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What is a Radio Programmer?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A radio programmer is someone who schedules the content which is broadcast on a radio station. Program directors actually shape the nature of the content, determining what kind of content they want to broadcast, while other types of radio programmers are responsible for ensuring that broadcasts run smoothly and that no dead air occurs during broadcast periods. Training in this aspect of the profession is available at a number of colleges, universities, and technical schools, and people can be employed in many branches of the radio industry.

Programming in general is a very important part of the broadcast media, whether the media is radio or television. Every minute of a program has to be carefully planned and structured to avoid gaps which cause silence on the air, prevent program overruns, and ensure that the content is appealing to listeners and viewers. A radio programmer determines what goes on the air, when it airs, and how the programming of a station will be structured.

Radio programmers may allocate resources, determining the schedule for hosts, radio personalities, and other staffers. They also source program material from other locations; for example, a community radio station may buy syndicated content and arrange to receive it by satellite. The radio programmer monitors the timing on pre-recorded programs to ensure that it fits into the schedule, and monitors live broadcasts to be available to jump in to deal with programs which can range from dead air caused by equipment malfunctions to unexpected profanity from a guest.

Some radio programmers focus on developing content for their stations. They study the demographics they serve, seek out content which will appeal to their listeners, arrange for guests to be on air, and issue assignments to cover topics and stories of interest. Others are more focused with the micromanagement of radio programming, monitoring the station's broadcasts to ensure that they are operating smoothly. A radio programmer often needs to be able to multitask, and he or she needs to act quickly to head problems off early, before they mushroom into serious situations.

People in radio programming jobs tend to have formal training in radio, although some learn through working their way up the ladder at a radio station. Rates of pay for this kind of work vary, depending on a programmer's areas of expertise and level of creative involvement in the content. A radio programmer can also be involved in extending station presence through the establishment of relays or new stations.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By hamje32 — On Jul 26, 2011

@Mammmood - I love listening to radio stations around the world. A couple of years ago I invested in a shortwave radio and I can pick up news, sports and entertainment broadcasts from around the world.

I used to listen to a BBC programme about news affecting the United Kingdom and Europe and also caught up on some of their soccer broadcasts as well.

I would listen to some of these shows at night while drifting off to sleep.

One of the things about listening to world broadcasts is that it gives you a bigger picture about what’s going on in the world around you. You get a different perspective, whereas in the United States the news can sometimes be one-sided.

By Mammmood — On Jul 26, 2011

@David09 - Yeah, I agree. If you’re really adventurous, you can even start your own Internet radio station. You can use some online services that are specifically geared up to enabling you to create your own radio stations.

All you have to do is get all your music together (make sure it’s legal), create a playlist and create the station. Fill in the appropriate information in the radio broadcasting service and soon you will be able to broadcast the music online.

One of the advantages of having your own radio station is that you can avoid some of the content glitches mentioned in the article. You won’t have dead air, for example, as you transition from one song to the next, since you won’t be offering advertising.

In other words, you won’t have a lot of transition time where things could go wrong. The station just broadcasts from your playlist and you can add extra music as you wish.

By David09 — On Jul 25, 2011

I think that Internet radio is redefining the shape of radio for years to come. You can find radio stations online where you can listen to thousands of channels of radio programming, instead of being limited to a hundred or so.

Some of these stations are just streaming versions of actual local stations in the area, while other radio stations exist purely on the Internet. I listen to classical radio stations online and find a great deal of variety in the programming.

In addition, there are fewer advertisements in my opinion than in the regular local radio stations. I believe that’s because some of these online stations build their advertising revenue streams from things like affiliate advertising and other sources of income associated with online advertising.

By SZapper — On Jul 25, 2011

@indemnifyme - I have a friend who used to work as a radio producer, and it sounds like it's roughly the same thing as a radio programmer. My friend was primarily responsible for content development though.

Some of his duties were interviewing new talent, evaluating their current talent, and deciding what content to outsource. My friend told me it was pretty stressful dealing with some of those radio personalities. Apparently some of them can be quit diva-esque at times. Especially the ones who had been with the station a long while!

By indemnifyme — On Jul 24, 2011

My boyfriend majored in electronic media and film in college, and he got the chance to work on the college radio station. He became pretty good friends with the radio programmer, and from what he told me, it's not an easy job!

The article is right on about having to multitask. It's the programmers responsibility that everything that relates to the on air programming go smoothly. So they may deal with technical difficulties, difficult guests, and making sure the radio personality shows up to do their segment. But, they probably will be doing all these things at once! The job of a radio programmer is definitely not for someone who gets stressed out and upset easily.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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