I'm feeling so awful, I don't even remember what I wrote about in this week's All Access newsletter. Hope it made sense:
How about this? A station cluster in a large market needed to replace a departing program director who'd handled two stations. They did something I didn't think radio companies do anymore: They hired two PDs, one for each station.
One PD per station. That's... wow. I thought those days were over.
Maybe they are, and this is an aberration. Two in place of one... that's not something you see much in 2010. Not in talk radio, that's for sure. I'd like to think that management doesn't think talk radio programs itself, but I get the sense that they think, well, you stick a computer in a closet and point the satellite and that's it. And, certainly, we've seen several talk stations handed over to the PD of a sister music station (or two, or three), as if there would be any time for someone whose hands are already full to add another station to the mix.
But the way things have been lately makes me wonder if management really knows what a PD does. There seems to be the assumption that all you need in that position is a warm body to make sure the spots run. It's more than that, of course. And if your GM or corporate folks are unclear about it, here are just a few things that a good program director does other than fill out paperwork and load PSAs onto the computer.
A good PD needs to be a psychologist (or is it psychiatrist? I never get those straight). Great talent is often, to use a scientific term, nuts. I mean that in a good way. Surely, there has to be something a little off about anyone who wants to get on the radio and tell the world exactly what he or she thinks for three hours. It's not just a matter of communicating with the talent, but it's also helping everyone on the staff get along. How many times do co-hosts argue and fight off the air? Hosts and producers? Management and hosts? Being able to keep everyone from killing each other is an art a good PD learns, and fast.
There's also the matter of handling sales pressures, and in that regard, I've heard some talent and managers say that the days of saying no to the sales department are over. That may be the case, but, and here I'm speaking only for myself, I wanted the sales department to come to me first before approaching the hosts with a brilliant sales idea. It's simple: What might seem like a slam dunk for the sales guy might be poison for programming and for the host's reputation. An embarrassingly small-time remote, a client as an on-air guest, an unfortunate endorsement... someone needs to manage that. And while it's not always possible, I tried to find ways to "adjust" the sales department's brainstorms so that they'd serve everyone's purpose better. The trick is to avoid being obstructionist and uncooperative and find a way to make everyone happy. (No, there's no way to make an endorsement for Colon Blow anything but, um, an endorsement for Colon Blow)
In a similar vein, a PD needs to serve as protection for the talent, a filter between the GM and the host. The GM is going to field complaints and will want to tell (or tell off) the talent. Making sure it goes through the PD not only helps soften the blow, but the PD can decide exactly what the talent needs to hear. That's right, sometimes it's better not to let the talent know that someone at the country club didn't like what he or she said about some topic or another. Getting belted with "you shouldn't say that" from the GM or salespeople or anyone else will do a number on a host's psyche. It's better to have one person handle that stuff and filter what gets through. That includes compliments, too, when they're about stuff you know isn't working.
In some ways, a PD needs to be a producer, too, not necessarily hands-on with every show, but at least involved enough to recognize when a host is off track and help fix that. It could involve being hands-on enough to sit in on show prep and help pitch, craft, and polish a topic, or as little as making the right suggestions in a post-show air-check or review. Either way, it involves listening and having that indefinable ear for what the show SHOULD sound like, and an awareness of how to get it there. And that applies to syndicated shows as well; a PD shouldn't just stick a show on and forget it, he or she should listen, make sure that the content and sound fit the station, and let the syndicator know what the station needs from the talent and the show. I've found syndicators quite willing to take feedback and work with affiliates to address their concerns. It's in everyone's interest for the show to work on your station.
Finally, the PD has to be a little bit of a showman, by which I don't mean that the PD should be a comedian or inject his or herself into the programming. It's more that the PD needs to know how to market the station with imaging and attitude. The station -- ANY station -- should have a personality. It's one of radio's advantages, and a station's projected personality often takes a cue from the person in charge as well as the talent on the air. Talk radio IS show business, after all. It helps to know how to make a show, on the air, in marketing, and at appearances.
There's more, of course, and that includes all the paperwork and sales meetings and, most critically, the ability to find and develop talent. But the former are necessary evils and the latter is something that's as much instinctual as anything else. Some people have the ear for what works, some don't. There's no test to determine if someone has the right instincts, except to look at the results.
And that's all you need in a PD. He or she just has to be a shrink, a diplomat, a filter, a producer, an entertainer, a schmoozer, and an office drone, all while possessing good instincts. Hygiene helps, too, but you can't always have everything.
Something that can help with the producer part is All Access' very own Talk Topics column with hundreds of show prep items of all kinds -- national, international, sports, entertainment, kickers, anything any talk radio show might use. As I've mentioned here before, you can conveniently check what's new via the Talk Topics Twitter feed at twitter.com/talktopics. Just follow @talktopics and you'll be able to keep up with everything I throw in there, as soon as I write 'em up. Among this week's new items are road rage battery by, well, battery, the lost art of beer can collecting, how some folks are literally scared stiff, the troubles faced by the karaoke industry, a store with nothing but goods made in America, the Worst Birthday Party Ever, the end of "The Hills," the end of "At the Movies," how barbecue sauce may be good for you, why bees dying might be a very bad thing for you, a possible "exercise pill," why a baby was denied insurance coverage, $2,000 Jimmy Choo shoes that light up with every step, the growing legend of St. Petersburg's Mystery Monkey, a teacher accused of drinking on the job, why you can't quit a job you hate, and so much more, including plenty on health care and the economy and all that "real" news. If you're stuck for material, come on by and we'll fix you up.
Also at All Access this week are "10 Questions With..." KQTH (104.1 The Truth)/Tucson morning man Jon Justice, who's been making waves ever since returning to southern Arizona; the industry's best, fastest, and most complete coverage in Net News; ratings, columns, job listings, the Industry Directory, music charts... yeah, we got everything. And you can keep up with Net News at twitter.com/allaccess Also, go get the All Access iPhone app through iTunes, if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, that is. It's free. And you can keep up with my personal stupidity at twitter.com/pmsimon and at pmsimon.com.
One more thing: We're inching closer to the Revlon Run/Walk for Women 2010, which takes place on the streets surrounding USC and the Coliseum May 8th in Los Angeles. We're raising money for women's cancer research and treatment. Your help is greatly appreciated, especially in these tough times; just go to https://www.revlonrunwalk.com/la/secure/MyWebPage.cfm?pID=533458 and enter your donation. Thank you!