Radio Ink Magazine


It’s certainly been an interesting and challenging year for programmers. Plenty of layoffs around the country, followed by a worldwide pandemic that sent nearly every on-air host home to broadcast and in-car listening plummeting. You truly have to be nimble to succeed as a PD, especially over the past six months.

Putting together this list every year starts with a nomination, typically from someone who ranks higher in the company than the nominated PD — maybe even the CEO. We go from there, with a look at ratings, experience, industry longevity, awards, how involved the station is in the community, and leadership qualities. And we send each PD a questionnaire they must answer to be considered.

We reach out to programming experts in the industry for input, in all formats and in all market sizes, and we crunch the numbers and process all the information. We also ask each PD to confidentially rank the individuals they believe to be the best program directors in America. Those rankings are vital, also providing us an excellent roadmap to help decide the final order.

In addition to listing names next to numbers, we put this list together hoping each and every PD who appears will provide you with something to help your career grow. This year we asked all the PDs why they love being a program director in radio today, and what advice they have for anyone who aspires to be a programmer.

As a result, this is much more than a list of the best programmers. It’s a learning tool that includes hundreds of ideas that can help you succeed immediately. Where else can you get so many free ideas from the greatest programming minds in the business today?

Here are the 2020 Best Program Directors in America.


SVP/Programming Brand Manager WCBS-FM & WNEW-FM New York Entercom In radio since high school 39 years programming

Jim Ryan tells Radio Ink he loves being a programmer because “I can make a difference for the city in which I work by leading social initiatives.” He says, “I can make a difference in the careers of other programmers and air talent by giving them guidance, which is the aspect of the position I enjoy most. I can make a difference in the careers of musicians who are releasing new music, and I can make a difference in the success of Entercom as a company by finding ways to grow audience and operate our radio stations more efficiently.”

You have to be willing to adapt to anything if you want to succeed as a PD today, according to Ryan. “This latest pandemic is a great example. In New York we are not allowed to voicetrack our stations by SAG/AFTRA contract. Yet, for the safety of our talent, it was imperative to totally operate both radio stations remotely in a short period of time. In less than a week, everyone was safe at home, where they remain today as I write this.

“Sadly, we still had five people on the airstaff get COVID-19. The entire morning show on WNEW contracted the virus and managed to continue to broadcast despite their conditions. As a programmer, I went through 9/11 in New York, but this was far worse. We adapted and did the best we could, which was pretty damn good.”


AC Brand Manager iHeartMedia WLTW & WKTU New York 42 years in radio 28 years programming

Chris Conley says he loves being a PD because of the opportunity to work with so many diverse and talented people.

Conley’s advice for young PDs looking to achieve success today is to stay up to date on technology. “Embrace software and systems to make it work for you, and not the other way around. Teach yourself a new software, and really challenge yourself on a piece of technology every six months. Stay up to date on social trends, and be sure you know how to write and talk to whatever segment of the population you are trying to communicate with.

“Also, in addition to learning, be able to articulate your thoughts to prospective employers or anyone you are trying to persuade. Sometimes this takes practice and repetition.”


EVP of Programming iHeartMedia Program Director WWPR-FM/New York 25 years in radio 19 years programming

Thea Mitchem tells Radio Ink she loves being a PD in radio today because it’s her passion, and it’s always evolving. “The target never stays in the same place. It’s like solving a problem every hour of the day. The work you put in, you get back in big and little victories throughout the weeks, months, years. You can never get bored. You are challenging yourself and teams all the time to raise the bar and shoot for excellence.”

The best PDs are always curious and learning, according to Mitchem. “PDs have to stay focused and a student of their audiences,” she says. “Surround yourself with a team with balancing attributes. PDs should embrace new technology as a way to market their stations — Twitch, TikTok, other emerging social platforms.

“The best PDs balance the science and the art. You are the architect of the sound of your station; every detail, break, imaging piece, talent presentation should fit within that structure. However, to strive for excellence, you have to recognize a talent or personality’s strength. When you have a great talent, you have to let them fly. If you stifle a great personality, you will kill their potential, or they will go elsewhere in order to grow.”


Brand Manager and News Director WCBS Newsradio 880 New York Entercom In radio since 1980 News

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