A woman deciding which song to play with a checkmark and x above the two choices

Who Chooses What’s on the Radio and How Do They Do It

You’re listening to your favorite song, or perhaps, your least favorite song, wondering who chooses what songs make it on the radio and how often should it play.

We’ve covered how songs are chosen and how audience is measured previously.

But who is the one responsible for making the decisions?

Well, I am.

More specifically, the program director (PD) makes the decisions regarding who and what goes on the air when and where.

In the past few years of my radio career, I was the person responsible for hiring talent, choosing songs, building programming clocks, scheduling shows, and analyzing the audience.

If it sounds like a lot, it is. A program director’s work is never done.

Let’s take a closer look at the average week in a program director’s life.

Hiring On-Air Staff

A radio station is more than a series of songs or talk shows. Someone, or in this case, a group of someones introduce the songs and interview the guests.

Part of a program director’s job is is recognizing, recruiting, hiring, and training talent. While it may sound easy, it’s a game of dice.

A radio station’s revenue is determined by ratings. You want someone who not only has talent but knows the format, or genre of the music, and can bring in listeners.

Just because someone has talent doesn’t mean they’ll make a good addition to your hosting team.

A program director may listen to similar stations in other cities to find a good fit. They’ll review resumes and demos. Maybe someone already on staff is ready to for their debut.

Once the PD hires the person, that’s only part of the process.

It’s the PD’s role to encourage the host to be their best by giving constant feedback. This is done in what is called air check sessions. The PD reviews the host’s on-air performance and supplies coaching.

But what if someone isn’t cutting it or misbehaves? The PD makes the decision to cut the person and find a replacement.

Talent management is only one aspect of a program director’s job.

Choosing Songs and Shows

A program director, well, directs programming. Programming refers to the music, shows, and live events broadcast on the radio.

In all honesty, choosing the programming is the easiest part. Scheduling programming is harder.

Scheduling means determining where and when and how often programming airs. More about that in a minute.

Programming requires a broad skillset. A PD must understand ratings, research results, and how it applies to the station’s success. But a PD must also have good instincts about what is trending and what the audience will like.

Building Programming Clocks And Scheduling Show

Here’s the part of the job that is a little more complicated. Let’s take it slowly.

Every station has software that schedules and plays programming. The PD has to create an algorithm to make everything run smoothly.

Songs are placed into categories. Each station is different, but some categories are the same. New releases are one category. Gold hits, the older songs, may be another category. Most PDs create four to six different categories for music.

Then the categories, along with commercials and talking, are made into a clock. No, not the kind of clock you’re used to seeing.

The clock tells the computer when to play songs from specific categories and commercials at certain times during the hour.

The PD is responsible for making sure songs from the same artist don’t play too close together or a very slow song doesn’t plays after a fast song. Maybe some music is played during a certain time of the day, also known as dayparting.

Programming is part science and part trial and error, which is why they rely on audience data.

This is what a program director sells to the audience.

Analyzing The Audience

None of a PD’s job matters if the audience isn’t listening. It all comes back to the audience.

Fortunately, the program director doesn’t calculate audience numbers. They merely have to interpret the numbers.

For broadcast stations, Nielsen calculates audience data. For streaming stations, tracking software determines how many unique listeners a station has and how long they listen.

The program director has to review the numbers and decide if something is or isn’t working. Of course, the goal is always to be number one.

Here are a few things a PD has to consider:

  • How make people listen: This may involve changing up programming or marketing strategy.
  • How to make people listen longer: Is the music flowing as it should? Can the station run a contest to increase the amount of time people are listening to the station?
  • How to bring in high-dollar clients: While the PD doesn’t do this alone, they work with the sales team to create on-air opportunities to entice clients.

No one goes to school to become a program director. It takes a hard-knocks education and lots of natural ability to do the job effectively.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding on how to make a radio station a success. Keep coming back for more behind-the-scenes secrets of radio.

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