(By Deborah Parenti) It’s exasperating or amusing to professionals, but there is a program director yearning to be unleashed in most people. They’re not just on the “other side of the radio hallway” where general managers, sales reps, and engineers sit. Listeners are also more than happy to bend a program director’s ear on how to make their station better. And since radio reaches well over 90 percent of the population, that’s a lot of free advice floating around.
So what qualities make great PDs — the real ones? The answers can be found between the lines in the profiles of the program directors spotlighted in this issue. Their thoughtful insights provide a roadmap in an increasingly complicated and competitive media environment. And since in their hands rests the rise or fall of the station overall, their perspectives are not just powerful words, but diagrams that bring the “product” to life.
No one works in a bubble, however. It takes a team, and for program directors, the most important team member he or she plays with is probably the general or market manager. Which prompts the question “What GM characteristics are important to a PD, and how can a manager help a PD achieve more success for their station?”
I posed that question recently to a few current and former program directors.
Johnny Chiang, director of operations at Cox Media Group in Houston, shared this. “A great market manager needs to focus as much, if not more, of his/her attention on the integrity of content. Everyone knows the goal of any commercial radio station is to create revenue and achieve budget. A great market manager knows how to balance the needs of both worlds and keep the content and sales teams motivated and feeling appreciated at the same time.
“I need to know my market manager has my back. If I’m right, support me no matter what. If I’m wrong, support me anyway, at least publicly. Then hold me accountable privately.”
Scott Masteller, PD at WBAL in Baltimore, believes that great managers are great communicators. “They set clear expectations of what they want from their program director and foster an overall culture of teamwork with all the department heads. They are excellent at listening and problem-solving. They keep their calm when things get turbulent. They do an excellent job of giving feedback to their program director on what works and what needs to be improved. Great GMs are someone the PD and other members of the staff want to spend time with to learn and get better at what they do!”
I had the privilege of working with Chris Shebel in Louisville when he was programming WDJX and I served as GSM. Having recently hung up his iHeart PD hat, Chris now programs nonprofit K-GAY in Palm Springs. I learned a lot from Chris, and he continues to offer great advice. “The most important quality in a great GM is the ability to find balance,” he says. “As most GMs come from sales, they need to learn about the programming
side and have the courage at times to help programming protect the expectations the audience has for the product. When you have the support of the GM, you become a better programmer because you take risks and feel that you can explain your positions to someone that will give you a fair hearing. It’s always been about finding the balance, and the good ones know that naturally.”
Tom Carroll is promotions/marketing director at Alpha/Dayton. A 2019 Dayton Broadcaster Hall of Fame inductee, Tom was the program director at WTUE/Dayton during one of its most successful eras. I count myself fortunate to have worked with him there and asked for his reflections. “I‘ve had the pleasure to work with great market managers over the years. My experience is that the more decisionmaking authority I had, along with the responsibility for it, the better I was as a program director. I could always tell if the manager had a high level of trust for me. If that trust was there, I always did my best to live up to that trust. When the manager had little trust or interest in programming, it was difficult to do the best job that I could do. The market manager and the program director must have a great relationship.”
Wise words that remind me of the ’80s Roxette hit “Listen to Your Heart.” An update could be titled “Listen to Your PD,” and now might be a great time to do just that.
Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.