting” clings to archaic terms and titles. At a time when defining a position and modernizing its meaning seem critical we sleepwalk through history with little coruscating innovation.

Somewhere in time someone decided program directors directed…well, “programs.” Radio archives tell of auditoriums filled with an audience watching a live radio show. Not that long ago, if you toured WTMJ’s facilities on Milwaukee’s Capitol Drive, you’d eventually see their auditorium where long before WTMJ Television, radio personalities hosted live shows. It must have been fun for Milwaukee’s great grandparents and their friends. Possibly those times were the early inspiration for the term “program director.” In 2020 that title has as much impact as an Oldsmobile.

“Program Directors” have great responsibility yet with little authority. They’re held accountable for Nielsen performance, music design and management, talent procurement and their supervision. Yet in many places, “PD’s” are becoming as expendable as paper towels. What’s wrong with this picture?

Within massive radio groups born from the Telecom Act, year by year “programming” has been subordinated to a second tier emphasis making the title even less definitive. In many places people with great potential are billeted in their building as caretakers charged with ratings, yet mainly role players on the organizational chart, personifying the adage “all of the responsibility but with little of the authority”.

As we interact with some PD’s we witness what has become a false message, so we remind them “you can’t do anything without aggressively pushing your own limitations.” To a Program Director working under an anachronistic title, we ask: “what advice would you give an aspiring, bright, aggressive college student pursuing radio?” For example, “In the last five years, what company innovation or strategic breakthrough have you experienced?” “What are the best and most useful recommendations from your leadership?” And, “how has a mentor or supervisor helped you benefit from a failure?”

If you’re a PD ask yourself: in the last year, which corporate leaders have talked with you, or offered you a performance assessment followed with guidance to improve?

If you’re coming up with blanks, it’s possible you need to look ahead toward a stronger, more enlightened company where people are welcome to shine in important moment s (as if you’re actually meant to be there)…setting trends, instead of following them.

I offer the motion Radio surrender its hold on the title “Program Director” giving way to a descriptor that actually suggests innovation, creativity, and appreciation for your audience.You know; something “corporate” like, “Chief Listener Engagement Officer?” Eventually there will come a time when radio leaders accept that everything old is finished. And that will be the beginning!