Since the early 2000s, I’ve heard the question asked time and again at NRB: “What will Christian radio be like in 20 years?” My answer is usually: “Pretty much the same.” That’s because many of the leading radio Bible teachers (whose reel-to-reels or cassettes I started playing as an 18-year-old board op) are the same preachers we all still hear on Christian radio stations today.
In many ways, this is a great thing. The Word of God never changes, and today God is still using many of those great preachers to bring thousands to Jesus Christ or to help Christians grow deeper in their faith. Because of technology, those preaching programs also can live on beyond the earthly life of the speaker. But at the same time, our industry has to face the fact that the Christian radio teaching and talk platform isn’t fully replacing the older generation of radio voices with a whole new generation of sound Bible teachers.
So what do we do?
A few weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to spend three days at American Family Radio, interacting and exchanging ideas with the network’s talented lineup of hosts and working side-by-side with their producers. It struck me that AFR’s blend of Bible teaching and interactive talk-show programming is hitting just the right tone — not only with its listeners, but also as the type of format that can carry all of Christian talk radio into the future.
You can’t argue with AFR’s impact or success. With nearly 200 stations, AFR is uniquely positioned to mobilize its audience for causes and ministries it promotes. With its national ministry programming, the network builds up listeners’ faith in Jesus Christ, and with its talk-show programming, it effectively informs them about the issues that affect all Christians and encourages them to stand for Christ in practical and powerful ways.
Take, for example, AFR’s spectacularly successful campaign against Target over its misguided and dangerous transgender bathroom policy. Now with more than 1.5 million signatures on AFR’s online petition, the network has emboldened listeners to send a strong message to Target. The power of AFR’s Christian radio audience — coupled with such a strong stance — has put intense financial pressure on Target, which has been struggling ever since the petition came out. This is just one example that shows when Christians are mobilized, we can have a positive and tangible impact on the culture.
I’m more convinced than ever that if Christian radio is to survive the next 20 years, programmers need to start adding more issues-driven, interactive talk programs to both grow and engage the audience.
So how to begin? If you want to launch a local talk show but only have limited resources, start by inviting a local pastor to do a weekly Bible Q&A program, or consider inviting a local Christian ministry head to engage your audience on topics like the life issue, marriage, evangelism or gospel outreach to a particular people group. The point isn’t to start with the perfect talk show, but to find ways to make your station more interactive and informative for local listeners. Ultimately, our goal as Christian radio programmers should be to help equip, encourage and challenge listeners to believe in Jesus Christ and live out their faith in their daily lives.
For 60 years, Ambassador has prided itself on staying ahead of the curve and helping ministries and stations navigate the ever-changing media and technological landscape. Our staff can help with everything from long-term marketing strategies and program production to short-term consulting services. We are committed to the work and mission of Christian radio and are invested in the bright future it holds.
Charley Mefferd is Vice President, Sales and Marketing for Amb-OS Media and a Media Strategist for Ambassador Advertising. He also works with his wife, Janet on the production of her nationally syndicated Christian radio program, Janet Mefferd Today, which is heard on more than 400 radio stations. Prior to joining Ambassador, Charley was Vice President of Operations at Salem Radio Network.