Radio is a powerful medium for communication. In the U.S. alone there are over 550 million radios in use including more than 170 million in vehicles as standard equipment. That amounts to almost six radios per household! Additionally, a huge percentage of Americans have access to streaming radio through Apple TV, Roku box, a browser, or apps on smartphones and iPods. Americans utilize radio more than any other medium during the workday, averaging over 2 hours per day listening in their cars alone! Granted, the average commute varies greatly from metro area to metro area, but those listening averages are mind blowing! An incredible 96% of adults age 25-54 listen to radio on a regular basis with the 12+ demographic not far behind!
Why is radio so compelling that most every American family has six radios and spends hours per day listening to it? It is, like broadcast TV, a free and over-the-air medium. Unlike TV, however, it is a more “psychological medium.” It draws out the listener’s imagination, emotion, and sets a creative stage in the theatre of the mind more than TV because we feel the need to picture what we are hearing, to guess at the DJ’s face, to respond to the spirit of the music, and react to advertising messages that beg us to intersect our lives with the advertiser’s product.
So one obvious question is how best to utilize this powerful medium for the Kingdom of God.
We know that, for the first time in American history, more than half of teenagers and twenty-somethings are unchurched and uninterested in “Contemporary” Christianity. We know that mainline denominations are waning in attendance, that government is increasingly secularized, and that entertainment mediums are less likely to reflect a Judeo-Chrisitan worldview. We know that America’s schools are largely void of spiritual or even moral education and that “tolerance” is increasingly the only tolerated religious belief in the public square.
We also know that humans crave music. According to the New York Times, American teenagers are averaging over 2.5 hours of music listening every day! Their 2008 article addressing music’s influence on adolescents states: “While songs about drugs and excess are nothing new, the issue is getting more attention because so many children now have regular access to music out of the earshot of parents. Nearly 9 out of 10 adolescents and teens have an MP3 player or a compact disc player in their bedrooms. Studies have long shown that media messages have a pronounced impact on childhood risk behaviors…” In the last four years, how many more kids now have computers, iPods, iPads, cell phones, and tablet devices able to pump music into their ears anywhere they go?
These statistics lay out a compelling case for why radio needs to be utilized as a medium to share Kingdom Spirituality. If radio is truly is the best medium at engaging the theatre of the mind, than what better way to address masses of people with the matters of the heart and the Gospel than through radio? If radio can be terrestrially broadcasted and also streamed online, why not put positive music with messages of truth in kids’ ears? But how? What kind of radio best reaches those who are spiritually searching?
I classify Christian radio into three categories:
1. Old-skool Christian radio: These are the Southern Gospel, Christian talk/teaching, and Inspirational stations that target the intellectual Christian and/or the older Christian. A very handy way to reach an older demographic with the teaching and encouragement they desire. These listeners also understand the concept of giving and makes maintaining these radio stations very easy, much like “Christian AC.”
2. Christian Adult-Contemporary: The “AC” segment of Christian radio is the fastest growing and accounts for the vast majority of Christian radio stations. These target the 30-something-plus demographic with contemporary music. Although most bill themselves as “outreach” oriented, almost every aspect of programing is aimed at “encouraging” those who are already Christians. Christian AC stations fill an important role in providing more accessible and relevant music to a slightly younger demographic than the “Old Skool” Christian stations. They do great work in this area and provide encouragement and sometimes inspiration/teaching to their target demographic.
3. Outreach-Oriented Christian Radio: This is not where the money is but is where the fields are white for harvest. These Christian radio stations can be in a number of different genres and demographics but most play some combination of pop/rock/contemporary Christian (CHR) music and target their programming to the 18-32 year old demographic. They choose this demographic because statistically, if people do not come to faith before they graduate from college, they are much more unlikely to respond to the Gospel. Because this demographic is not as established or learned in the art of giving, most stations do not choose to target this demographic because financial considerations make it difficult to attract talent (arguably even more important to reaching this demographic than the others) or listeners who have more fully developed principles concerning financial giving.
I would argue that these “outreach stations” are the most exciting (and the smallest) segment of the Christian radio market! A good example of this type of radio is Pulse 99.5 in Des Moines, Iowa. Pulse 99.5 has chosen a unique blend of rock and pop Christian music played 24/7 with no talk programming or news shows, and is both terrestrial and online. You can hear it on 99.5 FM in Des Moines area, 95.5 FM in Ames, Iowa, on their website, on their iOS and Android apps, or by using the TuneIn Radio app on a Roku box or smartphone/tablet. Outside of their unique CHR (contemporary/Christian hit radio) and rock mix, the most exciting part of their ministry is their concerted effort to avoid churchy-ness. They come across as very real, avoiding “Christian-ease.” They avoid broadcasting a “Power-Verse for the Day!” and instead simply let the music do most of the talking. They interact with their listeners face-to-face or through social media in ways that make it obvious they care…and relate. They let the power of radio invoke emotional and imaginative responses to the solid messages in the music. They engage the community through targeted events and quality face-time. They are a unique blend of donor support and advertising support and work hard to choose advertisers that reflect Judeo-Christian values in the way they work, further opening doors to see Kingdom spirituality in everyday life.
Why Christian radio? The real question, when looking to support the Great Commission outside of our local church bodies, should be, “Why anything other than Outreach radio?” As believers in Christ we are told to preach the Gospel to every corner of the world and are given a great example by Paul in Acts 17 on how to use the local language and culture to reach out in relevant ways.
Ask a Pulse 99.5 staffer about their interactions with listeners. They can all instantly rattle off emails from around the globe thanking them for a radio station they can play in any culture and in any environment to any age group that speaks Truth in a way that is universally accessible. They remove language is that part of the Evangelical sub- culture to reflect the lessons of Paul and others in the Scriptures who utilize culture to redeem souls. They show genuine concern and passion for their listeners through relevant and insightful interactions. Finally, it just works. Emails, phone calls, and personal stories come in about people who, in various ways, were encouraged or inspired by Pulse to connect with their Creator.
What better way to supplement the work of evangelists, pastors, and teachers around the world then by subtly (but very directly) injecting the Truth of the Gospel into young people’s lives in a way that is (inarguably) the most accessible and potent medium available?
Many Christ-followers rightfully and faithfully send in their $25 each month to their favorite Christian AC or Old-Skool Christian radio station. I would ask these same people to consider sacrificing a dinner out or a few lattes every month to also support an Outreach station in their area or another area if they don’t have one in theirs. There is too much at stake to not make sure every kid, young adult, and emerging family has a radio station that is both pleasing to their ears and their souls.
(Most statistics can be found in Arbitron In-Car Studies and Edison Research 2010 studies)
Photo Credit: Ned Richards via Flickr (CC-By-SA-3.0)