Radio-industry icon Kevin Metheny, VP of programming for Cumulus' two News/Talk stations in San Francisco, passed away suddenly in October. I talked about it with some of radio's top GMs, and the consensus was to always have a number two person prepared ? a strong backup for PD and other key management roles. Over my 40-plus years programming for companies such as Clear Channel, CBS, Bonneville, AM/FM, and Nationwide, we always had a strong assistant PD/music director; as we said, "If I get hit by a bus coming to work, the station will never miss a step in programming continuity." Serving as backup also grooms an aspiring program director to advance in his or her career.
Your number two person needs to know everything the PD does every day. Twice a year, have that person spend a week just sitting in the PD's office observing while the PD explains every aspect of the job. That way the station or company is protected if something should happen to the programmer.
Here is some additional input from several respected radio leaders. Former VP and market manager for WLS/Chicago and ABC Radio John Gehron notes that most stations in the past had an assistant PD. "This provided a logical transition if the PD left," he notes. "Today a PD could be over a whole cluster, with few support staff. That forces groups to look outside their cluster to replace a PD. The few support people a PD has are usually on the air with little decisionmaking, and only able to carry a small workload."
Bob Visotcky ran Los Angeles for AM/ FM Broadcasting. His take: "Hopefully you have a great music director who was trained by your PD, God rest his soul! I also always meet up-and-coming PDs and have one or two on emergency reserve. The key is to always interview, and prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
Steve Hunter is director of operations for Cox Media Group in Tulsa and AC format leader. "Your radio station's success is dependent on your program director, who has very specialized skills and is crucial to the operation," he says. "Take a look at the organizational chart and take into consideration the impact of one or more key people being taken out of the equation. How quickly could you train others internally to take on the role? Do you have any internal or external candidates? Are you constantly working your network? What happens now if someone is on vacation or falls ill? Do you have a good APD or programming assistant who can step in tomorrow? We should always be training someone to over any and all positions at the radio station."
Ira Rosenblatt, Powell Broadcasting's market manager in Panama City, recently lost one of his PDs. He?s a believer in using consultants to get through the rough patches: "Not having any experience on air ? and now being in a business where we have multiple formats in a building and not just the one AM and FM that we had years ago ? I believe the need for programming consultants is of prime importance. It's almost like having an insurance policy on your programming department. After having my PD recently leave (not die!), I found out how important my programming consultant was. He kept us on target with music and helped with all on-air talent, including helping to keep our part-timers on target when they voice-tracked the vacant shows. He also was an important part of our interview process while we hired a replacement."
Tom Watson is president of A.C.C. Consulting & Marketing and can be reached at 310.498.5990 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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