A large Christian music station in the Midwest just played a song by Chris Tomlin.

Listeners all over town heard it. Some were at the office, others were in the car or the minivan. Some know all the words, so they were singing along. Others were hearing the song for the first time. None, however, realized that the playing of that song, that one song, was the result of months of effort, research, and consternation by people not just at that radio station, but far beyond.

The decision to play certain songs on the radio does not typically rest with the disc jockey spinning the CDs—or, more accurately, playing digital versions of the songs off of a computer. (And "disc jockey" is even a misnomer these days; most are now called "on-air personalities.")

The vast majority of the songs played, the order in which they are played, and the time at which they are played are all dictated in advance. It's the deejay's job not just to play the music, but to give the songs, promotions, events, and the entire station a human voice.

So, if the deejay isn't choosing the music, who is?

The decision makers

Large stations have two important people who are involved in deciding what songs are played: the Music Director and the Program Director (PD).

These individuals, who often have an on-air shift as well, start by developing a finite list of songs from which to choose a play rotation. This list, called the "playlist," is a bit like a football field. Just like the superstar athletes are always on the field, there are a few very familiar artists whose songs are almost always on the playlist. On the sidelines, there are second-string athletes, energetic and aspiring rookies, and veterans hoping to make a comeback—to make it onto the field. ...

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