The 2018 Best Program Directors In Country Radio


Country remains the only format in radio where the artists are on a first-name basis with the program directors. It’s the only format whose stars mingle with the radio industry every year, in February at the Country Radio Seminar, and perform there free of charge. No matter how successful or how new to the business, these artists make it a point to be part of CRS, to perform, mingle, and even party with our industry.

Country radio program directors are probably the most powerful PDs in our industry when it comes to making stars, and those stars know it. A handful of these programmers can decide they love a new song and run it up the chart quickly, giving it a ton of spins on their station and making it an instant hit. New country star Luke Combs (see page CRS2) tells Radio Ink Country radio is still “the most important thing in the business today. That’s how you get the music out to the folks.” It’s a relationship neither side takes lightly.

You’ll see a lot of familiar faces on this list. There isn’t a lot of turnover in this group, which is one of the reasons the relationships with the record labels in Nashville and their artists has been so strong for so long. Not to mention the skills these individuals possess to make their stations the best in a format loved across the country, even with so much competition. You’ll also see how appreciative these PDs are of the position they’re in, of the people who helped them achieve their success, and for the friendships with so many of the artists. And you’ll see how excited these PDs are about mentoring and training the next generation of Country programmers.

Here are the Best Program Directors in Country Radio.

1. Johnny Chiang
Cox Media Group
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 28

“It is great to have Johnny Chiang as a member of the Cox Media Group team,” says CMG Executive VP Bill Hendrich. “Johnny does fantastic work for our stations in Houston and is also a tremendous leader and collaborator with all of our other CMG program directors. Johnny’s impact at CMG goes far beyond the success he has driven in Houston. We are proud of Johnny and thrilled to see him receive this recognition.”

Johnny Chiang is no stranger to the number one position on Radio Ink’s list of the Top Country Program Directors. He’s been here before; in polls of the PDs who make the list, he’s regularly chosen by his peers as the best. He says all the credit goes to his teammates, whose dedication and will to win are the sole reasons behind KKBQ’s success, and his.

Chiang tells Radio Ink the key to becoming a successful Country programmer in 2018 is to understand that the PD title is outdated. “Our jobs are now really content producers, not just on the air, but on social media and on the streets,” he says. To Chiang, a radio station is like a sports team, and the hallways are the locker room. “I let the talent be themselves, on and off the air. I abhor micromanaging. The only thing I demand is that no matter what their individual goals are, they must align with the station’s goals. In other words, team first.”

When we asked Chiang to tell us his biggest accomplishment over the past 12 months, he said it was a no-brainer: “The way my team responded and conducted themselves during Hurricane Harvey. We stayed on the air 24/7, keeping our audience updated with critical information as the storm was making its way to Houston, during the hardest-hit hours, and, of course, the aftermath. I’m particularly proud of the fact that we were the only radio stations in Houston that never once deviated from live and local programming during the storm. Additionally, after Harvey, CMG Houston was the first radio group to put together a market-wide fundraiser, benefiting the Houston Food Bank, for those in need.”

2. Shelly Easton
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 30

Shelly Easton is a regular on this list, and consistently near the top. Not only do the country artists love Shelly, so do her fellow Country programmers. Radio and country music are her passion and have been for decades. “This is where I want to be, and I appreciate being here,” she says. “The longer you do something, the greater your opportunity to become increasingly effective at it, provided you continue to learn and to be adaptable to change. The experience I’ve gained over the years in various circumstances helps me confidently navigate the day-to-day, as well as trust in my ability to navigate the future.”

Philadelphia Market Manager David Yadgaroff says Shelly Easton has earned an important place in our industry and a high level of respect: “WXTU is part of Entercom’s premier collection of highly rated, award-winning radio stations, digital platforms, and live events. Shelly has led 92.5 WXTU in the Philadelphia radio market and built the XTU brand into a nationally recognized leader in the Country format. The on-air product she creates is surpassed only by the leadership she displays inside Entercom’s Philadelphia stations.”

Easton tells Radio Ink accomplishing goals requires consistent effort, prioritizing, and sacrifice. “We make time for what is important to us,” she says. “I have always felt passionate about radio — it began in my childhood — and wanted to work in Philadelphia. As a result, I made it a priority to manage and strategize around other distractions or hurdles that may have prevented me from reaching that goal. Achieving long-term goals takes patience and fortitude, but mostly it takes attitude and an unwavering belief in a positive outcome. It shapes not only how we see our career paths and opportunities, but how we generally perceive life.”

On managing people, Easton says it’s all about teamwork. “No team needs three people to carry one side of a table that must be moved across a room. In other words, I seek a collaborative team which complements one another’s talents, areas of expertise, and contributions. I look for people to fulfill roles that feed into the overall success of our core mission rather than ask people to ‘fit’ within established lines.

“An example of this would be our promotions team. Each of the professionals working on that team has different, unique strengths important to the overall success of our music stations in Philadelphia. The day-to-day areas they concentrate on were determined by their areas of personal best, rather than by a one-size-fits-all silo approach for the stations. I use that philosophy in each area that I manage. As our teams become leaner, the best chance for success is playing to strengths rather than picking up on points of weakness.”

3. Tim Roberts 
Years in Radio: 39 

In 2017 WYCD launched Musictown Detroit, a full-service broadcast and performance area in the new District Detroit sports and entertainment development. So far more than 60 artists have performed there, and WYCD is also helping children in the area with music recording and education. That’s just one of the many successes the station has had with Tim Roberts at the helm.

Roberts says his nearly four-decade programming success story began early in his career. “I did so many different things — on air/morning shows, character voices, play-by-play. I was even the market manager at age 23, and I did promotions, production, concert booking. I got a real grass-roots education in small markets that helped mold me for today. I can appreciate what everyone in the building does and how hard everyone’s job is.”

If Roberts could change one thing about the industry? He says, “We are live and local and relevant. Let’s stop beating ourselves up as an industry and be proud of the great job we do and make noise on Wall Street about it.”

4. Lisa McKay
Curtis Media Group
Years in Radio: 39

As we were going to print with this issue, WQDR Program Director Lisa McKay passed away at the age of 54, after a short battle with cancer. Lisa has been on this list, consistently near the top, for many years.

A few weeks before finding out Lisa was ill, Curtis Media Group COO Trip Savery shared these comments about his PD with Radio Ink. “2017 was a tremendous year for Lisa and WQDR. She led us to our third CMA Station of the Year award, and maintained our position as the most listened-to station in the market. She has proven that live and local can be real and relevant. That includes connecting with the community every day, executing powerful public service campaigns for North Carolina Children’s Hospital and our local ASPCA, and connecting foster children with new families at Christmas. Lisa achieves every measure of success and has built one of the most legendary Country stations in America over the last 15 years.”

5. Bruce Logan
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 35 

Stations under Bruce Logan’s leadership have received many awards, including CMA and ACM wins, and most recently the morning show at KILT-FM was named ACM Major Market Personality of the Year. “I’ve always thought my best strength was identifying talent in others,” Logan says. “I am so excited about the success of people I identified early in their careers and had a small hand in their advancement. To see a lot of my past APD/MDs go on to be successful PDs in their own right, or talent I helped nurture lead major-market morning shows, always makes me proud.”

Logan credits his longevity and success to his work ethic. “I won’t be outworked. There are people smarter than I am, but no one will outwork me.”

His advice for up-and-coming PDs is to keep things in balance. “We have more information and data than we have ever had. We have more people asking questions from above. We have more needs internally, and generally, fewer people doing the work. Prioritize what actually will create a win, and be focused on the things that truly move the needle toward success. Don’t get bogged down in the urgent as opposed to the important.”

6. DJ Stout
Beasley Country Format Captain
Beasley Media Group
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 21 

DJ Stout tells Radio Ink he’s been lucky enough to be honored consistently as a top Country PD because he has the best staff in the business, “who fully buy into my ideas and plans and not only execute them to perfection, but are also willing to throw in their own thoughts and ideas to help our station be the best we can be.” He adds, “I also think that I remain as hungry and competitive as anyone and am not afraid to take risks.”

Stout continues, “My managing philosophy is pretty simple. Treat everyone with honesty and respect, be loyal, and fight for my station, staff, and company. I also believe it’s important to listen to your people. I am not always right. My ideas are not always the best. I think a great manager realizes this and is open to listening to others’ ideas and opinions. I am going to make the final call regardless, but I think my employees respect the fact that they have a voice that is taken seriously. They may not always agree with my final decision, but I think they respect the fact they had a say.”

7. Gator Harrison
WSIX-FM (The Big 98)/Nashville
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 31 

Harrison tells Radio Ink his success as a Country radio programmer comes from his decision to be open, not arrogant. “Be kind always, especially to those who are not,” he says. “Own your mistakes and learn from them. Never stop asking questions. And don’t for a second think you’re actually ‘working a real job for a living.’ God first, family second, country music third.”

If Harrison could change one thing about the radio industry? “Everyone I’m sure has an opinion on this — as do I, but not without prefacing the incredible job country music already does. It’s seriously an honor for me to be associated with country music in any way. No other format connects listeners with compelling stories, enduring artists, and an experience that truly reflects the lives of listeners.

“My only hope is that we continue to aim for the great, and not settle for just good. There is nothing bad coming out of Nashville, it’s all good — and then there’s good that evolves into great. Radio and The Row need to continue with honest dialogue, information and education shares, and working together to better ID the good that could become great quicker.”

8. Gregg Swedberg
KEEY-FM/Minneapolis-St. Paul
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 37

For three decades Gregg Swedberg has been a leader in advancing the Country format. His stewardship has been impact-making; he has mentored many people who have gone on to add even more to Country radio.

Swedberg tells Radio Ink he’s been so successful because he’s been able to adapt. He says, “Between corporate consolidation, the rise of digital media, and a change in measurement systems, it’s important to always be flexible and always keep learning.”

About managing people, he advises allowing your team to make mistakes. “Remember that everyone’s trying to pull in the same direction, and allow them enough freedom to mess up. Then correct it, and they’ll learn better and faster. All my biggest learning moments were when I was getting beat.”

9. Jeff Garrison 
KCYY/San Antonio
Format Leader 
Cox Media Group
Years in Radio: 34

Cox Media Group Market Manager Ben Reed tells Radio Ink Jeff Garrison’s storied career speaks for itself. “Aside from all of the accomplishments in developing relatable and successful radio products, Jeff is also a mentor and valued associate to many in the country music family. Jeff is creative, and when you hear what comes out of the speakers of a Jeff Garrison station, you know there is a real talent behind the scenes making that happen.”

Garrison’s philosophy on managing his team: “Individual station teams are smaller today than some years ago; staffs now often voicetrack multiple stations even within a market. So with smaller teams, we have adopted more one-on-one work to help the culture of the station’s team. Culture is key to any winning team. Each person being their best self (myself included) is the most important contribution to creating that culture.”

10. Tim Richards
[email protected]
Year in Radio: 25

Tim Richards says his biggest station accomplishment over the past year is KMLE’s continued community service. “This year we raised over $319,000 for St. Jude, breaking last year’s record,” he says. “Beyond our community service, I’m proud of our staple events like Country Thunder, 8 Man Jam, and Not So Silent Night. We’ve had the chance to create amazing experiences for our listeners and clients and deepen our relationship with the artists, labels, and managers that make this format so special.”

About being successful over the years, he says, “Any success I have can be attributed to the teams that I have had the honor of working with through the years. I’ve always tried to hire amazing people, and I am fortunate to have worked with some truly remarkable talent.”

His philosophy on managing people: “Set clear expectations, and make sure everyone on the team understands what they are and why. Then coach often, with feedback and examples of how the team is adhering to those expectations. Accountability is key.”

And, he says if you want to win in 2018, have the desire to learn and grow: “The business is changing every day, and if you’re not growing, you’re regressing. Too often we get focused only on the short term,” he says. “We also have to be able to be strategic and look out — even if that’s only six months. In a PPM world, we’re getting bombarded with weeklies, monthlies, and in-depth analysis. So while you can react to your most recent results, you still have to understand that not every change is reflected a week after you implement it. Oftentimes the true benefit of critical adjustments is further out, so being able to have confidence in your decisions and let the long view develop, while hard at times, can really bear fruit.”

11. Steve Stewart
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 30

Thanks to Steve Stewart and his team, Big 95-5 has seen an explosive reaction in Chicago to all its local events, concerts, and activations. Stewart tells Radio Ink it’s truly exciting to see listeners come out in support of the station and great country music from both new and superstar artists. Big 95-5 averages close to 30 events per year, with several tentpole concerts leading the way.

Stewart says he owes his three decades of success to the people he’s worked with. “Somehow I have been very fortunate in my career to work with amazingly talented people,” he says. “I really try to let them know how much I truly believe in them and want them to succeed. Whatever it is I need to do to help them will ultimately help me in the long run as well, but more important, lead to the success of the station.”

Stewart’s advice to young PDs: understand the changes taking place around you. “The landscape is changing rapidly,” he says, “and we need to be in touch with where the consumer/listener is, always. We have new gateways to our products that we have never had before — Echo, Google Home, smart TVs, podcasting, etc. Strategies that include everything from street team activations, station branding, imaging, and jock talk to social media engagement must keep the ‘new world’ of listening in mind while also balancing the need to get ratings terrestrially. Specifically to the Country format, our listeners are so passionate about the product that once you get them through any number of channels, the product has to be perfect — the right music, jocks, and promotions.”

12. Steve Geofferies
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 20

Steve Geofferies took KNIX in a different direction in 2017, rejuvenating the 50-year-old brand. “We found our strategy and stuck to it,” he says. “Too many stations flip-flop with the idea that a tactic is more important than a strategy, and they dilute their brand. Or they only copy what their competitor is doing. Those things lead to short-term success, and usually major changes within the programming department.”

Geofferies says he’s been successful at programming because he listens more than he talks. “I understand the value of having talented people on my team. I don’t believe I’m always right, but I’ve been good at making the correct choices. I still love to learn with books and podcasts, and I always surround myself with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and lifestyles.”

And this PD writes down his goals at the station every year to hold himself accountable. “This year, my top goal is to bring more value in my EVPP position for my markets and stations.”

If you want to win in 2018, Geofferies says you’ll need to understand there are a lot of music choices, and unless you have a unique position, you’ll blend in with everything else. “Develop talent that are culturally significant, take some chances, make some noise. Stop worrying about everything your competition is doing and build your brand. Hire great people and appreciate them. Understand social, how teenagers consume content, what Nashville partners need, music cycles, research — and always stay curious. Seems pretty easy.”

13. Charlie Cook
Cumulus Media
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 47

Charlie Cook tells Radio Ink he has reached, and exceeded, any personal goals he set for himself when he got into radio. “I have overachieved because I rode the right horses along the way,” he says. “Bob Koch, an early GM/owner that I worked for, had a saying: ‘Nothing’s easy.’ I’ve said that a million times, and it levels your expectations and rights your efforts. Ed Salamon, Neil Rockoff, Mike McVay, Dale Miller, and now Allison Warren all encourage me and have helped me along the way. I’m well aware of how fortunate I am to have stayed in this business for so long.”

Cook has an interesting perspective on the challenges facing Country radio: “Our partners at the record companies are trying hard to stake new ground for their successes. That means taking songs up the chart in about half the time needed to make an impact on the radio listeners. Songs are being driven to number one when they don’t have the foundation they need to satisfy the radio listeners’ acceptance of the music.

“I would love to see programmers take control of their stations’ playlists and not continue to concede them to 20-week records. There is a ‘life of song’ formula, and I don’t believe that it’s playing a song 90 times a week for 15 weeks to get to 1,300-plus spins and then moving on.”

What would Cook change about the radio industry? “The one thing I would change about the radio industry comes from the outside,” he says. “I understand that digital is sexy today; I get that the streaming services are sexy today. But I wish that everyone would realize that radio is the one service that consistently delivers millions of listeners each week.”

14. Mike Moore
KWJJ/Portland, OR
Entercom Country Format Captain
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 30

It was a good year for KWJJ, and a thrill for Mike Moore to see the station’s morning show, Mike & Amy, win the award for CMA Major Market Personality of the Year. Moore tells Radio Ink, “We have been through a lot together, and I was so happy to see them recognized. Over my 14-plus years in Portland, they have done so much for the station, our community, and our advertisers.”

Moore says his two decades of Country programming success are a result of strong networking and a healthy appetite for learning. “Back when you used to pay for long-distance phone calls, I had huge phone bills because I spent a lot of time keeping in touch with radio folks from across the country,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful mentors over the years, so I try to make myself available to young people in our business as often as possible.”

He’s also big on one-on-one meetings. “We rarely have full staff meetings, but I meet with each full-time staff member at least weekly,” Moore says. “We set goals, discuss programs, go over station business, and whenever possible try to do things outside the radio station (go to a show, grab a beer, have lunch, etc.). I think it’s important to get to know your staff personally, so you can tap into what motivates them, what’s important to them, and what you can do to help.”

15. Grover Collins 
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 33

It’s been another great year for WUBE. Aside from consistent ratings, the station won the ACM for Large Market Station of the Year, and afternoon team Amanda Valentine & Jesse Tack took honors as CMA Large Market Personality of the Year. We asked Grover Collins for his secret to success.

He says, “I’ve had great support from the beginning of my love of radio, from my parents to mentors along the way, like Randy Davis, who gave me my first job in radio at age 15 at WLAQ/Rome, Georgia, to Justin Case, who was very influential and really trusted me, again, at a very young age, to my current OM, Patti Marshall, who was my biggest cheerleader in helping me take over the B-105 programming reins in 2009 after I had been her APD over at our Pop station [WKRQ] for eight years.”

Collins’ philosophy on managing is to have a level of trust with the talent. “I not only want but need them to believe that I would never lead them in the wrong direction if an idea is proposed to them that might be out of their ‘comfort zone.’ Even if that one idea might not be as successful as you might have hoped, you still move the needle and usually get your talent to a place where they are more confident in the future. I also like them to be loose — I have always felt you get the most out of talent on the air when they know you have their backs but are also not wound tight as a snare drum.”

16. Kenny Jay
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 21

Kenny Jay is not only a master programmer with deep ties and relationships in Nashville, he is also a top-notch marketer. He knows how to create a brand listeners attach themselves to, and he knows how to make that brand stand out in the market ahead of the competition. Jay is an expert writer and producer, too, giving his station a great sound with a concise message.

Jay credits his success to networking relentlessly, hiring great people and letting them do their jobs, and staying curious about everything in radio. His philosophy on managing people is to take a team approach: “That includes every department. From the street team to the corner office, everyone understands their role and how it plays into the station’s success.”

If he could change one thing about radio, Jay would like the industry to “stand united in telling the story of radio, not letting competition shape the public perception of our business.”

17. Mac Daniels
KPLX-FM & KSCS-FM/Dallas-Ft. Worth
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 41

Market Manager Dan Bennett says Mac Daniels has a unique gift for programming two Country stations at the same time in the same market. “He did this in Austin and here in Dallas,” Bennett says. “He has managed to get both stations in the top five 25-54, which is not easy. Mac has shown me excellent budget and marketing skills and a true understanding of the cluster needs in a seven-station cluster market for Cumulus.”

In 2017 KPLX won a Marconi for Best Country Station and more than doubled the amount of money it raised for Cook Children’s Hospital in Ft. Worth. Daniels says his success comes from assembling a great team. “I am blessed to work with a great, hard-working, passionate team on both stations that elevates both brands to a high level. We all challenge each other to be the best and pick each other up. True Texas pride.”

Daniels recommends always communicating, and remaining consistent with your expectations of your team. “Be honest, patient, and encouraging,” he advises. “Treat folks with the same respect they give me. Lead by example. Never ask anyone to do something I haven’t done or wouldn’t do myself.”

One thing Daniels would like to see the industry do better: place a higher value on itself. “Too many times our industry seems apologetic for who we are. We need to take stock in what we do well and our unique positive position. Then remind listeners, the ad community, and our own community of everything we have going for us.”

18. Scott Roddy
WIL-FM/St. Louis
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 28 

It was a very big year for WIL, as it took the CMA Award for Major Market Station of the Year. And Scott Roddy says he’s surrounded by the greatest talent in the industry. “Hubbard supplies the resources and guidance. I am only one small part of a ferociously competitive group of on-air talent, promotions, street, engineering, digital, and social media teams.”

He goes on, “Ginny Morris, Greg Strassell, Drew Horowitz, and Dave Bestler provide first-class direction and tools while still allowing for autonomy on the local level. It’s that vision that makes Hubbard the platinum standard for live and local talent. Aside from my team, my closest relationship is with my market manager, John Kijowski. Kijowski is the greatest leader I’ve encountered. Beyond his leadership prowess, he’s a genuinely good man. JK takes his work seriously, but not himself. The kind of atmosphere Hubbard encourages primes everyone for success, top down.”

Roddy’s philosophy on managing talent is to strategically filter all content. “Be about the topic of the day, affirm you are local, and define your character,” he says. “New Country 92.3 is the only all-local New Country station in the bi-state. We will use that to our advantage. I meet with the drive shows every day. I have very clear — and high — expectations. That said, with the caliber of talent Hubbard affords us on the local level, I think part of leading such dynamic talent is staying out of their way.”

19. Jeff Kapugi
WMZQ/Washington, DC
Years in Radio: 38 

Jeff Kapugi is back on this list where he belongs after a one-year layoff (he was number three in 2016). After he was let go by CBS Radio in Chicago, iHeartMedia picked up Kapugi, moved him to DC, and gave him much more responsibility. He’s been around the business for nearly four decades and knows his stuff. Kapugi’s philosophy on managing people is to be direct, and never settle for anything but the best. He tells Radio Ink that one of the accomplishments he’s most proud of over the past 12 months is raising more than $500,000 for St. Jude. He says, “It’s a very passionate charity for us as a radio station to have a rich partnership with.”

20. Mark Anderson
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 27 

Anderson tells Radio Ink he’s had nearly three decades of success in radio because he’s always trying to put in that extra little bit of effort, to give him an edge against any competitors.

His philosophy on how to treat people: “I simply try to treat the people on our team as well as I can, and show endless appreciation for their good works. It’s one of the best traits that my boss, Entercom Pittsburgh SVP/Market Manager Michael Young, exhibits toward me, and that’s endlessly motivating.”

21. John E. Kage
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 25

One of the biggest successes for KYGO in 2017, according to John Kage, was what they pulled off with country star Chris Young. “We partnered with Chris at Pepsi Center after the hurricane devastated Houston,” Kage says. “Chris brought a 61-foot trailer to the Pepsi Center and our entire staff filled it with supplies. The bonding with our team as well as the community was one of the most rewarding things I have ever been a part of.”

On why he’s been so successful as a PD, Kage says it comes from a coaching tree of mentors who helped shape him. “I believe success follows extremely hard work combined with passion,” he says. “Once the foundation is in place to do solid, fundamentally sound, personality-driven radio, the real key is the small details every single day.”

What keeps him up at night? “I worry that we aren’t keeping up with digital as fast as we should be. One day when we wake up and cars come with WiFi instead of the radio, will we be in step with that? As an industry, do we completely understand an ad campaign utilizing every platform available or know which one to use to complement a buy? Can we explain that confidently to a client? I think we have some work to do.”

22. Cindy Spicer
[email protected]
Years in Radio: Over 25 

Cindy Spicer tells Radio Ink her philosophy on managing people is to be as transparent as possible, “with national and local goals and expectations for the station, and to have open conversation on how each of us can contribute to get to that goal.” She says, “Every person on our team is smart, creative, and passionate, and I don’t tell them how to do their jobs. We are a team and help each other and have each other’s back if something falls through the cracks.”

And she says the key to becoming a successful PD in 2018 is prioritizing: “Organization, being able to focus on tasks that need to be done now, yet never losing sight of major projects that need to be tackled. And then using the other part of your brain to keep things fun, creatively share music and entertain our listeners, and maintain a loose atmosphere with co-workers.”

23. David Corey
Beasley Media Group
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 33

David Corey has big shoes to fill, having replaced Mike Brophey at Boston Country powerhouse WKLB after Brophey retired last year. And while Corey is new to WKLB, and new to this list, he’s been in radio for more than three decades, having started his career as an intern in Boston. He also spent 10 years working for Bell Media in Canada.

Corey says he owes his years of success to his love of music, and of radio. “I program radio stations with those two things in mind most. How would the average listener feel while listening to my station? When I think the answer is the one I want, then I know I’m doing my job. I also recognize how important it is to find (or grow) the best talent to present the music to the audience the right way. After that, everything else should fall into place.”

On coaching talent, he says, “I feel my job is to coach and empower them to be the best they can be. From an on-air perspective, that sometimes may mean to ask them to do a bit less than a bit more, because it is all about balance. If the balance of talk/commercials/music is off even just a little, that could be disastrous. I also believe that any team must overcommunicate to ensure that everyone is always on the same page. We are doing that here, and it seems to be helping.”

24. Julie Stevens 
KRTY/San Jose
Empire Broadcasting
[email protected] 
Years in Radio: 38 

Why is Julie Stevens ranked among the best year after year? She says, “I think I’m consistently one of the top PDs because it’s quite an accomplishment that this 800-watt locally owned and operated radio station has chased all other Country radio stations out of the market because they simply couldn’t compete with us.”

Stevens’ advice for up-and-coming programmers: “You have got to be out there discovering the ‘next big thing’ every day. If you aren’t listening to everything country, you will be behind the 8-ball and will be on your way to rendering your radio station completely irrelevant because they can get what you’re offering in so many other places. You have to be first. Being ‘familiar’ with what you play is simply not the most important thing anymore.”

She adds, “If I could change one thing about radio today, it would be to send the stations back to local owners and local programmers. The conglomerates have killed the industry.”

25. Fletcher Brown 
WXFL-FM/Florence, AL
Big River Broadcasting
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 20

Big River GM Nick Martin tells Radio Ink that even though WXFL is in a small market, he would put the job Fletch Brown does up against any size market. “His leadership, drive, and vision have helped us grow the station by dominating the ratings and creating top-of-mind awareness for the Kix 96 brand in our coverage and online since he took over in 2006. But more importantly, he leads and inspires by example! Fletch encourages each and every member of his team to align themselves with one or more community service groups. Under his leadership, Kix 96 led numerous fundraising efforts in the Tennessee Valley during 2017. In addition to the cash raised for community causes, Kix 96 donated over $150,000 in additional on-air support and man-hours for public service.”

Brown says the key to becoming a successful Country programmer in 2018 is to realize the audience has many ways to connect with their favorite artists. “Give your listeners a reason to see that you understand them and their habits, and you share in those,” he says. “Radio is about bonding with people. They give us their trust when they feel a shared connection to us. They spend a lot of time online on different platforms. Show them you know this, and give them a reason to connect with you in those ways. Build your own station apps. Get on the Amazon Echo or Google Home platforms. Show them you are as much a part of the digital age as they are.”

If Fletch could change one thing about radio? “We need to foster more new talent! We need to bring creatives back into radio! We need to make being on air appealing to people, and not just the young. There are plenty of talented people out there with a voice. They just need someone to guide them, develop them, and give them the chance. People bond with people through mediums like ours. That is the source of radio’s greatness! Always has been.”

26. Sue Wilson
WQMX/Akron, OH
Rubber City Radio
Years in Radio: 37 

Sue Wilson tells Radio Ink she’s been blessed to work for and with progressive, forward-thinking ownership and management that have mentored her and allowed her to make mistakes, and to learn and grow from them. “Once I got into a management role, I took the best of their philosophies and practices and used them with my team,” she says. “Some mentors I have chosen from afar and studied their strengths; they barely know they’ve mentored me. I have always tried to surround myself with people smarter than me and listen to them! And using opinions and ideas that come from various sources, and not just my own. It has always been a group effort.”

The key to succeeding in 2018, according to Wilson, is understanding that people have many choices to find music. “Content beyond the music is crucial to keeping people involved and engaged in your brand,” she points out. “Motivating a team to be an ever-present companion with great content between the songs that makes people think, feel, laugh, smile, and even cry, and to understand the importance of serving and being present in the community. We, as programmers, need to be open to all the many resources for learning what our audience likes, loves, and even hates. Being open to and not fearful of all the data from all kinds of streaming and research sources to improve our product, and to welcome competition from these sources to make us better.”

27. Tosh Jackson
Entravision Communications 
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 20

Entravision SVP Angie Balderas tells Radio Ink Tosh Jackson is one of the hardest-working people she knows. “Tosh always makes time for a new artist to play their music for him,” she says. “He’s a person who truly cares about his station, his audience, his staff, and the artists. You can’t walk through CRS without an artist yelling ‘Tosh!’ and giving him a big hug! That is testament to how the industry feels about him.”

Jackson says his success comes from always being open to learning new things. “I have a great coach and mentor who allows me to bounce ideas off of him, and he lets me make mistakes and we discuss those things to help me grow as a PD.”

28. Jeff Scott
KLLL-FM/Lubbock, TX
Alpha Media
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 37

According to Alpha Media SVP Jay Richardson, since 2004 Jeff Scott has guided KLLL to success with impeccable skill. “Under Jeff’s leadership, KLLL has continued to be the market and region leader, a mark it has held since 1980,” says Richardson. “Over the last year Jeff has taken on the challenges of building a new morning team, refocusing the music and imaging in KLLL to better deliver on the Texas feel that the format has overall left behind — specifically, utilizing George Strait in creative ways and breaking a new artist like Aaron Watson from being a regional star to finding national success. His ability to weave Top 40 country with significant stars from the last 20 years has really made KLLL a very special station to listen to, built on the loyalties of our P1 base.”

Scott says, “I believe I’m consistently one of radio’s top Country PDs because I’m blessed to be the caretaker of a legendary Country station, I’m surrounded by amazing people who love radio, and I work for a company that allows me the freedom to create a radio station specifically for Lubbock, Texas.”

The key to becoming a successful Country programmer in 2018, according to Scott, is to be fully open-minded to a rapidly changing business. “Former owner Jeff Wilks taught me that there’s more than one way to do everything,” he says. “Just because it’s always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the only way. With the continual growth of digital in the radio business, you have to let go of the past and embrace today. With websites and social media and endless information tools at your fingertips, it is an exciting time to be in radio. Programmers today are at the forefront of creating an all new radio model.”

29. Travis Dodge
KSJQ-FM/St. Joseph, MO
Eagle Communications 
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 20

Eagle Communications GM Gary Exline asks rhetorically, “Who has 4,500 quarter hours in an unrated market? No PD I’ve ever worked with — and there have been some good ones — understands his or her market like Travis understands St. Joseph, Missouri; Northwest Missouri; and Northeast Kansas. Under the shadow of Kansas City’s three Country stations (50 miles away), Travis has established Q Country 92.7 as the Country station in our area.”

Dodge says what makes his station so successful has a lot to do with his seasoned staff and their knowledge of the area. “I truly am blessed to have their willingness to try any crazy idea I may be cooking up,” he says. “Plus I feel blessed to work for a general manager (Gary Exline), corporate operations manager (Kevin Wagner), and company president/CEO (Gary Shorman) who were willing to give me a chance and offer up valuable guidance and support. That has really contributed to and molded me into the programmer and broadcaster that I am.”

He goes on, “My success has been because of a good work ethic and reliability. I always tell high school-aged students at career fairs that most of any job is showing up. You can’t show how good you are if you are never there. I learned from my parents on our family farm in Fairview, Kansas about hard work, like walking thistles and beans, throwing hay, and feeding calves. I saw my dad milk our cows twice a day, every day of the year. The work had to get done, and he did it. My parents were great role models, and I continue to use examples that they set for me.”

30. Gary Shores 
WKKO-FM/Toledo, OH
Cumulus Media Group
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 47

Gary Shores has consistently kept WKKO/Toledo at number one in the market. Through 2017 he hasn’t missed a beat, juggling the morning show and programming the station despite health issues with his family and his morning show partner. He is a true leader, and still very passionate after 30-plus years.

So why is Shores consistently ranked among the Best PDs? “I think loving the business, the format, and our great listeners makes it real easy to do my job — which is more than just a job, it’s who I am 24/7,” he says. “It’s not a job, it’s my life. If I were on the other side of the radio, would I like what we are doing, and would I listen often and for longer and longer periods of time? The answer had better be yes.”

Shores goes on, “I’ve been in Country radio for 47 years. That’s a long time and a lot of learning. Of course, the learning never stops. Plus a great airstaff to execute the basics — it’s amazing to me how many people in radio don’t do the basics: have fun on the air (and even sound like they’re having fun when they’re having a crappy day) and of course be able to think on their feet. It makes K-100 just cook all day long. The staff is a huge part of our success.

“The other part of this was my on-air partner and assistant program director, Harvey J. Steele, who passed away just a few weeks ago. He and I were very much alike when starting out. We both went to bed with transistor radios under our pillows, Harvey in Illinois listening to WLS and Super CFL while I grew up outside of Detroit listening to CKLW, WKNR (Keener 13), and WXYZ. We had the same passion for radio. When we teamed up 23 years ago, it was a hit, not just for us — first in p.m. drive, then to a.m. drive 17 years ago — but for the radio station too! Couldn’t have done it without Harvey.”

31. Mark McKay
WGH-FM/Hampton Roads, VA
Max Media
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 25

GM Dave Paulus says of his PD, “Mark is well respected by all the labels and artists in Nashville, but most importantly, he is a huge and important influence around our building.”

McKay says his philosophy on managing people is to be a “players’ coach.” He goes on, “As a result, a portion of my day is spent in the same manner as the rest of our team, which makes me more empathetic to their needs. Unless it’s required of me, I prefer not to act like a ‘boss,’ but as one of the team, which has worked well for me.”

If McKay could change one thing about the radio industry, it would be more local ownership and local control of programming decisions. “I’m not knocking the larger chains, mind you, but I know that the amount of autonomy I’ve got has made me better, and more accountable.”

32. MoJoe Roberts
KUPL-FM/Portland, OR
Alpha Media Country Format Captain
[email protected]
Years in Radio: 22

Another strong year was racked up by KUPL in Portland. The station was nominated for CMA Major Market Station of the Year, and it raised over $200,000 for St. Jude. Much of the credit for that goes to MoJoe Roberts. Roberts tells Radio Ink his ability to try new things, take calculated risks, and embrace technology are three qualities that set him apart from other PDs. “I’ve always worked hard, asked a lot of questions to people much smarter than me, and soaked up that knowledge like a sponge. That’s what got me to Portland. I’m blessed to work with a remarkably talented team here at Alpha Portland. They are the real MVPs for success.”

Roberts says his management philosophy is to clearly communicate expectations and hold people accountable. “Communication is paramount!” he says. “I also encourage my talent to understand the audience, take calculated risks, and never be afraid to fail.”


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