By Holland Cooke
1972: I was a DJ and Budd Clain was my PD at WSPR, Springfield, MA, a stand-alone AM. His wife told me that, one Saturday afternoon, he dozed-off on the living room sofa. She tip-toed-in and turned off the radio…and he woke up.
Fast-forward to present day: Post-consolidation scale dictates that general managers become market managers. And GSM to DOS was logical, especially with NTR and digital. But the biggest casualty of the way consolidation re-packed middle management was when program directors disappeared. Stations are now “managed” rather than “programmed,” because:
- Work load: Debt service compromises Quality Control. VERY few managers are responsible for a single station. At many talk stations, this manager also does an air shift, before or after Rush. Stations think they can get-away-with-it because…
- Most programming is now non-local. Who’s left to direct? Most talk programming comes off the bird. Music stations are voicetracked or downlinked from the mother ship. Directing is a lost art.
Why PDs are hard-to-come-by now?
- Same reason NASA can’t get to the moon any more: demographics and institutional memory. The guys who know how to do that retired or died. (OK, the other reason is because we don’t make Saturn rockets anymore. Back to radio…)
- Most who manage now weren’t PDs back when stations were more diligent. Or fun. No experience with bumper sticker contests.
If we could wave a wand? Profile of a real-live full-fledged PD:
- He or she hears everything…without listening 24/7. Who could? An effective PD structures listen time, so there are no surprises. And not just hearing the transmitter. Ad Council McGruff PSAs and promos that repeat ad nauseam can’t dominate streaming spot cover-ups.
- People skills: PDs commit to knowing the personalities and coaching them in a directive fashion. Talent is like a sailboat: no brakes, no sharp turns. A canny PD knows how to shove ‘er into the wind. He/she can also manage-up.
- Sees the big picture: We’re not on a mission, we’re making product. Because talk radio pumps-out so much Conservative Kool-Aid, some managers guzzle it. We’re not here to save the world. Let’s save the radio station.
- With player-coach an economic reality, PDs who are leaders set an example with their on-air work.
- Systems are second-nature. A PD sets work routines; and is facile with – not distracted by – the tools.
Smart stations are re-investing in local content which – now more than ever – will distinguish stations, of any format, from cheapskate broadcast competitors who mail-it-in, and from Pandora and other new-tech competitors. So I am always on-the-lookout for someone who personifies the traits listed above.
Holland Cooke (www.HollandCooke.com) is a media consultant working at the intersection of talk radio and the Internet, and he covers conventions for TALKERS and RadioInfo. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke