Program Director

  • Program Director

What differentiates your favorite radio station from another? Who makes the call to move the morning shock-jock to midday or only play Eminem after 5 p.m.? In both cases the answer is the program director, whether you are aware of it or not. He or she is the person behind the scenes pulling the strings to create a station’s unique identity—and pulling your ears to the station’s specific frequency. 


The program director is responsible for selecting the format, shows, and schedule for a radio station. This person also has final approval over the station’s music playlist. He or she hires disc jockeys and supervises the on-air talent. The station’s listening area demographics and ratings drive the program director’s decisions on format, the ultimate goal being to find the most profitable and popular formula that attracts a high volume of listeners, thereby driving up advertising revenue. Higher-rated programs command higher ad rates. When A&R reps and publicists are pushing an artist, the program director is the person they schmooze. He or she is in charge of entertaining pitches to include a new single in the playlist or organize a marketing campaign involving the station.

The all-important “segue” falls to the Program Director to design. A good segue keeps the listener interested and not spinning the dial in search of another station. Think of it as crafting an iPod playlist—do you prefer to slam together several hard-driving metal songs with a power-ballad chaser, or instead shake up the hip-hop roster with some soul classics? When you listen to the radio and lose yourself in the succession of one favorite hit after another (with no buzzkill in between), that is the skillful work of a program director. 

Skills & Education

This career does not require a particular degree, but an education in broadcasting, recording arts, or entertainment business is recommended. The program director is expected to have a thorough knowledge of digital and analog broadcast consoles, as well as common station practices. You must also have the capacity to analyze market research and demographics to extrapolate pertinent information concerning your target audience and potential advertisers. Courses in marketing, public relations, and finance are also helpful. Most important, you need an expert-level knowledge of songs, artists, popular and classic music. 

What to Expect

The work is largely creative, but this job is really a business-oriented occupation. Program directors have their eye on the bottom line—if the station is losing money, it is this person’s responsibility to make the necessary changes. That can include replacing on-air personalities, changing formats, or reassessing advertising costs. In this role you must be prepared to make tough choices and play the bad guy to keep the station afloat. Many program directors develop a close relationship with the on-air talent, and it can be a gut-wrenching experience to cut one loose. Experience as a DJ, station engineer, or radio promotions manager can lead to a program director gig. Those who attain the position will typically seek to move up into larger markets and more prestigious stations.  


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