Major market radio program director vs. Indie radio program director: What’s the difference? What do I need to know? How do I get my music on either of these formats? Vance Dillard (The Fish, Todays Christian Music) and Will Cleary (AlternaFish) answer these questions, giving us a unique look into both sides of the radio industry.

CCM Indie: What is the job of the program director?

Vance Dillard, The Fish: The PD makes all the music decisions based on the goal of giving their listeners what they want; and that is 90% of what we do. We are dedicated to making sure we’re playing the songs our listeners want to hear.

Will Cleary, AlternaFish: The Program Director, by definition, is responsible for the entire on-air experience of the station, including setting the tone for the station as well as the overall sound. This also means that the Program Director is responsible for selecting what music gets played on the station.

CCM Indie: How do you select the music you play on the air?

Vance Dillard, The Fish: We do online music testing and once a year we do an auditory music test where we recruit around 100 people in our demographic to listen to the hooks of roughly 600 songs. Only 30-40 of those songs are ones that have not yet been released. We only add 1-2 new songs a week and if you subtract 6 weeks for Christmas, that equals an addition of roughly 40 new songs a year. It means it is very competitive and it’s not easy to get airplay.

Will Cleary, AlternaFish: First, I have to take into account the quality of the recording. Just because I’m an indie station, doesn’t mean I’m playing poor sounding recordings. I use online testing similar to what Vance does and I pay close attention to what the radio promoters are sending my way. I also pay attention to what other stations are playing and how those songs are charting. 

CCM Indie: Ok, so it’s not easy to get airplay, but it is possible…how can I increase my odds of getting on the radio?

Vance Dillard, The Fish: Well, the good news about radio is that over the past 20 years, radio has become less of an artist-driven format and more of a song-driven format. It is all about the song and PD’s realize that, so we are not opposed to receiving unsolicited material, but it is still very hard to get my attention. The best way to get my attention is to: 1. Be out there performing your music, 2. Have your music available for sale, 3. Make a decision about which song on your album is “the one” you want to pitch to radio. PD’s don’t have the time to choose this for the artist. You should also consider getting your music distributed by Play MPE, the most common way songs are released to the stations; and hiring a radio promoter. But, don’t just hire anyone! Make sure that the person you hire is very selective about who they take on as clients. This will ensure you’re getting a good promoter.

Will Cleary, AlternaFish: Understand that things like production matter. I have to keep a consistency in the quality of the music that I play, or I loose listeners. A radio promoter is also an important investment. I don’t care if you have a long, successful track record, I’m more interested in the fact that your music was professionally submitted and I was professionally approached. Lastly, you need to make sure that your songs fit my format, but don’t sound too much like someone I’m already playing.

CCM Indie: Any other advice?

Vance Dillard, The Fish: Understand that getting on the radio should not be the ultimate measure of success for an indie artist. Because my job is to give the listener what they want based on the music we are aware of, there are a lot of songs that sadly, never get played. This is why it is so important to be aware of other outlets for your music: film/tv, concerts, special conferences, etc. The opportunities abound for your music to be heard and radio isn’t the end all, be all.

Will Cleary, AlternaFish: Invest your money in the person who gets your song out there (the promoter) and the person who makes you sound great (the producer), because once you put it out there, you can never get it back and first impressions can make or break you. Also, be encouraged that hard work does pay off and writing great music is not a lost medium!

Want to know more about Vance Dillard?

Vance Dillard is the Program Director for Salem’s three music networks, Today’s Christian Music, The Word in Praise and Solid Gospel as well as Nashville’s leading Christian music station, 94 FM the Fish (WFFH) and WBOZ (Solid Gospel 105).

Vance has been in his currently role with Salem since 2003.  His broadcasting career now spans over 40 years and includes programming at a number of stations throughout the U.S. including 700WLW Cincinnati, WPCH Atlanta, WWBA Tampa-St. Petersburg and WIP Philadelphia.

Vance and his wife Mary grew up in Ohio and now make their home in Nolensville, Tennessee.

Want to know more about Willy Cleary?

Willy Cleary is a positive rock artist and worship leader turned radio show host. He is the creator and host of AlternaFISH Radio – an on-air and online positive rock and hip hop format. Willy handles various aspects of AlternaFISH Radio from on-air Host to Program Director. If you would like to know more, visit to listen on-air or online 24/7.



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