The conversation with Christian radio listeners about their preferences is one of importance. We learn so much by asking! Late in 2020 we asked, “Other than the Bible, what is the best Christian book you’ve ever read?” Here are the Top Five Favorite Christian Books among Christian Radio Listeners:
#1 – The Purpose Driven Life (2002), Rick Warren
#2 (tie) – Left Behind Series (1995), Tim LaHaye
#2 (tie) – Redeeming Love (2005), Francine Rivers
#2 (tie) – The Case for Christ (1998), Lee Strobel
#2 (tie) – The Shack (2007), William P. Young
Our no. 1, The Purpose Driven Life, was a runaway winner with twice the number of votes over our no. 2 books. Is it something about this lockdown year that has made Rick Warren’s classic even bigger than before?
Consider the variety among the books tied at no. 2. Three works of fiction but each with very different and powerful themes. And, in the middle, Lee Strobel’s amazing work of investigative journalism that led him to faith.
In case you’re curious, here are the books that just missed the Top Five list, all worthy titles that scored well, just not quite well enough to make the top titles:
Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, Jack Canfield
The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman
Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul, John Eldredge, Stasi Eldredge
Crazy Love, Francis Chan, Danae Yankoski
Heaven is for Real, Lynn Vincent
Knowing God, J.I. Packer
The Power of a Praying Wife, Stormie Omartian
Want more? Take a look back at how listeners ranked their FAVORITE BOOKS last year.
One of our close friends and a major donor at the radio station where I worked was a gentleman who owned a Dairy Queen franchise across the street from the local high school. The restaurant was located in a prime spot and it had been there for many years. In a sense, our friend’s business “owned” the lunch crowd during the school year.
Some say it was inevitable, but regardless, it happened. A brand new, shiny McDonald’s restaurant came to town directly across from the Dairy Queen and on the same side of the street as the high school.
Many of us assumed that this was the end of the Dairy Queen! We envisioned the end of brazier treats, Blizzards, and Buster Bars for famished high-schoolers. And that may have been the case had our friend not taken the next right steps to compete for this lucrative and hungry audience.
As our friend tells the story, he started with an honest assessment of his current facility. The parking lot needed repair. The building looked and felt old, and there wasn’t a drive-thru lane. Until the arrival of the McDonald’s, they had seen no need for one. Their traditional thinking was that their treats were special and people would happily come inside and wait for them to be made.
So, before the lot was even cleared for the new McDonald’s, our friend began updating his lot and building, and also installed a drive-thru lane. It was a total makeover just in time for McDonald’s arrival.
Like the Dairy Queen, all of us in media face competition. New stations appear regularly in our markets, and new platforms, podcasts, and technology arrive almost daily. I am sure that many people believe that these innovations are designed to “steal” our listeners. The truth is, the listeners never belonged to us.
Today’s temptation is to try to keep up and be the best at everything, but you and I know that is not possible. So, before you ride off in all directions at the arrival of the next round of competition, consider these simple, but hard steps.
Take some time with your leadership team and do an honest, anonymous if necessary, S.W.O.T. analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Listen carefully and don’t react.
Review your staff. John Maxwell famously says, “train them or trade them.” Continuing education and training are not options in 2021, they are essential.
Take a detailed look at your facility and infrastructure. Are they hindering you or the staff from doing a great job?
Hire the best media, fundraising, and sales consultants that you can afford. It is amazing what an objective review of your organization can do for you and your team. And then listen to them.
Take a 360 Leadership Assessment Test and share the results with your team. Peter Drucker says, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Your organization deserves the best leadership that you can give.
Make time and money available for research. Music and market research will help you develop a roadmap to maintaining and growing your audience. (I am fortunate to work with Art Garza and others in the STAR / Pillar group who respect and appreciate the importance of having qualitative, objective research done for their stations.) Outside of the occasional market research project, you’re flying blind, at best.
What is your purpose for existence? Fred Jacobs calls it your “True North” but said differently, have you wandered from your mission? Is your mission still relevant?
As Christians in media, our mission and ministry assume that there is a connection to the living God that guides us in all life and practice. What is God saying to you about 2021 and beyond? Have you asked and are you listening?
Develop the timeline of the next steps and start the make-over of your station or ministry.
Cut out the unproductive and wasteful programs of the past, so that you can invest in the future.
Focus, focus, focus. Your job is to keep moving your station or ministry forward utilizing all of the resources that God has allowed you to steward.
There is much more to say on these matters, but it all starts with a “heart-check” of motives. Are we competing to keep our share of the market or are we motivated to improve to reach more people for Jesus? This is “to be determined”, right?
And now the rest of the story. At the appointed time, the McDonald’s arrived in our town with great fanfare and excitement. And predictably, for a season, it seemed like all of the cars were turning into the shiny new restaurant. But it didn’t stay that way. Within a matter of weeks, consumers tired of the long lines and rediscovered the new, improved Dairy Queen. The renovation and makeover had worked and both businesses flourished. They still do so to this day.
Catholic priest, James Keller says, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.”
God’s best to you and your team in 2021! May we all shine bright for Him and His glory! (That’s not a bad prayer for the New Year.)
Dick Whitworth General Manager, WAKW/Cincinnati
Dick has been in Christian broadcasting for over 40 years having served as an on-air host, Station Manager, Assistant VP for Media, and Network Director. He is currently the General Manager at WAKW, STAR 93.3 in Cincinnati.
Married to Jayne for over 41 years, they have two children and two grandchildren. Dick & Jayne currently live in Mason, Ohio.
What is great content? Great content is something that stops you in your tracks. It piques your interest and draws you in. It moves you from passively listening to actively listening; pulling what is happening on the radio from the background right to the forefront of your thoughts. It has your full attention. It could be happy, sad, funny, infuriating or intriguing as long as it provokes a feeling inside you. You can’t walk away from it. You simply can’t stop listening. You want to know what will happen next. The emotion it evokes within you lasts longer than the initial consumption. If it is great you will find a way to share it with others.
Before we can talk about the 5 essential elements that are apparent in great content there are a couple of fundamentals that need to be present in order for your great content to be heard. First, you need to know who the content is intended for. You need to clearly identify who your target audience is – how they live their lives, what their hopes and fears are, how they view the world. Then apply that understanding to ensure the content you are selecting has appeal to that audience. Great content always starts with relevance. If your content selection is not suitable for the audience you are intending it for, then it has already failed.
Secondly, content is — and will always be — subjective; what appeals to one person may not appeal to another. You need to accept that great content doesn’t have to be seen as great by everyone. The finale of Seinfeld — regarded by many as TV’s greatest sitcom – was watched by 76 million people in a country where 321 million people live. Some of the 245 million people who didn’t watch the show won’t have liked the show. In fact there will be some who thought the show was awful. That’s ok. You can achieve greatness without everyone liking what you do. Great content requires bravery from its creators to showcase their individual passions, beliefs, values and views to the world in spite of who might not like it. To be loved you must be authentic. Not everyone you know likes you. That’s a fact. But they know what you’re about and what you stand for. Trying to create content that pleases everyone will result in a cacophony of blandness. If you want your content to be great you need to be genuine.
Those are the fundamentals you need in order for your content to be heard. Next comes the 5 essential elements that all great content shares. These are the commonalities identified in the execution of all great content. When these 5 elements are present, and the fundamentals we discussed are evident, the content you’re creating has the power to stop you in your tracks.
Context. The content is in keeping with the expectation the audience has of your show (and the characters on the show). Think for a moment about “Sex And The City.” The show was about ‘four best friends navigating sex and relationships in New York” and every episode — in fact every scene — lived up to that expectation and worked to enhance that position. You never once tuned in and witnessed the show doing anything else. Great content fits within the context — or storyline — of your show. It supports the central theme and what the audience should/has come to expect from you.
Unpredictability. Something happens that the audience didn’t expect. As you listen you are silently wondering “Where is this heading?” “What will happen next?” “How will they get out of this?” The destination is unknown to the audience. This creates a sense of drama that propels the audience to keep listening. Listener’s want to be surprised. Predictability is boring.
Storytelling. The content is built around an interesting and intriguing story. There is a clear protagonist and antagonist in the content. The protagonist is faced with a challenge. During the course of the story they must overcome their obstacles before arriving at a resolution. Storytelling is what bonds us together as humans. There’s nothing more powerful.
Vulnerability. Having the courage to embrace your imperfections. Letting go of who you think you should be and just being yourself. Being transparent and open with the audience; sharing yourself in a way that deepens the connection with your audience. Saying what you really think without self-editing and second guessing yourself.
Different. The content stands out for being extraordinary. Ordinary isn’t compelling but the extra layers you add to what is ordinary can be. This is about how you treat content to make it more impactful. It’s about asking what else we can do with this content to make it bigger. The bigger the impact the more memorable your content will be.
Bad content is obvious to spot; it has no clear target audience, lacks relevance, and is devoid of any authenticity. Average content has a specific audience in mind and relevance but still lacks authenticity. Good content builds upon average content by demonstrating authenticity and often one or two of the 5 essential elements. Great content happens when the content is targeted, has relevance, the hosts are authentic and all 5 of the elements — context, unpredictability, storytelling, vulnerability and difference — are demonstrated in the show.
See how well your show is performing; a useful exercise is to randomly select some of the content pieces from your show and evaluate them against the descriptors above — the 5 essential elements. Challenge yourself to be better at showcasing them in your show. The more you do, the greater your content will become!
Think of the 5 elements as pistons in an engine, you want all of them working in unison to power your content.
Paul Kaye VP, Product and Talent Development for Rogers in Canada
One of the big learnings during the pandemic is just how powerful nostalgia has become, amplified during difficult times. Hearing your favorites on the radio that remind you of the days when doctors were the only ones wearing facemasks, only introverts socially distanced, and only germophobes washed their hands a dozen times a day is powerful. But that’s the world in which we live.
Yes, the Christmas music station in town has an obvious advantage during this time of year. And with emotions being more tender than usual, it promises to be a great December for radio specializing in the sounds of jingle bells and chestnuts roasting.
But that doesn’t mean other radio brands can’t get in the act as well. That’s because virtually every radio brand has the opportunity to tap into this rich nostalgic motherlode – not just those playing that “safe list” of holiday hits.
Arecent research study of 2,000 Americans from One Poll (and commissioned by Aura Frames) points to the power of nostalgia during these COVID times. In fact, Study Finds reports that nearly four in five respondents say fond memories have served as an emotional lifeline during the pandemic.
It turns out reminiscing makes us feel better about the future. As psychologist Dr. Krystine Batcho underscores, “Revisiting the past brings back the joy of the good times and the comforting security of being reunited with loved ones. Happy memories remind us of when life was less complicated.”
Brands are getting the message, among them KFC, AT&T, and Budweiser.
Business Insider reports even the packaging makes a difference. KFC is bring back vintage buckets for their chicken, including the holiday editions that came out during 1966 and 1971 – yes, the same years we experienced Led Zeppelin, the Who, and Janis Joplin.
We’re also seeing retired mascots coming back for holiday encore performances, and even classic campaigns like Budweiser’s “Wassup” spots that debuted way back in 1999 – another world ago.
It’s called “nostalgia marketing,” and it is playing an increasing role in the way products and services gain and hold consumer attention during these stressful times.
Again, Dr. Batcho reminds us nostalgia is “grounded in a collective sense of collective loss that we’re all feeling for having suddenly lost so many of the things that we took for granted.”
We saw this in the early days of the pandemic in our COVID research among radio listeners. Yes, there was the human factor – still a powerful yearning 10 months later – as we continue to hear reminders about not traveling over the holidays.
But respondents also were missing going to concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment activities.
And that’s where radio can play a role – well beyond Christmas music. Every generation has its own proprietary nostalgia. The New York Times recently recognized the comeback of the old comfortable pop culture we all have, whether it’s old movies or classic music. Whether it’s the Spice Girls, Kenny Rogers, ABBA, or Queen, everyone has that “sweet spot.”
They quote another psychologist, Dr. Wing Lee Cheung who explains the phenomenon this way:
“We feel that we have lost footing at the present time, and we gain some comfort by taking a step back and revisiting something that reminds us of a time that we used to feel more connected with other people. It gives you energy to cope with what is going on now and move forward.”
All the more reason why “All Christmas Music” radio should have a banner year.
But these stations playing non-stop holiday hits don’t have the market cornered on nostalgia, any more than a Classic Rock or Oldies station does.
If nostalgia is, in fact, the game, pretty much any radio station can play it.
And enough with the esteemed psychologists. Every radio program director worth their salt has witnessed the same thing – the power of music and memories to uplift their audience and their community.
Whether you run a station that plays Country, Hip-Hop, Alternative, or Hot AC, there’s a nostalgic component to your music.
And December would seem the right time to actually let it loose. In the same way brands are pulling out all the nostalgic stops, radio has a golden opportunity to go into its “bubble” and reap the glow.
But wait – what about the ratings? This is another reason why 2020 is a weird year. In smaller metros, the Fall Book diaries are all but mailed in; in PPM markets, it’s down to the Holiday Book (which officially starts earlier than usual – December 3).
And that signals a less pressure-packed environment in which to take a more interesting dive into the library, creating countdowns, year and artist spotlights, faux concerts, and other nuggets that can conjure up those memories of better days, regardless of format or genre.
Airstaff reunions and other uses of virtual meetings can also bring the past back to life with a torrent of great memories of your station. It’s why we love those “Where are they now?” features.
Giving the audience a voice is another way to connect listeners with their more pleasant memories of concerts and albums gone by.
Whether it’s voting on all-time lists, countdowns, or submitting photos, a bored December audience can be put to work creating content for your end-of-year programming.
Spoken word stations have many of these same opportunities. Sports radio, in particular, have those classic local athletes, as well as former players from championship teams. (In Detroit, that’s about all we have these days.) News and talk stations have their archives, often a primary source for retrospectives and podcasts.
Radio stations that simply provide the “same old” programming this month will miss the opportunity to cash in on “nostalgia marketing,” both for programming and sales. More and more people will be staying at home, bored, and looking for something to do. This is where local radio can play an important role.
When the going gets tough, even the tough embrace their pasts.
On the radio.
Fred Jacobs President & Founder at Jacobs Media
Fred Jacobs founded Jacobs Media in 1983, and quickly became known for the creation of the Classic Rock radio format.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched – a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,300 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created – a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the “connected car” and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media’s commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.
A recent study on the consumption of Christian media proved that music is the primary content consumed by adults and teens alike.
And the implications of these findings are more than significant.
The impact of music on younger generations is illustrated in a quote from the book Hashtag: Jesus Revolution written by the CEO of Youth for Christ in Australia.
“Balladeers are people who write the songs and poems that influence society. In essence, the storytellers. Every generation has had balladeers. Darrow Miller, a leading Christian cultural thinker, teaches about the role of balladeers in society. He explains how music and the arts are upstream from politics…
“It is the role of the balladeers to influence the culture and as a result, the laws of the land will be changed downstream.’”
This writer beautifully expresses the power of music within a society. And specifically, I believe those involved in Christian media have a significant role to play in changing a generation… perhaps even changing our country.
Here’s what we found:
• The younger the generation, the more likely they are to consume Christian music.
This is so encouraging! We have a younger generation that is leaning into and engaging with Christian music like never before.
Think about that for a moment.
If you’re involved in that particular genre, you have an opportunity to affect how a generation thinks about their life, about society. There’s a heaviness to that.
• While the younger generation is likely to tune in to Christian radio, they are much more likely to consume that music online or on mobile.
Now to be clear, this does not suggest we neglect traditional broadcast. They are tuning in there just as much as any other generation.
In fact, I believe our job is to offer up content in every available channel so that they have the maximum opportunity to engage with it.
• Teens and adults tune in to Christian media for inspiration, encouragement, spiritual growth, and entertainment.
If you’re involved in Christian radio in any format, the encouragement would be for you to think about your programming mix. How do you inspire your listeners? How do you encourage them? How do you help them grow spiritually? How are you helping them engage with the content?
• Christian music causes people to feel more strongly about their faith.
Think about it this way: You are actually moving the needle in a person’s progression in their faith as a result of the content you provide.
• Engagement in Christian music should continue to grow over the next five years among notional and engaged followers.
Notional Christians, those somewhat on the edge, would say they are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, but they’re not involved in any kind of worship service on a regular basis nor are they involved in Scripture.
By engaging this group in Christian music content, you’re helping them to grow spiritually and move into a deeper walk with Christ.
• Non-believers anticipate decreasing their conception of Christian music.
However, almost seven percent of this group said they would be increasing their consumption. Not to mention, we’ve all heard the stories of a non-believer tuning in to Christian music and coming to faith in Christ as a result.
This study brought to light the immense opportunity we have in Christian media to reach that notional group with Christian music and as a result, see them transform into engaged followers of Christ.
This is a time when smart broadcasters are open to new and innovative mechanisms for financial support. But what would you do if your entire source of revenue was suddenly shut off? That’s the predicament our artists find themselves in. The take from licensing and music sales is notoriously paltry compared to revenue earned from touring. And touring has ground to a near halt. So what do you do? Well, you get creative. That’s what my friend Jim Brickman did. Many of you know Jim. You probably play some of his music. The most important season for Jim is Christmas – it’s peak tour time. But this year is going to be different. All the venues are closed. Jim could have simply given up – thrown in the towel. But he didn’t. Instead, he got creative. His tour is still happening, but this time it’s virtual. Virtual, but still LOCAL. What do I mean by that? Watch this to find out. So it’s not just one virtual show. It’s a SERIES of virtual shows, each one tailored to a local market and each one benefitting the local venue that is forced closed by the pandemic shutdown. At once, Jim is continuing his tour, bringing in revenue to support his music, bringing something to his fans they want and expect, AND supporting the local venue which is unable to host his show at this difficult time. That’s a win / win / win / win. AND look at the offerings – they’re much more than show tickets:
$40 – Includes a YouTube link to watch the concert
$75 – Includes Gift Box containing a Ticket, Program, Comfort & Joy CD, T-Shirt, Autographed Photo & Goodies PLUS a link to Zoom Room for interactive concert
$125 – Includes Gift Box containing a Ticket, Program, Comfort & Joy CD, T-Shirt, Autographed Photo & Goodies, a link to Zoom Room for interactive concert PLUS a Meet & Greet after the concert
So if 100 people in San Diego select the Meet & Greet option, Jim has just grossed $12,500 for doing an event which is 100% online. Add in the hundreds who will spend at the lower levels and multiply times the 80 cities (!!) Jim has included in his tour and you have a significant business that literally didn’t exist last year. That’s getting creative. And it’s increasingly something that Christian broadcasters need to understand. Our means of financial support cannot and should not be limited to listener donations to “keep us on the air.” The days of 4% of our audience paying for what 96% hear for free will one day be over. And now is the time when technology offers an infinite menu of solutions to every conceivable financial support dilemma. What’s absent isn’t the tools. What’s absent is the imagination and the will. So do this: Imagine that conditions arise tomorrow that make your existing business model impossible. What would you do then? Why wait? Do it now. Mark Ramsey President of Mark Ramsey Media Mark Ramsey is president of Mark Ramsey Media, strategic research provider to many Christian music stations including K-LOVE, AIR1, KLTY/Dallas, WPOZ/Orlando, KTIS/Minneapolis, and many others. More information about his services is at http://mrmchristian.com. Sign up for FAITHBRIGHT, his weekly email of smart and actionable ideas for Christian broadcasters here: https://goo.gl/2hJMCG. Reach him at 858-485-6372 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The benchmark study of American listening preferences, The Infinite Dial produced by Edison Research and Triton Digital, collects more information than is annually publicized every March. Thanks to an Edison release and webinar (yesterday) titled Radio Listener Profiles, we know that this year’s data include an understanding of how radio’s best listeners (so-called P1 listeners) map to social media, in-home technology, traditional AM/FM listening, and more. There is an abundance of knowledge in the report. Overall, it seeks to position P1 listeners by their demographics, radio ownership, smart speaker ownership, social media use, loyalty to online audio brands, music discovery methods, and podcast listening. While of obvious value to AM/FM owners and operators, the info is interesting to the entire field. Here are the official top-level takeaways which accompanied our copy of the webinar slides:
Radio continues to have a hardware challenge, particularly with younger-leaning formats. Eleven formats were indexed against the market average for owning a traditional radio receiver in their home. Formats whose P1 listeners are more likely to own an in-home radio includeClassic Hits, Classic Rock, Country,Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, News/Talk, and Sports. Formats less likely to own an in-home radio includeAlternative Rock, Contemporary Christian, and the two formats that index the lowest for in-home radio ownership: Hip Hop/Rap and Top 40. R&B is exactly the market average for owning a radio in the household.
Smart speakers provide a partial solution for radio. Fortunately for radio, technology has provided more devices for listening. Smart speaker ownership is consistently growing, and radio formats with younger P1 listeners, such as Alternative Rock, Hard Rock/Heavy Metal, Hip Hop/Rap, R&B, Sports, and Top 40, are more likely to own one. Formats whose P1 listeners are less likely to own a smart speaker: Country, Classic Hits, Classic Rock, Contemporary Christian, and News/Talk.
Online listening remains elusive for AM/FM radio stations. Over 75% of radio P1 listeners to Sports, Top 40, Alternative Rock, Hard Rock/Heavy Metal and Hip Hop/Rap reported listening to any online audio services in the last week. When looking specifically at listening to AM/FM radio online in the last week, however, the percentages drop significantly: Sports (45%), R&B (28%), News/Talk (26%), Alternative Rock (26%), Hard Rock/Heavy Metal (26%).
Music discovery is moving to YouTube and other places . YouTube as a source for music discovery defies age and radio format boundaries and is one of the top three sources for new music discovery by all of the music formats profiled in this study. AM/FM radio was one of the top three sources for new music discovery by all of the music formats with the exception of Hip Hop/Rap.
Since the Infinite Dial always tracks usage of online audio brands, we were interested to see how P1 radio listeners interact with those brands. The graphic below shows how — remember that the respondents are not necessarily going to online platforms for the P1 station type they identify with. sports is a good example — Spotify does not supply sports except on the podcast side. Same with News/Talk. YouTube is another story, no less interesting. The Google-owned platform is an increasing resource for music discovery — we know that from the basic Infinite Dial report over the past few years. The fascinating chart below illustrated first, second, and third music discovery resources for the main P1 radio categories: Let’s quantify this. If we give three points to each #1 choice, two points to each #2 choice, and one point to each #3 choice, we arrive at an overall ranking of music discovery resources across the P1 music format categories: YouTube (18 points) AM/FM (18 points) Friends/Family (14 points) So, by this ranking system, we might be at an inflection point at which YouTube is on the cusp of taking the primary position in music discovery. A secondary indicator is this: The three formats which use YouTube most (Hip/Hop/Rap, R&B, Alternative Rock), are mostly for younger listeners:
Like the title, “Broadcasting” clings to archaic terms and titles. At a time when defining a position and modernizing its meaning seem critical we sleepwalk through history with little coruscating innovation.
Somewhere in time someone decided program directors directed…well, “programs.” Radio archives tell of auditoriums filled with an audience watching a live radio show. Not that long ago, if you toured WTMJ’s facilities on Milwaukee’s Capitol Drive, you’d eventually see their auditorium where long before WTMJ Television, radio personalities hosted live shows. It must have been fun for Milwaukee’s great grandparents and their friends. Possibly those times were the early inspiration for the term “program director.” In 2020 that title has as much impact as an Oldsmobile.
“Program Directors” have great responsibility yet with little authority. They’re held accountable for Nielsen performance, music design and management, talent procurement and their supervision. Yet in many places, “PDs” are becoming as expendable as paper towels. What’s wrong with this picture?
Within massive radio groups born from the Telecom Act, year by year “programming” has been subordinated to a second-tier emphasis making the title even less definitive. In many places people with great potential are billeted in their building as caretakers charged with ratings, yet mainly role players on the organizational chart, personifying the adage “all of the responsibility but with little of the authority”.
As we interact with some PD’s we witness what has become a false message, so we remind them “you can’t do anything without aggressively pushing your own limitations.” To a Program Director working under an anachronistic title, we ask: “what advice would you give an aspiring, bright, aggressive college student pursuing radio?” For example, “In the last five years, what company innovation or strategic breakthrough have you experienced?” “What are the best and most useful recommendations from your leadership?” And, “how has a mentor or supervisor helped you benefit from a failure?”
If you’re a PD ask yourself: in the last year, which corporate leaders have talked with you, or offered you a performance assessment followed with guidance to improve?
If you’re coming up with blanks, it’s possible you need to look ahead toward a stronger, more enlightened company where people are welcome to shine in important moment s (as if you’re actually meant to be there)…setting trends, instead of following them.
I offer the motion Radio surrender its hold on the title “Program Director” giving way to a descriptor that actually suggests innovation, creativity, and appreciation for your audience. You know; something “corporate” like, “Chief Listener Engagement Officer?” Eventually there will come a time when radio leaders accept that everything old is finished. And that will be the beginning!
Kevin Robinson is a passionate, record setting and award-winning 35-year broadcast veteran, having experienced programming success with teams in Chicago, Phoenix, St. Louis, Louisville, Buffalo and Lansing in quality companies like CBS Radio, Bonneville International, Hubbard Radio, Infinity Broadcasting, Salem Media Group and others.
With his company Robinson | Media and partnership with the Audience Development Group, , Kevin has advised companies all over America including Entercom Communications, Beasley Broadcast Group, Westwood One, Midwest Communications, Triad Broadcasting, Townsquare Media, Midwest Family Broadcasting Group, Grand Canyon Broadcasters, LaSalle County Broadcasting, EG Media Group and more. Kevin is often asked to be a featured speaker with broadcast state associations from Michigan, Indiana, Missouri and the NAB.
As former Vice-President of Hot AC for CBS Radio, Kevin counseled 15 brands coast-to-coast in the format, in addition to coaching Leeza Gibbons, Randy Jackson and Billy Bush through his partnership with Westwood One. Kevin’s varied format expertise is deep and includes Hot AC, Oldies, Christian AC, Mainstream AC, CHR, Adult Hits, Classic Hits, Country and Talk. Kevin’s brands consistently perform in the Top 3 of the target – often times as the list leader.
Known largely as a trusted talent coach, Kevin is the only personality mentor who’s coached three different morning shows on three different stations in the same major market to the #1 position. His efforts have been recognized by The Worldwide Radio Summit, Radio & Records, NAB’s Marconi, Radio Ink and has coached CMA, ACM and Marconi Award-winning talent.
Kevin lives in Whitestown, Indiana with his wife of 33 years, Monica. Reach Kevin at (314) 882-2148 or email@example.com.
Everybody knows Vanna White. She has been turning letters on Wheel of Fortune since 1982. For those of you keeping track that was almost 40 years ago.
Technically, however, she hasn’t been turning letters since 1997. That was the year the letters went digital. From then until now it would take only a touch from Vanna to make the letters appear.
So it’s fair to ask a couple questions that have surprising relevance for your radio stations.
First, if the letters don’t need to be physically turned, then why do we need Vanna at all? Second, if we have Vanna, then why do the letters ever need to go digital? Why not stick with analog – the way it had always been done before?
This is an example of a brand sticking with what works but continuing to update with the times.
It’s not good enough to stick with one thing forever – time marches on. Something always needs to evolve and change.
At the same time, however, tradition and comfort matter. Don’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater in the pursuit of change for its own sake.
Wheel of Fortune strikes that balance by retaining the co-host that viewers have grown up or grown old with, while at the same time bringing the technology up to date so that the show doesn’t appear to be a relic from 40 years past.
Whenever you hear a radio station justify doing something because “that’s the way we have always done it,” you should run screaming. That’s because tradition must meet progress in the middle. If you deny progress – if you deny change – change will swallow you whole.
Everything your station does should balance tradition and progress.
Tradition is only important if valued, not if it’s simply old. That’s the difference between a classic car and a junker, right?
Progress should be a constant effort that keeps things fresh, compelling, and surprising. You want listeners to look forward to listening because there’s something new to listen to.
Let’s take traffic as an example. There’s a tradition for traffic on the radio. People expect it even though they know there are far more efficient ways of solving their traffic problem than the ill-timed and over-broad traffic casts on the typical radio station.
But…in an era when traffic on the radio is less useful than ever, a little bit will go a very long way. Too many stations seem to believe that traffic on the radio is as useful today as it was in 1982. It is not. Just ask Vanna White.
So the right move is to run your traffic, but don’t run very much of it. OR…what new features or solutions can your traffic provide that will save listeners time or trouble (after all, nobody really cares about the traffic report – what they care about is saving time on their journey).
Not long ago, I was driving with my wife in one market listening to the local Christian music station during afternoon drive. The station was INCREDIBLY cluttered, and most of that clutter consisted of constant and comprehensive traffic reports. I asked my wife, “would it surprise you if I told you this station was non-commercial?” She replied, “it is?!”
So the Vanna White lesson is this: Don’t throw away what isn’t broke, but make sure you’re keeping it for the right reasons. And always ask how you can make it better, fresher, newer.
Mark Ramsey President of Mark Ramsey Media
Mark Ramsey is president of Mark Ramsey Media, strategic research provider to many Christian music stations including K-LOVE, AIR1, KLTY/Dallas, WPOZ/Orlando, KTIS/Minneapolis, and many others. More information about his services is at http://mrmchristian.com. Sign up for FAITHBRIGHT, his weekly email of smart and actionable ideas for Christian broadcasters here: https://goo.gl/2hJMCG. Reach him at 858-485-6372 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few years ago, I did a stint for 3-4 years as an adjunct instructor for Cornerstone University’s Intro to Media course. I always introduced the course by suggesting what I believe are three enduring laws in broadcasting. I’m not saying these laws are biblical, nor am I saying they are the exclusive laws by which media exists. But I do believe today more than ever, these laws are immutable in media.
Allow me to focus on just one law in particular, that is: The bottom line is… money. Yeah, I know. The bottom line and chief duty of man is to glorify God, and yes the priority of a business is to provide a service or product with excellence. But at the end of the day or certainly by the end of the month, the bottom line still is… make money. How else can a business survive, let alone thrive if a profit isn’t made? What would the stockholders of iHeart, Disney and Comcast say if there wasn’t a profit? Even for a non-profit radio ministry, generating positive revenue must be a priority. I don’t know of a single mortgage holder, utility provider or music licenser who accepts, “We’re doing it for Jesus’ sake” and nothing more as payment.
Moving your station’s ministry toward financial growth while trusting God to provide for your needs is not easy, As I was thinking about this, I thought of what might be considered a similar quandary from Luke 18:18-30. This passage isn’t so much about the balance of revenue growth while trusting God, but I think we can draw some donor and business development applications from the narrative.
You know the story. A wealthy young “executive” comes to Jesus asking for what he knows to be a rather pricey gift. In meeting Jesus, he gets right to the point by asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Wow. Talk about your cold call! As I think about his request, I come away wondering if he really grasped the reality of what he was asking. I’m led to believe he probably didn’t, in part because he didn’t really understand whom he was asking. He addresses Jesus as “good teacher”, which prompts me to think his request is centered on a simple outcome. Had he done his research, he’d know this conversation would turn out to be more than transactional, it would be transformational.
How often it is I’ve made the same mistake when meeting donors or clients. I’ve opened several conversations with just enough small talk (and undevoted listening) to make the ultimate sweet segue into the desired transaction and request, “Ms. Donor, would you be willing to make a gift to our station?” The error I make when I pop the question comes in not taking time to discern why the prospect would even care to give. I’ve failed to learn more about my prospect, why she’s in business, why she listens to the station and why she values the station. Had I taken the time, I’d have been better enabled to make a more meaningful request of her, and on behalf of the station’s future.
Here’s a second observation: the wealthy young exec seems to know his request is a huge one. He’s a model citizen who’s led a good life and seemingly believes he’s worthy and deserving of making such a noble request. I couldn’t agree more – if this were about him. But that’s the thing. The request for such an immense gift isn’t just about him. In the big picture, this man needed to understand the true value of his request and what it would mean for others, not just himself.
I’ll never forget a specific example of my preparing for a lead gift request to our building campaign. All of the meetings prior to this request had gone well; the foundation with whom I was meeting had already made three five-figure gifts to our station in the past three years. The foundation’s director was visiting our current facility once again. He clearly saw the present need for our building campaign, and he knew I was about to ask for a gift ten times larger than the foundation’s previous gifts to us. As the conversation ensued, his questions moved further and further away from addressing our current need to that of our vision for the future, how a new building would benefit thousands more yet to listen. In short, he was asking why our existence was so important to the community instead of focusing on what our needs were in replacing our present facility. It’s almost as if Simon Sinek’s “golden circle” luminated my office.
Thankfully, his questions were answered to his and the foundation’s satisfaction. So much so, the foundation gave even more than what was requested, more than eleven times its previous gift. And isn’t that exactly what Jesus does when we listen more intently and ask the right questions based on a deeper understanding of who he is. I’m reminded again as I go out and “generate more revenue” that the gift I’m requesting is not really for me, nor even WCSG. It is for the greater good of the listening community today, and in the years to come.
Chris Lemke serves in leading the mission and vision for Cornerstone University’s radio ministry of WCSG, one of the most successful Christian radio stations in the country. Both Chris and CU’s broadcast ministries have received numerous top honors from the National Religious Broadcasters, Christian Music Broadcasters and Radio & Records.
He began his career in 1980 at WCSG while enrolled as a freshman of Cornerstone University. Over the years, he served as on-air host, program director and WCSG’s general manager. Outside of Grand Rapids, Chris has taught sessions at national industry conferences, written articles for industry trade publications and presently serves on the board of directors for the Christian Music Broadcasters (CMB). He served on the Board of Directors for Grand Canyon Broadcasting from 2006-2009, and continues to provide guidance and coaching for other Christian stations around the country.
In 2019, Chris was awarded CMB’s Industry Achievement Award in 2019 and WCSG was honored as the Gospel Music Association’s Contemporary Christian Music Station of the Year. Chris was awarded CMB’s Station Manager of the Year for CMB 2009 and was a final nominee for Distinguished Broadcaster of the Year from the National Religious Broadcasters in 1999.
He and his wife, Sue were married in August 1987 and are the proud parents of six children and one grandchild. They attend Bella Vista Church in Rockford where Chris serves as an elder. He enjoys traveling, cooking, gardening and long walks.
Let’s start the conversation by saying, “commercial sales is the toughest job at your radio station…period.”
Walk into any radio station and eventually you’ll find the Sales/Underwriting department. They’ll be tucked away somewhere obscure, in a place called the pit. No one wants to kick off the station tour in the pit. They’re usually mentioned as “the department that puts the commercials on the air”. Thanks a lot. Messy desks, paper, and computer monitors. Not much to see here, let’s get to the studio!
Look a little closer and you’ll see some of the hardest-working, dedicated, mission-focused employees your station has. Done right, sales builds relationships with the business community and has your listener’s best interests at heart. And, THEY BRING IN THE MONEY. There, I said it.
Being a salesperson is like being a pro golfer. You have to win the daily war against your mind and avoid the hazards. It’s lonely and negative thoughts can creep into your head. You’re open to spiritual attack and often, you get thumped.
If you lead a Sales Team, join them on the streets. They’ll appreciate you knowing how difficult their job is. Make sure they know you trust them and don’t micromanage. Invest in them, train them and send them to conferences. Don’t be afraid to lose people; operating out of fear doesn’t work. Encourage every one of your salespeople a minimum of three times a week. That fuels them more than money.
If you’re working in sales, “thank you”. I know you don’t hear it enough. Get a buddy (another salesperson) to vent to. No judging, someone who will uplift and encourage you, who loves you for who you are and is willing to hold you accountable. Know your station’s mission and develop your own personal mission statement. This will fuel you to keep you going day after day. You’re growing like-minded businesses and the ministry. Remember, no one has an “S” on their chest. See yourself as a superstar and you’ll be motivated to work just a bit harder. Keep going until you can end the day with one good phone call. Like childbirth, it helps erase all the pain that came before. You’re one of the most vital people at the station and we could not complete the mission without you.
Michael Tedesco General Manager, WAY Media/Portland
Michael began his career in Christian Radio in 1994 at KCMS Seattle where he started in Sales (with a desk, a phone and a yellow pages) and managed to get enough clients on the air within two months to preserve his job. Four years later, he took on Promotions and Marketing and helped raise the station cume from 112,000 to 454,000. The next year he went to GMA to learn how to promote concerts and began promoting profitable shows for KCMS. He also took on the website and added a live weekend on-air show to his list of duties. The next year he launched a Community Relations Department to go about doing the things they ought to be doing as a Christian Radio Station (serving the community).
In January 2008, he accepted an offer to become Brand Manager for K-LOVE Radio. There, he led a team of 36 Promotions Managers in 16 offices across the U.S. They changed their focus to guerrilla marketing to increase cume and started teaming up with nonprofits to engage with listeners.
With the assistance of Scott Smith, they launched “Make A Difference Tours” where each quarter they would go into a different market, bring artists, and team up with listeners to make their cities better places to live. At the end of 2013 Tedesco moved to Director of Business Development where his team increased r
evenue by 372% in less than four years.
In October of 2017 he moved to New Jersey to serve as Sales Manager of Star 99.1.
In November of 2019 he
moved to Portland to serve as General Manager of WAY Media/Portland.
After many years of researching Contemporary Christian music stations, I’m often asked what our findings have revealed about the key to success for stations in the format. I’ve thought long and hard about those precious nuggets that we have uncovered in research that make this format tick. What is the secret sauce? Is it understanding that the audience shares one common quality—that faith is central to their lives? Is it an appreciation for the music, its authenticity and unique styles? Or is it recognizing that talent must convey commitment, wholesomeness and yet entertain in a contemporary fashion all at the same time?
Sure, all of those elements help define a successful Christian music station. But the key to a successful Christian music radio station that stands out to me is this: despite its unique attributes and appeal, the same best practices that apply to secular stations also apply to the CCM format. More than anything, concentrating on the basics of great radio entertainment—consistent with the values of this audience—will drive the success of your radio station. There are no shortcuts or tricks of the trade that we have learned about this format that will get you there any faster.
So yes, the best practices of Contemporary Christian radio stations are generally the same as they are for other formats. Here are three components shared by successful stations:
1. Successful, consistently high-performing stations hold strong images.
Want to be a success? Be famous for something that matters to the audience, and that starts with becoming synonymous with the Christian music position in your market. Why? Because when your potential audience has the time to listen to the radio, they don’t give it a whole lot of thought. They get in the car, reach for that button. Hmm, I’d like to hear some Christian music. If they don’t think of your station in that split second, it’s not likely you’ll get a lot of listening. It works the same way for every format–Country, Rock, News, you name it. If your station isn’t well-branded and its position isn’t easily communicated, they aren’t going to think of you and therefore won’t listen. You need to get a very simple, valuable word into their heads that they associate with your station.
2. Winning radio stations find a music recipe that is appealing to a large number of listeners.
Find something valuable, and let people know they can find it on your frequency. How do we figure that out? We start by “segmenting” the music, breaking it down into discrete styles like Contemporary Christian AC or Contemporary Worship. Then we test the appeal of each style and determine which station has the image for it. Next, we model various combinations of music styles to find the most appealing, available music recipe for your station. It’s the same technique we use in every music format and it’s critical to the success of a Christian Music station. Find an appealing music formula and get famous for it.
3. Successful stations hire and coach relatable, entertaining talent capable of generating provocative content.
Personalities surely must be different in Christian Music Radio, right? Well, in our experience with superstar talent, the touchstone of success is exactly the same as in other formats. To succeed, a personality or show must make a human connection with the audience. They must master the art of entertaining content. Find out what matters to the audience. Put a unique twist on that content that matches your persona. Present it in the fashion of all great entertainment: provocative introduction, building to a climax, quick resolution. This sort of entertainment doesn’t just happen, you don’t just turn on the mic and see what comes out. It requires preparation, planning, discipline and self-editing—just like in any other format.
Through our research, have we learned that Christian Music Radio is different from other formats? Perhaps in the words the audience uses to describe the format and talent, and the attributes and content they value, certainly. But in the keys to success, the same principles apply: Build strong brands, find a valuable music recipe that you can own and develop talent that master the art of entertainment.