Radio Programming in the Bike Shed

Not every Program Director is a genius, but all of them, at one time or another, can drop a perl. I’ve worked with and for tons of PD’s over the years, some great and some not so great. But without a doubt, I’ve gotten some good advice from all of them. I remember early in my career while going over an aircheck with a PD, he turned to me and said, “You know it’s a damn shame that most Jocks spend their first few years learning to talk like a DJ and the rest of their career learning to speak like a human being.” Talk about being hit in the head with a two by four! It worked.

I once worked with a PD who in his frustration of constantly defending his programming decisions, looked over at me and said, “You know, not everyone thinks he’s a Sales Manager, General Manager, Engineer or even a Promotions Director, but everyone thinks they’re a Program Director.” Truth that. Not everyone thinks they’ve got what it takes to query an opinion about how to replace a Klystron Tube or even run the sales department at a radio station, but everyone has an opinion on what music to play or who is or is not a good personality. It’s Parkinson’s Law of Triviality in action.

For those not familiar with Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, in a nutshell it basically states that anyone without a working knowledge of a sophisticated issue will not even attempt to give an opinion, instead they will leave it to the experts. On issues presupposed to be trivial, everyone will have an opinion. Parkinson in his law uses the example of the nuclear reactor and the bicycle shed. Everyone assumes that nuclear power plants should be left to the experts, however, discuss a bicycle shed, and “the debate emerges over whether the best choice of roofing is aluminum, asbestos, or galvanized iron, rather than whether the shed is a good idea or not.”

Radio programming is indeed a “bicycle shed.” In fact, it’s the biggest damn bicycle shed I’ve ever seen. Walk down the halls of the radio station and ask everyone and anyone for an opinion of programming and you’ll get a multitude of answers and opinions. Ninety-five percent of the folks wandering the halls could care less about how much compression the engineer has on the signal or the rate card, but everyone’s got an opinion on the music or talent. The bike shed mentality doesn’t end in the radio station halls, it continues as far as your signal radiates. Every “idiot” with a radio will have an opinion, and will be convinced they are “educated” and right about their two cents.

Why does this “bike shed” mentality exist in radio? Probably because radio programming is incorrectly assumed to be primarily opinion based. Musical tastes are most often based on the personal opinion of the consumer of that music. So the programmer will inevitably hear the “why don’t you play more of this or that” statements from the bike shed junior programmers. Ask anyone what kind of music they like and the majority of the time the individual will respond with, and I guarantee it, “I like all kinds of music,” or “I have really wide and varied taste in music.” The music consumer really honestly believes that they do have this vast, educated and varied musical experience. In reality, if you dig underneath the surface of their statement, what they really mean is that they like crappy pop music or classic rock or contemporary country or some smooth jazz or some other kind of consumer based musical genre. So they see themselves as some sort of “expert” on music. Hence they have a multitude of opinions on how to build the “bike shed.”

Radio consumers, and yes, even professionals in the radio industry that have limited or no background as Programmers, really have no idea of the work that goes into programming music, creating and protecting a brand or developing and maintaining compelling personalities. They hear the end product and because they’ve had radio as such a big part of their lives for so many year as a consumer, have their biased opinions on what it should or should not be. The Sales Manager could care less about how to properly wire a new digital audio workstation, he will undoubtedly proclaim “leave it to the experts.” But the same Sales Manager will throw his “educated” opinion on music rotation or ┬ápersonality management without any regard to the “experts.”

So how should the Programming professional deal with his day-to-day assault of the “bike shed” mentality of junior radio programmers? Smile, nod and thank the semi-pro and “expert” advice with a grain of salt, say “Thank you very much” and program your damn radio station to the best of your ability. Or you could start bantering around your advice concerning spot rates and soldering techniques until they get the hint.

*John Ford is a Broadcast programming professional with nearly three decades of experience in local and network major market radio Programming and Consulting. Including stints as a VP of New Media Sabo Media, Network Programming and Imaging at ABC Radio Networks, Greenstone Media. Programming, Imaging and Morning/Talk positions at WIOD/Miami, WLLZ/Detroit, KZPS/Dallas, The Edge/Dallas, Zeta 4/Miami, WSHE/Miami and others. John’s also an uber-geek who holds numerous Apple Technical Certifications and enjoys breaking and fixing code and kit. Reach him at his website