I've been in radio for a long time. I've seen format fads come and go. I've worked for and known some legendary programming 'geniuses'. I've watched the consultants walk the halls like monks at vespers. I've seen the program directors nervously trying to appease these seers and most failing in their attempts.
I've seen General Managers, who have risen to their positions through the non-programming ranks, insert their programming preferences into the mix and over-ride and over-rule their PD's, the people who have apprenticed in that area of expertise. It hasn't always been a mistake. Some GM's are naturally good programmers. They've watched and learned as they toiled in the sales side of the business. But unfortunately, most of the time their decisions were disastrous. They've 'watched the car and it seems easy to drive' But watching from the sidelines and sitting behind the wheel are two separate and distinct things.
Programming a radio station properly looks easy. It's not. Ask any of the program directors who have failed. Making a station appealing and popular is like squeezing Jello. It's hard to get a handle on. It takes an understanding of the fundamentals, patience and innate creativity. Two out of the three you can develop over time. The third you have to be born with.
The industry is filled with people who understand the fundamentals and have the patience. Unfortunately it's sorely lacking in creative programming talent. Most don't realize that this money making business is also a creative work of art. It's not enough to 'know the music' or to understand how to interpret the latest ratings book. The authors of all of the creative formats from this industry's inception, have been radio artists. They broke the molds and stepped into new and uncharted territory.
And great formats have 'legs'...they last. Most would last much longer than they do. The problem is, the creative programmer (the rarity) usually passes it off to the fundamentalist (the majority). They lack the skills to maintain the station, never mind the talent to bring it to the next level. They end up blaming their poor numbers on the format.
And of course today, the large radio groups usually have a market programmer who oversees several stations, which have a variety of formats. Most of these people would have their hands full with one format...they've got a whole bunch! It is a recipe for failure.
And radio wonders why listeners are looking to other forms of portable entertainment. People aren't stupid. They may not be able to understand what exactly is wrong with their favorite station, but they know when it doesn't sound good. And if it doesn't improve they look somewhere else. And as most programmers know, they're hard to get back.
Radio has done this to itself. Computerized stations with 'group' programming is not the answer. We need to bring back the Radio geniuses. Instead of minimizing the Program Director's position we need to re-establish it's importance and to give these people the freedom and tools that they must have to save our business. There's still time...but it's running out.