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The End of the “Program Director”

The other day I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR.  The program was closing and Terry Gross was reading credits when she said something this:

“And the Chief Content Officer of WHYY is Christine Dempsey.”

Chief Content Officer?

In virtually every other radio station today that’s what we call the “Program Director.”

This is, of course, much more than wordplay.

Back in July National Public Radio announced that it would hereafter be known by its acronym, NPR.

Wait, wasn’t that already what National Public Radio was?

Yes, but only in the same way that IBM was also “International Business Machine” and AT&T was “American Telephone & Telegraph.”

Changing a title is symbolic of a much larger and sweeping strategic change, one many if not most broadcasters have yet to wrap their heads around, let alone their hearts.

Said the Washington Post:

NPR says it’s abbreviating the name it has used since its debut in 1971 because it’s more than radio these days. Its news, music and informational programming is heard over a variety of digital devices that aren’t radios.

Likewise, the job of the “program director” implies a job that is as old as radio and confined to the airwaves.  Perhaps, then, it’s no wonder that most program directors are not encouraged or incentivized to build out digital platforms. Their incentives are focused on the medium which generates the revenue rather than the content which generates the revenue.  In the long run, this is a huge mistake.

This is not true everywhere, of course.  It’s not true for WHYY.  It’s not true for NPR.  And it’s not true for Austereo’s Craig Bruce, whose company calls all of their PD’s “Content Directors” and describes the job this way:

It’s a program director, but we changed the title because we wanted to focus on content. We believe winning radio is about making great content on the air and online. The Content Director of an Austereo station is responsible for on-air, online, Facebook and Twitter… it’s the same job but the focus is on content versus playlist.

And the same transformation from “Program Director” to “Content Director” is happening at Astral Media in Canada.

This is more than a new title.  It’s a new set of job responsibilities and a new standard for performance.

The kind of vision which transforms the job of PD into the job of Content Director comes squarely from the top of a company.  Or it doesn’t come at all. It is certainly not the fault of the PD if he or she doesn’t become the Content Director that no one in the organization expects or demands or permits them to become.

Likewise, the kind of person capable of excelling in the Content Director job may not be the manager and technician who is now known as the Program Director.

It’s time for radio to reformulate the job of PD and give those in that job the opportunity to shine or to step aside.

It’s time for the executive suite and the corner office to wake up to the fact that the world does not revolve around your radio stations.  The world revolves around every consumer and the content he or she loves.

Organize around content.

Don’t just change the name of “Program Director” to “Content Director.”

Change the orientation of your brands, as Craig put it, from playlists to content.

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