How To: Become A Music Programmer

Do you have a passion for media and think you can spot the next hit to dominate the airwaves? You could combine your love of music and banger-predicting abilities into the dream role of music programmer.

We spoke to Head of Music at Radio X and avid music fan, Mike Walsh, about the role of music programming, how to get involved and his own career.


What does a music programmer do?

The main role of a music programmer is to make sure a radio station is broadcasting the most competitive music log for its target audience. This involves playing the right songs in the right order to maximise its audience by getting the most amount of listeners listening for the most amount of time.

How does a programmer decide which songs are suitable for your station?

We look at what would appeal to our listeners. Firstly, we look at genre as Radio X has a largely indie/ alternative log that’s the genre we’re more likely to consider. We also look at age and gender of the target market, as Radio X is predominantly male listeners in their thirties, we play the music that is relevant to that market. Our listeners are also predominantly ABC1, which is important for Radio X as it is one of the highest levels of disposable income on commercial radio. It’s all about targeting and super serving that target. I believe that when you tighten the focus you broaden appeal. So when you focus on specifics you create a product that is so well honed that it becomes attractive to more people, sometimes even outside your target audience.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Being a music fan, having the luxury of being surrounded by music on a daily basis is such a privilege and the opportunity to make a difference to an artist’s career is really special.

What’s the worst thing about your job?

As with most commercial radio, we are incredibly busy with very small teams. It can be difficult to find the time to do everything you need to do or want to do, and there is an overwhelming amount of new music to get through. I wish there was more time to listen to more new music.

What skills do you need to be a programmer?

You need an inexhaustible love of music and to have a constant hunger to find that track you think you can champion. When you receive several 100 tracks a week, it takes quite a lot of time and work to get through all of them and it needs to be driven by a genuine love of music and passion for discovering something special.

What is your career highlight so far?

It has to be ten years ago when I was given the role of Head of Music at Radio X. It was my dream job and still is.

Fancy checking out another radio related role? Find out what a Radio Plugger at Universal gets up to! And, why not check out our tips on getting your first job in radio.