Radio and television program directors plan and schedule program material for stations and networks. They determine what entertainment programs, news broadcasts, and other program material their organizations offer to the public. At a large network, the program director may supervise a large programming staff. At a small station, one person may manage the station and also handle all programming duties.
Radio and Television Program Director Career History
Radio broadcasting in the United States began after World War I. The first commercial radio station, KDKA in Pittsburgh, came on the air in 1920 with a broadcast of presidential election returns. About a dozen radio stations were broadcasting by 1921. In 1926 the first national network-linked stations across the country. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports that at the beginning of 2006, there were 13,769 AM and FM stations broadcasting in the United States.
The first public demonstration of television in the United States came in 1939 at the opening of the New York World’s Fair. Further development was limited during World War II, but by 1953 there were about 120 stations. According to the FCC, there were 2,218 commercial, public, and cable television stations in the United States in 2006. The National Cable Television Association reports that between 1996 and 2002, the number of cable networks increased by 98 percent, from 145 to 287 channels.
The Job of Radio and Television Program Directors
Program directors plan and schedule program material for radio and television stations and networks. They work in both commercial and public broadcasting and may be employed by individual radio or television stations, regional or national networks, or cable television systems.
Program directors oversee material including entertainment programs, public service programs, newscasts, sportscasts, and commercial announcements. Program directors decide what material is broadcast and when it is scheduled; they work with other staff members to develop programs and buy programs from independent producers. They are guided by such factors as the budget available for program material, the audience their station or network seeks to attract, their organization’s policies on content and other matters, and the kinds of products advertised in the various commercial announcements.
In addition, program directors may set up schedules for the program staff, audition and hire announcers and other on-the-air personnel, and assist the sales department in negotiating contracts with sponsors of commercial announcements. The duties of individual program directors are determined by such factors as whether they work in radio or television, for a small or large organization, for one station or a network, or in a commercial or public operation.
At small radio stations the owner or manager may be responsible for programming, but at larger radio stations and at television stations the staff usually includes a program director. At medium to large radio and television stations the program director usually has a staff that includes such personnel as music librarians, music directors, editors for tape or film segments, and writers. Some stations and networks employ public service directors. It is the responsibility of these individuals to plan and schedule radio or television public service programs and announcements in such fields as education, religion, and civic and government affairs. Networks often employ broadcast operations directors, who coordinate the activities of the personnel who prepare network program schedules, review program schedules, issue daily corrections, and advise affiliated stations on their schedules.
Program directors must carefully coordinate the various elements for a station while keeping in tune with the listeners, viewers, advertisers, and sponsors.
Other managers in radio and television broadcasting include production managers, operations directors, news directors, and sports directors. The work of program directors usually does not include the duties of radio directors or television directors, who direct rehearsals and integrate all the elements of a performance.
Radio and Television Program Director Career Requirements
If you are interested in this career, you should take courses that develop your communication skills in high school. Such classes include English, debate, and speech. You also should take business courses to develop your management skills; current events and history courses to develop your understanding of the news and the trends that affect the public’s interests; and such courses as dance, drama, music, and painting to expand your understanding of the creative arts. Finally, don’t neglect your computer skills. You will probably be using computers throughout your career to file reports, maintain schedules, and plan future programming projects.
Those with the most thorough educational backgrounds will find it easiest to advance in this field. A college degree, therefore, is recommended for this field. Possible majors for those interested in this work include radio and television production and broadcasting, communications, liberal arts, or business administration. You will probably take English, economics, business administration, computer, and media classes. You may also wish to acquire some technical training that will help you understand the engineering aspects of broadcasting.
Program directors must be creative, alert, and adaptable people who stay up to date on the public’s interests and attitudes and are able to recognize the potential in new ideas. They must be able to work under pressure and be willing to work long hours, and they must be able to work with all kinds of people. Program directors also must be good managers who can make decisions, oversee costs and deadlines, and attend to details.
Exploring Radio and Television Program Director Career
If your high school or college has a radio or television station, you should volunteer to work on the staff. You also should look for part-time or summer jobs at local radio or television stations. You may not be able to plan the programming at a local station, but you will see how a station works and be able to make contacts with those in the field. If you can’t find a job at a local station, at least arrange for a visit and ask to talk to the personnel. You may be able to “shadow” a program director for a day—that is, follow that director for the workday and see what his or her job entails.
According to the FCC, there were 2,218 broadcast television stations and 13,769 radio stations in the United States at the start of 2006. Cable television stations add another option for employment.
Large conglomerates own some stations, while others are owned individually. While radio and television stations are located all over the country, the largest stations with the highest paid positions are located in large metropolitan areas.
Program director jobs are not entry-level positions. A degree and extensive experience in the field is required. Most program directors have technical and on-air experience in either radio or television. While you are in college you should investigate the availability of internships, since internships are almost essential for prospective job candidates. Your college placement office should also have information on job openings. Private and state employment agencies may also prove useful resources. You can also send resumes to radio and television stations or apply in person.
Beginners should be willing to relocate, as they are unlikely to find employment in large cities. They usually start at small stations with fewer employees, allowing them a chance to learn a variety of skills.
Most beginners start in entry-level jobs and work several years before they have enough experience to become program directors. Experienced program directors usually advance by moving from small stations to larger stations and networks or by becoming station managers.
Salaries for radio and television program directors vary widely based on such factors as size and location of the station, whether the station is commercial or public, and experience of the director. Television program directors generally earn more than their counterparts in radio. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual earnings of general and operations managers in radio and television broadcasting were $79,300 in 2006.
According to Salary.com, Media Program Directors earn a median salary of $59,933 in 2005. According to a salary survey by the Radio-Television News Directors Association, radio news directors earned salaries ranged from a low of $10,000 to a high of $72,000 in 2001. Television news directors earned a median of $64,000, with salaries ranging from $18,000 to $250,000.
Both radio and television program directors usually receive health and life coverage benefits and sometimes yearly bonuses as well.
Program directors at small stations often work 44–48 hours a week and frequently work evenings, late at night, and on weekends. At larger stations, which have more personnel, program directors usually work 40-hour weeks.
Program directors frequently work under pressure because of the need to maintain precise timing and meet the needs of sponsors, performers, and other staff members.
Although the work is sometimes stressful and demanding, program directors usually work in pleasant environments with creative staffs. They also interact with the community to arrange programming and deal with a variety of people.
Radio and Television Program Director Career Outlook
All radio and television stations, cable television systems, and regional and national networks employ program directors or have other employees whose duties include programming. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment in broadcasting is expected to increase 9 percent through 2014, slower than the average of 16 percent growth for all industries combined. This slow growth rate is attributed to industry consolidation, introduction of new technologies, greater use of prepared programming, and competition from other media.
Competition for radio and television program director jobs is strong. There are more opportunities for beginners in radio than there are in television. Most radio and television stations in large cities hire only experienced workers.
New radio and television stations and new cable television systems are expected to create additional openings for program directors, but some radio stations are eliminating program director positions by installing automatic programming equipment or combining those responsibilities with other positions.