An Air Personality’s Perception of a PD

I can’t resist passing this along. This is a hilarious job description for a program director. At the root of comedy is truth. Mix in some exaggeration, and presto! OF course, I love program directors. I was one once, and in the core of my soul, I still am. But you gotta admit, this is pretty funny. But I suspect it was originally conceived by an air personality.

The Man Who Makes it All Good

What do you tell friends who ask you what you do-really? Program Director, huh? Don’t the announcers just come on and say what they want? Not quite.

The Program Director is the person at a radio station responsible for “directing programming”.

Program directing usually begins at 10 a.m. when the “PD” (as he’s affectionately called) strolls in with a steaming Grande Mocha Cappuccino Latte which he actually got free through a station trade with a local coffee shop. Or, he traded some concert tickets for it.

Radio stations sometimes trade advertising for products or services. In this case, the PD is taking advantage of coffee trade set up by a former (sleazy) account executive a year ago. Everyone forgot about it, except the PD, who has keen skills like that.

At this point, the station probably owes Starbucks $2800 dollars in ads because the PD has been mooching on the trade and since the account executive that set up the deal was fired 6 months ago – nobody is keeping track.

“It’s all good,” says the PD.

Beware of Program Directors who use that phrase. Nothing is ever “all good” when somebody tells you it is – especially at a radio station. When a PD tells you “It’s all good,” he is really saying, “I’m ignoring the bad stuff because my latte is getting cold.” That’s not a bad thing. It keeps everyone positive and upbeat.

The Program Director is Like a Boat With Hats

Program Directors hire and fire the people on-the-air. Just like boats, the best day and worst day in a DJ’s life is the day he gets a new job from his Program Director and the day the DJ is canned and finally gets rid of the PD who hired him.

Most Program Directors can spot great talent. They have a sixth sense for it.

Unfortunately, once the talent is hired, most PDs also have another core skill: annoying the crap out of them over stupid, picky, meaningless issues which eventually force already unstable personalities to fantasize about a murder-suicide, involving (and starting with) the Program Director.

Sometimes the Program Director is also the Music Director. That’s called wearing two hats. Unfortunately, no one can afford two hats in the station’s budget line, which is where the record companies come in.

Record companies provide gifts to PDs like hats and other promotional materials including concert tickets, trips for listeners, t-shirts, etc. It used to be cash, cocaine, and hookers but government regulation kind of screwed that up. Thanks a lot, jerks!

Now, everything a Program Director receives has to be accounted for and disclosed. Why? Because the PD’s boss, the General Manager, wants to make sure he gets his cut.


I’m kidding. Disclosure occurs because the government doesn’t want the radio station doing any back room deals and promising to play crappy songs in return for anything of value.

Well, at least unless the public knows. In the good old days, radio had Payola (See “cash, cocaine, and hookers” above). That was great because the DJs and Program Directors were able to make a decent living by taking bribes and playing the record company’s crappy songs.

Governments finally stepped in and cleaned all that up. That’s why today, a DJ or PD can still make a decent living by taking a bribe and playing a song but ONLY if they disclose it to the listeners. Unfortunately, most radio companies frown on Payola and make employees sign a paper and swear to God they’re not taking any.

It seems the only folks who can legally take Payola anymore are the politicians who stepped in to clean up radio. Of course, they don’t call it Payola. They call it “campaign contributions”.

By the way: what’s the difference between a seedy record promoter and a lobbyist? You can trust the seedy record promoter. Wait, there is no difference.

There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Anyway, back to the Program Director. Besides directing programming and maybe overseeing music, the PD has to go to lunch everyday – usually with the guy who does the afternoon show. It is embarrassing when the bill arrives because the PD is never sure whether to offer to pay the bill with another station trade or let the afternoon DJ pay with the money he made by illegally selling station stuff on eBay.

As you can see, being a PD is a day full of hard decisions.

Sometime in the afternoon, the Program Director might have to take a meeting. He will bring in a yellow legal pad and pen but seldom write anything down. This is because anyone with ideas will usually offer to “forward” the info to the PD.

Email has been a boon to the art of program directing. Plus, Program Directors agree they can delete more listener complaints faster now thanks to broadband.

At the end of the day, the Program Director hangs around long enough to make sure the General Manager leaves before he does. This paints the Program Director in a very positive light and suggests that he’s working himself to the bone. (This tactic also works in other professions.)

Other things you should know about the Program Director:

Sometimes he has to wear a third hat and do a show on-the-air. He will often use a pseudonym because the last thing the PD wants is for listeners to know that the idiot on the air is also the idiot who is doing the program directing.

Most Program Directors have offices with signed memorabilia from rock stars. Nothing says success like a framed jock strap with Kid Rock’s signature on it.

Oh yeah, and Program Directors do not look like Andy Travis from the old TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.


By Tracy Johnson

Recognized as one of America’s most innovative radio programmers and managers, Tracy Johnson’s broad background in traditional and digital media spans more than 25 years and has influenced hundreds of radio stations, programmers and personalities. 

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