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Radio Interview

                                     

Chris Gilbreth

Owner/Operator

KFFR

Pullman, WA

 

 

Chris's Career Capsule
Started in 1985 at KGTS College Place, WA while attending Walla Walla College. While in college, I started a Sunday morning CCM show on a local mainstream CHR station KHSS. That lead to more on-air work at KHSS, and I worked my way up to PD. I left to become PD at KBBO(Christian music and teaching) and KRSE (Soft AC) in Yakima, WA from 1989 to 1991. After a brief stop at Crawford's KPHP in Portland, OR doing production, I became GM back at KHSS in Walla Walla, WA. In 1994, I was hired as PD of then-inspo KGTS and the Positive Life Radio network. During my ten years there, we grew to include KEEH Spokane, WA, KPLW Wenatchee, WA, and KYPL Yakima, WA. In 2000, I started dabbling in station ownership on the side, in a buy 'em, fix 'em, sell 'em situation. One of them paid off nicely and I left KGTS to persue station ownership full time. That was April 2004. We have since bought and sold two more stations on the Oregon coast and have settled in with KFFR Pullman, WA 97-7 The Fire, as our primary focus. My wife Debra and I own it and operate it. We signed on September 20, 2004. With Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner.

1. Tell us about your market and how it is unique?

We have two universities in our market. Washington State University with 20,000 or so enrollment, and eight miles away in Moscow, ID is University of Idaho with another 8,000 students. Pullman and Moscow are only about 50,000 people combined, so the university population has a huge impact on the area.

 

2. What is the most fulfilling aspect to you personally about Christian radio?

Without a doubt, changed lives. The stories of people drawn closer to God and people encouraged to stay in relationship with Him are what keeps us going. We a report of a tanning bed conversion. This woman was in a tanning bed when someone in the next bed over turned on our station. She was stuck, forced to listen to 20 minutes of Fire Music. She decided the music wasn't too bad and started listening more on her own. The message in the music got through to her hard heart and that woman is now in a Bible-teaching church, studying the Bible and telling her friends. I've seen first hand in my own life and my own family how a persistent influence of Christian music can help keep a person walking in the right direction. I want that for more families.

 

3. How do you personally keep the ministry in the business?

It's not difficult. Our job is to keep great sounding songs with positive messages going out over the airwaves. So long as we keep that focus, we're keeping ministry first.

 

4. What is the criteria that determines if a song receives airplay on your station?

It should sound like current hit music. Sonically, it should be playable on our local CHR/Pop station. We're striving for a balanced CHR/Pop sound, meaning pop, dance, rock, R&B and Hip Hop are all up for consideration. The rock songs shouldn't be harder than what mainstream CHR would play. Lyrically, we're looking for songs that talk about life from a Christian worldview, and songs about God done in a fresh way. We pass on most of the songs written TO God (worship lyrics), because we're aimed at a very unchurched audience. Most of the worship songs, no matter how revved up musically, come across as codespeak to people with little exposure to church.

 

5. What kind of promotions work best for your station?

We're 13 months old, so I'm not sure I know for sure yet. I do know that going out to a local community event, and putting up a booth with a free prize wheel loaded with cool stuff (think Wheel of Fortune) will get you the biggest line at the event.

 

6. How do you think Christian Record labels can better serve Christian radio?

Overall, I'd say they're doing okay. But I'd be remiss if I didn't put my plug in for more radio friendly rhythmic and hip hop music. Rhythmic is the pop music of the masses right now, and especially for people under 25. It's not a niche format: it's what's driving mainstream pop radio. Find and develop artists that can hold their own with 50 Cent, Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West. Let's get there before mainstream is off onto the next big thing.

 

7. In your opinion what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio today?

Signals in major markets. We've made a lot of progress in recent years on this front, but Christian radio needs to be two or three deep with full-market signals, each targeting a different demographic. It pains me to see markets with Inspo, AC and Teaching stations piled three deep and no youth or young family targeted radio talking about the Lord. Another obstacle is our sometimes over-zealous gatekeeper mentality. When there are more Christians listening to the local country, AC and CHR stations, that tells me that Christians aren't as uptight about lyrics or artists as we are sometimes. We've actually chosen to play select songs from mainstream artists whose messages make sense within a Christian worldview. We play U2. We played Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be" and "Chariot." We played Goo Goo Dolls cover of "Give a Little Bit." We played Black Eyed Peas "Where is the Love." Maybe it's the result of living in one of the most unchurched areas of the country all my life, but I think these songs belong on radio done by Christians. When you play songs like this, you give the person sampling you something recognizable to build on, and it gets them thinking about those songs in a new framework. Lastly, research, the two edged sword. Research has helped Christian radio take great leaps forward in professionalism and ratings, no question. Now that we have it, though, we have a tendency to think we've got all the answers and that we know what people want to hear. The problem comes when you have a closed loop. Take a station for years has been playing music made by Christians and for Christians, targeted to middle-class white women in their 30's. Research enters the picture. If you ask them what kind of music they want, they're probably going to parrot back to you the better songs on your playlist, and the weaker testing ones get weeded out. The result being, you get a very happy audience. But there's no telling if you're necessarily hitting the largest possible audience, because other potential listeners were already filtered out of the test by virtue of what was already on the air. No one seems to be doing the research to find out how to target those just outside our normal walls of the format, to see if there's a chance of gaining more listeners, while still holding on to much of your core.

 

8. What do you believe is the primary role of the Christian radio air personality today?

For the most part, people use radio for Entertainment and Companionship. If we take those roles on the air, to be fun to listen to, to be a friend, we have a shot at being part of people's lives. We earn the right over time to talk about deeper things. Other than that, the music is the star, so make the music sound as cool as possible.

 

9. What (if any) other Christian radio stations do you consider as innovators today?

I don't know too many of you yet, so don't feel like I overlooked you if I don't mention you. WNAZ, KAFC and anyone else putting rhythmic music in their mix full time. The WAY-FM group of stations, because Bob Augsburg is my hero for blazing a trail for youth targeted Christian radio in this country. Anyone else who's looking beyond the traditional walls of our format for music that belongs, keep it up!

 

10. Where do you see Christian radio in 5 years?

Musically, I see us closing the gap between the sound of mainstream stations and the Christian counterparts, but not quite there yet. I would love to see more major market stations taking a shot at the younger Christian audience.

 

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