The 10 top 40 programmers with the instincts and clout to make songs into hits, and make millions for their companies.
1. JOHN IVEY, 56
SENIOR VP, iHEARTMEDIA; PROGRAM DIRECTOR, KIIS LOS ANGELES
Ivey wields significant clout over America’s pop music tastes, at both the local and national levels. He programs market leader KIIS Los Angeles, but also oversees top 40 stations nationwide for iHeartMedia, the country’s largest radio chain, driving content to 60 million users of the iHeartRadio app. Labels cite his hit-picking instincts and ability to marshal iHeartMedia’s top 40 programmers. But the Kentucky native, who is married with one grown daughter, also is known for listening to his colleagues when choosing acts for national showcases like On the Verge and Jingle Ball. “It’s always part art, part science,” he says. “We try to make the right decisions. The listeners tell us the rest.” At this point in his career, his goals include “helping young jocks and programmers learn and advance. That’s really important to me as I get older, because people did it for me.”
Most treasured possession “My family and I have a great house in Nashville that we love to get away to. That’s where I relax.”
2. MARK MEDINA, 40
PROGRAM DIRECTOR, WHTZ, NEW YORK, iHEARTMEDIA
In January, Medina rose to one of the most coveted gigs in the music business: program director of New York’s Z100, iHeartMedia’s flagship pop outlet. He succeeded Sharon Dastur, now part of iHeartMedia’s national programming team (and one of the few women to rise to the upper ranks of local pop radio programming). WHTZ drew nearly 4 million in weekly cumulative audience, according to Nielsen Audio’s February ratings. Medina, who arrived from WIHT Washington, D.C., relishes radio’s nonstop pace. “We’re playing a game that has no finish line,” he says, “and the final buzzer will never sound.”
On my DVR “The iHeartRadio Music Awards, the Justin Bieber roast and tons of episodes of Dora the Explorer,” says Medina, the father of four young children.
3. KEVIN WEATHERLY, 52
SENIOR VP PROGRAMMING, CBS RADIO; VP PROGRAMMING, CBS RADIO, LOS ANGELES
Even Bono knows how influential Weatherly is. Before the release of Songs of Innocence, the U2 frontman offered the radio veteran a private preview. As vp programming for CBS Radio in Los Angeles, Weatherly is a triple threat who guides top 40 outlet KAMP (97.1 AMP Radio), alternative mainstay KROQ (106.7) and adult hits KCBS (93.1 Jack FM). He also brings multiformat expertise to CBS outlets nationwide. He has guided KAMP since 2009, and it has risen to fifth in the competitive Los Angeles market. “2014 was probably its best year of consistent ratings in every demo that matters,” says Weatherly. He credits its success, in part, to stepping out early on such acts as The Weeknd, Sia, Calvin Harris and Sam Smith.
Greatest accomplishment “Longevity. I have had the privilege of programming KROQ for over two decades and [launched] two successful new formats over the last 10 years with Jack FM and AMP Radio.”
4. KID KELLY*
VP MUSIC PROGRAMMING for POP FORMATS, SIRIUSXM
“Kid is not just playing the hits, he’s curating the next hits,” Republic Records executive vp Charlie Walk says of Kelly (real name: Pat Phillips), who programs SiriusXM’s Hits 1 and Venus channels. One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” aired on Hits 1 in 2011 before its U.S. release. (Kelly’s team got a copy from the band’s U.K. management.) And Atlantic Records chairman/COO Julie Greenwald says the label signed Brooklyn folk-pop duo Oh Honey “after he started playing them” -- which was three months before Glee exposed the act. The Brooklyn native says he likes to “let my freak flag fly” when it comes to bringing new music to SiriusXM’s 27.7 million subscribers. “If you’re paying for something,” he says, “it’s got to be different than what’s free.” (*Declined to provide age.)
Hardest business lesson “Don’t wallow. Just take it and climb back up.”
5. MICHAEL MARTIN, 52
SENIOR VP PROGRAMMING AND MUSIC INITIATIVES, CBS RADIO; PROGRAM DIRECTOR, KLLC/KMVQ SAN FRANCISCO
Martin is CBS’ national liaison across formats with record labels, artists and managers. But his Bay Area success has come from programming modern AC outlet KLLC (Alice@97.3) and top 40 KMVQ (99.7 Now), the Nos. 3 and 4 stations in the market, respectively. “If you pay attention,” he says, “you play the right [new] music at the speed at which [listeners] are consuming it.”
To celebrate a win “I high-five my team and move on to the next thing. I might then go home and jump on the trampoline with my kids.”
6. TODD CAVANAH, 52
PROGRAM DIRECTOR, WBBM CHICAGO, CBS RADIO
At WBBM (B96), the longest-running top 40 station in the nation’s third-largest radio market, timing is everything when it comes to programming hits. Cavanah may allow other stations to build demand for a song. But when his station commits, it offers big spins in dayparts heard by an audience that exceeds 2 million. So a B96 playlist add resonates. “It means something, not only for the label, but the manager and artist, too,” says Cavanah.
Power is “Leading with praise and suggestion instead of being an over-reactive hothead.”
7. PHIL GUERINI, 51
VP PROGRAMMING/GM, RADIO DISNEY; KDIS LOS ANGELES
KDIS remains the flagship station of Radio Disney but it’s a small part of the multiplatform music kingdom Guerini has helped build. The 22-year Disney veteran was a key architect of the Radio Disney Music Awards, which drew 3.2 million viewers in 2014 on the Disney Channel. “This audience is hyper-engaged,” says Guerini. Need proof? Radio Disney gets 150,000-plus requests weekly. Guerini says his listeners define music in two ways: “They either like it or they don’t.”
Recent coup Radio Disney has partnered with iBiquity Digital to broadcast on some 60 high-definition AM/FM digital bands nationwide.
8. ALEX TEAR, 48
SENIOR VP PROGRAMMING, iHEARTMEDIA MIAMI; TOP 40 BRAND COORDINATOR; PROGRAM DIRECTOR WHYI MIAMI
When you oversee Miami’s top-rated top 40 station, you’re party host as much as programmer. That’s why Tear (who’s married to actress Noa Lindberg) aims to give iHeartMedia’s heritage top 40 WHYI (Y100) “Miami swagger.” The Detroit transplant wants listeners to feel that the station is a music hub where stars even voice promos. “Listeners should think Katy Perry is answering the phone and Lady Gaga is in the traffic copter.”
Most treasured possession “My two Technics 1200 turntables, purchased in 10th grade.”
9. JEREMY RICE, 45
TOP 40 FORMAT LEADER, COX MEDIA GROUP; DIRECTOR OF BRANDING AND PROGRAMMiNG, WBLI NASSAU-SUFFOLK, N.Y.
Rice has kept WBLI a pop powerhouse in suburban Long Island, despite intense competition from top 40 competitors booming in from adjacent New York. WBLI’s Summer Jam at the Nikon Jones Beach Theater on June 13 will star Nick Jonas, Flo Rida and eight other acts. As top 40 format leader for Cox, he also has launched new outlets in Tampa and Miami and oversees five stations that collectively reach 3 million listeners per week. Rice is Cox’s chief pop tastemaker, but he shuns chainwide adds. “The last thing I want to do is dictate adds to our [program directors],” he says. “They run their own stations.”
Starstruck encounter “Meeting Paul McCartney. He is as close to the almighty of rock’n’roll as you can get. I showed him a picture of a long and winding road from the Isle of Wight, where my family is from.”
10. BRIAN KELLY, 54
VP PROGRAMMING, ENTERCOM Milwaukee
Under Kelly’s hand, WXSS (103.7 Kiss) has been the No. 1 pop station among women 18-34 in the Milwaukee market since 2010. “I love what I do,” says the radio lifer whose career has taken him from his native Portage, Wis., (population 10,200) to Madison, Wis., to Milwaukee to Chicago and back to Milwaukee. Inspiration for pursuing work in radio, he says, came in sixth grade when he read the memoir of Midwest top 40 radio legend Larry Lujack, aptly titled Superjock: The Loud, Frantic, Nonstop World of a Rock Radio DJ.
Personal achievement “Maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I have four children and one grandchild, and they keep me grounded and -re-energized.”
This article first appeared in the May 9 issue of Billboard.