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Your Program Director has the Wrong Job

Most radio program directors have little or no incentive to develop the station’s digital assets and so these assets go undeveloped.

Most will tell you their job is, frankly, to generate ratings and enable the revenue which flows directly from those ratings.  And indeed it is, but is that a problem in a cross-platform media world?

Is that a problem in a world where attention and consumers and advertisers and dollars are moving in all directions digital?

Is that a problem in a world where any brand is “media” and a premium is placed on experiences that live in many venues and many forms simultaneously?

The other day I was listening to Public Radio’s Fresh Air, and I noticed that the program director at WHYY, Christine Dempsey, is not a program director at all but a “Chief Content Officer.”  The implication is clear:  “Content” is about all platforms, and not just the one over the air.  This is much more than a semantic difference.  This is a difference of purpose.  This is a different job description with different incentives, different expectations, and different outcomes.  This is a different organization structure, and it’s foreign to the average broadcaster.

I can’t remember the last commercial radio station in the U.S. I encountered where the program director had a title that acknowledged the existence of their brands across media platforms, let alone any significant priority for or involvement in those platforms.  Instead, we have “program directors,” and if they have anything to do with the web at all it’s to “drive listeners to the website” even as they are required to minimize the amount of in-station effort directed towards it.

After all, who has the time?  And who has the budget?

Which is another way of asking “Why should I care when the folks I work for don’t?”

Many PD’s are hugely talented and would love to direct more of their attention across platforms.  But not if it’s absent from their job description, not part of the company strategy, and not the way their performance will be evaluated.

Occasionally we find the program director who is incentivized to plug the website as part of their bonus package.  The goal here is “traffic.”

But incentivizing purely based on “traffic” will not encourage program directors to try new things and take chances.  It will not encourage the creation of content which magnetizes interest.  It will not substitute for a strategic priority. It will not restructure a station hierarchy for a cross-platform media world. It will not create a budget line out of thin air.  it will not make this matter to the boss who stubbornly insists on attempting to monetize websites while at the same time bootstrapping them.  It will not encourage PD’s to let go of “okay” traffic-generating tactics in the hope that they can replace them with more effective tactics which might be more in tune with the audience and the brand.

In general, the traffic to our brands is measly.  That’s what you get when you are incentivized on “traffic” rather than on things which can generate traffic. Too often a station’s digital platform is its bastard child. It’s treated with benign neglect.

You can’t build a business this way.  You can’t create content this way.  And you can’t attract consumers this way.

If we get serious about our digital platforms we can monetize them.

And if we don’t, we can’t.

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