Christian music radio offers balm for the soul, with a contemporary beat

Contemporary Christian music is reaching audiences beyond the pews, says senior broadcaster.

“There is no doubt that we are dealing with a world that does not go to church, [they’re] do not fail to buy Bibles, but they lean on their faith,” said veteran Christian broadcaster Bill Reeves.

In 2019, Mr. Reeves became CEO of the Educational Media Foundation, whose K-LOVE and Air1 radio networks span the country and have outlets in the Washington market.

He acknowledges that over-the-air stations, known in the trade as “terrestrial radio”, face growing competition from Sirius XM satellite radio and playlists found on many streaming services such as Spotify.

But he says catchy music presented by upbeat, likeable hosts overcomes that competition, saying what’s said before or after a song can have an impact.

“Between songs, that’s really where — especially as a faith-based broadcaster — we really connect with our listener,” Mr. Reeves said. “Whether it’s the morning show, sharing a story of hope, or whether it’s the afternoon show, taking a minute to pray with their listeners, we connect in a way on the radio earthly that this, frankly, just doesn’t happen when you’re just listening to a playlist.

“There’s always something about that personal touch between songs that for us connects with our listeners,” he added.

Mr Reeves said K-LOVE and Air1 had a combined weekly audience of 14 million listeners, according to Nielsen’s notes. Add streaming services such as TuneIn, and the total number of weekly plays jumps to nearly 18 million, he said.

“We’re still getting to the bottom of what it looks like,” Mr. Reeves said of the streaming market, “but that’s a big number for us as well.”

There are also other connection measures. The Christian stations answer 400,000 prayer requests from listeners each year and have a team of pastors who counsel those seeking spiritual guidance.

Of Educational Media’s 1,100 licenses, about two-thirds of the stations carry the K-LOVE brand and one-third are Air1 outlets. No denomination is sponsoring the broadcast operations, Mr. Reeves said. Instead, “most of our income comes from donors who give $20, $30, or $40 a month; we don’t have big corporate sponsors. Our donor list has hundreds of thousands of regular donors,” he said.

Stations aim for “positive and uplifting” programming, their on-air personalities don’t yell at listeners, and there’s no political debate.

The stations do not carry the half-hour sermon-style programs popular on many Christian stations; instead, they offer periodic “thoughts” shared by well-known preachers or a Bible verse read by a disc jockey known to listeners as a person of faith.

“Our nation is hurting, they are on their own,” Mr Reeves said. “They are afraid, they are isolated. And I think we intended to stay away from those [negative] stories and focusing on the hope that leaning into your faith can bring to your life. I just think it’s as simple as that.

The “pitch” comes as overall radio listening for motorists has returned to pre-pandemic levels, providing another venue for the two networks. According to the Rado Research Consortium, the Nielsen survey for the fourth quarter of 2021 shows in-car listening of 43.6% of radio listeners, higher than the March 2020 level of 43.3%.

What are Christian radio listeners looking for? Sharon Geiger, deputy general manager and outreach manager at KCBI-FM in Dallas, says they’re looking for stability in very volatile times.

“They come to us for hope. They come to us to understand that God is still in control and very active in these events,” said Ms. Geiger, who also chairs the National Religious Broadcasters Radio Committee.

The Christian Broadcasting Trade Group is meeting this week in Nashville to assess the state of the industry and look to the future. (The Washington Times is a sponsor of the broadcasters’ conference.)

Ms Geiger said her station had brought listeners together to pray for Ukraine and donate to help shelter refugees.

That’s “the role that Christian radio can play, which is the ability to understand that there is a God who loves us and wants to have a relationship with us,” she said. “And may he call us to help others and to reach out to others in times of need, and to be his hands and feet.”

According to Chuck Finney, a veteran Christian broadcaster who runs the consulting firm Finney Media, audiences respond to evangelical programming.

“We’ve seen an incredible public reaction to Christian stations since the pandemic began,” he said. “Over the past two years, we have seen a number of Christian stations become the most listened to stations in their markets.”

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