Vallie is a 38 year broadcast veteran. In 1988 he founded Vallie
Richards Donovan Consulting, a leading consulting firm in America
over the past twenty years. Prior to that, Dan programmed stations
in Nashville, New Orleans and Pittsburgh before becoming VP of
Programming for a national broadcast group….and he was a station
owner himself until a couple of years ago.
Vallie Richards Donovan can name most of the major broadcast groups
over the last twenty years among its clientele and in the Christian
radio community clients have included Focus on the Family, Salem and
Last year he founded, and was named, Director of The Kellar Radio
Farm System Institute at Appalachian State University in Boone
N.C., an innovative program he created to answer the question, where
is the next generation of talent coming from?
is a frequent speaker at various industry conventions, including the
NAB, NAB Radio Executive Group Owner Fly-In, R&R, NRB, The Midwest
Conclave, GMA and is frequently asked to contribute articles and
comments to industry publications including Inside Radio, Radio
Info, R&R, HisAir.Net and others.
1. How has Christian radio evolved the last few years?
Christian radio has evolved significantly over the past
decade. The quality of the talent has improved, tighter more focused
music libraries, the imaging, production values, sales, marketing,
almost every aspect. Much of that has been led by some that blazed
the trail early on and raised the bar like KLTY in Dallas and KCMS
in Seattle and others. Salem changing stations to The Fish got alot
of attention and many other stations started following their
example, which is good news. The less than good news is imitation
may be a form of flattery but it also creates a lot of same sounding
radio stations. Each station should be specifically and
strategically and creatively programmed to its specific competitive
environment and target audience...though I would and do say the same
about secular radio stations.
will also mention the station founded by the Billy Graham
organization, Blue Ridge Broadcastings WMIT/106.9 The Lite in
Asheville NC with a booming signal into several other markets in the
Carolinas and Tennessee. This is a station, like many in the past
decade that had to make some tough decisions about how contemporary
to become, how much talk to include in the daily programming etc.
something a lot of Contemporary Christian stations face(d). WMIT is
a good example of doing what is right for its market instead of just
doing what everyone else is doing. While it was right, for
example, for The Fish in Atlanta to be all contemporary Christian
music, it was right for WMIT to do a combination because of its
market, its heritage and competitive environment...and of course the
audience. Both stations made the right decisions but sound different
than each other. Both stations are very professional and perform in
the ratings while remaining true to their mission and both have a
compelling stationality, but again different from each other in a
2. Due to the economic situation how has Christian radio been
affected compared to other (mainstream) formats?
Similar to the secular stations, whether the station is commercial
or non com its more difficult to get the funds that have been gotten
in the past and this affects all kinds of decisions from hiring to
purchasing to marketing.
3. Why in your opinion aren’t more broadcast owners (large, CC etc)
wish they would. the more stations that can spread the Good News and
communicate Hope and Love the better. From a competitive situation
many Christian stations may not want to see it, but from a big
picture perspective that would be a good thing....as long as the
station is truely committed to contemporary Christian programming.
But the reasons more are not doing it include two simple ones, first
it is a format that many in secular radio don't understand and
combine that with the fact its perceived as a niche format like jazz
or classical or even triple A. Which leads to the biggest reason,
they don't yet believe its a format that can deliver the revenue
they want or need.
We work with most of the large broadcast groups and generally there
is no significant bias against doing a Christian format. the format
has done well enough in the ratings in many markets that it gets
group owners attention. They just need to be convinced it can
generate as much or more revenue than some other format option they
may be considering. If it can be a revenue success, based on their
financial models, then many would do it. I will add that when a
company makes this commitment they need people selling it that have
a passion for the format or it would be a success. I say the same
when talking to stations about the jazz format, or classical, or
alternative, or top forty, etc. The management and the sellers, as
well as the programming staff, have to believe in the product.
4. Describe the characteristics of the ideal Christian radio
The same as I would describe the ideal pd of any station. He or she
must know the format, have an understanding of the nuances of the
format and know and understand the audience. They need to be able to
hear good talent and learn how to coach and nurture the talent, they
need to know how to manage up as well as manage down. They need to
learn and know how to conceptualize and brand a radio station and
not just think that all there is to it is programming the music,
scheduling and managing their department and going to meetings.
Preferably they have a passion for what they are doing and see
programming a radio station as an art, like the painting on a canvas
or creating a Broadway play. A program director should do what the
title states and that is to direct the programming.
Today's PD has more responsibilities to juggle than ever and its
hard to find a way to get it all done which affects time management,
but you have to love it to do it well. Just like any profession, if
you want to be great you have to love what you do and always be
working to be better.
5. What kind of promotions work best for Christian radio?
Same as in secular radio, topical, relatable, and engages the
listener. keep it simple, make it fun and interesting on the
air....not just the promotion or contest itself but the promos for
it should be well written and produced, and as we have always said,
tell them you are going to do it, do it, then tell them you did it.
many stations drop the ball in this area. And almost everything
should be tied into your website not as an after thought but as part
of the execution.
6. How do you think Christian Record labels can better serve
The obvious answer is to deliver great product. The labels have a
tough job because they want to deliver great product but some
stations don't want to play it unless it sounds like everything
else, then once it sounds like everything else they are told it
sounds like everything else. part of it is radio stations need to
know what they want and need and that is not always the case, its
usually just following what ever other stations are doing and
national charts....which the labels complain about, unless their
records are on other station and national charts then they think its
a good idea. The "system" is frustratingly amusing at times. So
the labels should just work to get as much great product as possible
and radio stations should listen to everything they can get and make
decisions that is right for that station. Sounds cliché, and is,
but its also true.
7. In your opinion what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian
I said earlier Christian radio has come a long way but don't you
agree that with as many people in America that say they are
Christians, don't you think Christian stations should have higher
ratings? Now I know we could get into a deep theological discussion
about what is a "Christian" and I always find that a fascinating
conversation, but putting that aside for the moment, don't you
sometimes think that Christian radio should have more people
listening? I do, and I think about it often.
back to the obstacles. Let me tell you a story. I remember the first
time I was invited to speak at a Christian radio conference, it was
back in the early 90s or maybe late 80s. I was making some point
about what Contemporary Christian radio could do to get better
ratings when a couple of people in the audience spoke up and told me
that I just wanted to make Christian radio focus on getting ratings
instead of focusing on the mission of the station. That was a
typical attitude of many at that time. I responded by saying I was
talking about how they could get more ratings, and ratings are just
numbers, ratings are people. If we improve the ratings of a
Christian radio station that means the station is reaching more
people with its message. In that room that day and still sometimes
these days I run into that. Its a legitimate concern from people
with good hearts focused on their mission. But often because of that
concern some radio stations never elevate to the level of
professionalism and sophistication it takes to compete for the
(Christian) listeners ear and heart. I believe the most
important thing the station should do is stay true to its mission,
that is the reason people will come to listen to it. If you water it
down or become lukewarm instead of what you are, the appeal is lost.
So let me make that perfectly clear first. Simultaneous to that the
station has to employ sophisticated program techniques and
philosophy, have that thread of elements that makes every successful
station a ratings success (meaning a lot of appeal to alot of people
listening for long periods and coming back to the station often),
and realize you are competing against every radio station and every
other entertainment and information source, not just against another
Christian station....and not think that just because other
stations pull a one share in their market that its all you can do
in your market.
think Contemporary Christian stations started seeing the Fish
perform (in some markets) better than previous Christian stations
had in those markets and it helped to raise hopes and expectations.
That is a good thing, but now its time to move beyond that level of
expectation to a higher level. There are a handful of Christian
stations in a handful of markets (Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle,
etc) that score significant ratings. Instead of this being the
exception, I would like to see it become the norm. We have to raise
our standards again.
8. What do you believe is the primary role of the Christian radio
entertain and inform and there are many different ways of doing that
and each talent has to determine how he or she does it best. Be a
personality and not just a jock. You can be a personality in any
format. Strive to be genuine, but not syrupy or cheesy. Think before
you talk. Remember you are on stage whether you are live like on
Broadway or voice tracked like on a recorded TV sitcom. Be
interesting. Be likeable.
9. What (if any) Christian radio stations do you consider as
Some that I have mentioned already would fall into that category. I
certainly haven't heard all Christian radio stations so I am sure
some are innovating and doing great things that I don't' know
about. But let me add this thought. We should innovate but I have
learned over the years that I now say "innovate slowly". I guess its
a new way of saying don't get too far ahead of the audience....the
pay off usually comes from being "on time" instead of ahead or
behind the times...particularly if you are programming to the
mainstream. the best example of innovating to fast would be the
dotcoms that were so cutting edge most went bust. Innovate but
10. Where do you see Christian radio in 5 years?
Raptured. And if that has not happened yet, hopefully continuing to
grow in all the ways we have discussed here so that the format
continues to reach more and more people.