What do you want to become?
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Career Overview: The Program Director manages and schedules station programming, and oversees the station’s various departments and staff.
Average Annual Earnings: $43,000
General Earnings Range: $27,000 to $100,000+
Become a Program Director
Program Directors are in charge of the sound of the radio station. They manage the station’s programming and oversee the different departments and staff at the station to ensure that the station always sounds its best and suits the needs of its listeners.
“As a PD, your plate is full,” says Aundrae Russell, Program Director at Los Angeles urban adult contemporary station KJLH. At any given time, a Program Director’s duties could include organizing promos, making sure the DJs are informed about upcoming promos and station events, sitting in meetings, checking music logs to make sure they’re accurate, working with the Music Director to produce logs for the next day, coordinating interviews with celebrities and Musicians, and managing and scheduling programming. “Mind you, a lot of this stuff I’m doing at the same time,” Russell says. “People ask what your next day is going to be like. I can’t tell you because things just happen.”
He adds, “it’s a juggling game.” PDs spend a lot of time “returning emails and calls, [dealing with] people calling for jobs and internships,” putting together promos, and sometimes doing voicework when needed. They also deal with Publicists, evaluating which public figures will fit into the day’s schedule and appeal to listeners because anytime an interview goes over the air “you have to stop the music and people tune out. It’s about finding a balance.”
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Career advancement as a Program Director would either mean getting hired by a bigger, more prestigious station, earning a higher salary, or moving into a position as an Operations Manager (if this position is not already combined with that of PD at the station) or Station Manager.
Education & Training
Program Directors almost always have an educational background in Communications or Broadcasting (Radio or TV). This can be gained through a combination of work experience (such as getting involved at a campus radio station) and through academic training. Russell says, “I started on the radio when I was sixteen. A lot of schools out here [California] have really good radio and TV broadcasting programs. I learned things about being a DJ and on-air announcer.” This sort of training “teaches you a wide range of things,” and considering how many hats a PD wears, this range of knowledge is important.
Experience & Skills
To be successful, a Program Director must have “great communication skills,” Russell says. “You gotta know the music, know how to go find it, research, do Arbitron [a ratings system, which now falls under the umbrella of Nielsen], decipher and read the ratings.” He or she must also be able to “look at the research, whether it’s music, hot zip codes where your listeners are, or where your listeners like to shop” in order to create compelling contests and station content. It’s also important to “know about the sound technically and a little something about sales,” since the PD must be able to communicate with Station Engineers and Salespeople. Because the PD is in charge of the station’s programming, there’s also a lot of “dealing with schedules when people call up sick. People want to take vacation. I learned a long time ago that you want to have good fill-ins or part-timers,” Russell adds, explaining the importance of being able to find good, reliable talent.
Program Directors usually have worked in a variety of roles at a station, learning the ropes across different departments, before gaining the experience to step into the position of PD.
Russell stresses that PDs must “have the temperament to let things roll off you. Lots of PDs have the rep of being stern and bossy, but you can’t be that way because you have to deal with the public and the On-Air Personalities. Hopefully, you take a class on psychology because you deal with a lot of different personalities. You have to have a versatile personality. Do what you gotta do and make it happen.” Patience and confidence are also important when doing things such as teaching Interns. It’s vital, he says, to stay “cool under fire.”
Although the position of Program Director is technically a 9-5 style job, most PDs find themselves working longer and harder due to the many different hats they wear and the responsibility they carry. The station never sleeps, and often the PD is on call should issues arise. The programming schedule is 24 hours and doesn’t take holidays off. PDs also sometimes attend station broadcasts or promotional events on evenings and weekends.
Since the Program Director is one of the highest-ranking positions at a radio station, years of experience across departments is important. “You can’t teach someone to be a PD,” Russell says. “The opportunity has to occur.” That’s why it’s important for aspiring PDs to never confine their work experience and opportunities they’re willing to take to only one area of the station. “You can’t just say, ‘I want to do news’ or ‘I want to do production.’ Don’t shortchange yourself. Learn how to do it all. I think versatility is the key. I’ve done it all—mornings to late nights.” He adds, “The more you learn, the more you’ll be better as a supervisor. If you’ve done news, street team, all those things, it helps you out.”
Program Directors are salaried. Income will vary based on the type of station. For example, a privately-owned station in one of the nation’s top radio markets that consistently scores at the top of the rankings will pay its PD much more than a community radio station in a smaller market.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The National Association of Broadcasters is by far the biggest professional group for radio broadcast employees. States also have their own local associations for broadcasters.
- “Major in Radio Broadcasting or Communications. Get into some kind of station.”
- “Listen to a variety of stations – from talk to rock to country. A good jock is a good jock.”
- “Listen to as much radio as possible. Not for the music, but for in between the songs, what they’re doing before the song begins.”
- “Even when you’re by yourself, reading is really important. Do it in your normal voice, with normal delivery. Keep it plain and normal and just have a general delivery. If you do that fake voice it’s harder to maintain over the years.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
Russell’s biggest suggestion is attending a radio broadcasting or communications program. In addition, he suggests, “Learn Nielsen. Learn radio ratings, how it works. Learn about social media as far as the radio is concerned, to know how you can do things [to promote the station] online. The future of radio is not AM/FM. It’s online. How are they going to listen to [the station] on their smartphones? Try to be on top of the trends.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Really not listening. You have to be patient and you have to be persistent at the same time. If you find a veteran who wants to help you…I’ve seen people get their foot in the door and screw it up. If you’re lucky enough to find someone who wants to help or mentor you, listen to him.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“I think remaining humble is the key.”
Originally, from Meridian, Mississippi, Aundrae Russell has been in broadcasting for over 25 years. His career includes working as a Television Sportscaster/Television News Anchor, Radio Programmer, and D.J. Currently, he is the Program Director, Music Director, and On-Air Personality at the historical 102.3 KJLH. He has been selected as Radio Program Director of the Year and most recently as Gospel DJ of the Year, for the second time. Having served as the halftime voice and Music Coordinator for the Los Angeles Lakers for nine years, Aundrae received two NBA Championship rings. Also an accomplished writer, he has written articles for various magazines and newspapers across the country. During his career, Aundrae has interviewed renowned celebrities such as Oscar Award winners Denzel Washington and Halle Berry, and NBA legend Michael Jordan.
He is also the host and producer of “Spread the Word”, the #1 radio show on Sundays in Los Angeles on 102.3 KJLH. He co-created with Stevie Wonder this popular gospel radio show that has dominated the airwaves.