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Radio Interview

                                     

Jon Hull

VP Programming

KSBJ

Houston

 

 

Jon's Career Capsule
With 12 years at KSBJ and over 30 years in Christian radio, Jon Hull serves as Vice President of Programming for KSBJ.  In this role, he is responsible for day-to-day decision making in programming, as well as crafting concepts for two additional Christian HD formats to be launched in the next 12 months in KSBJ’s current coverage area. 

In his time in the industry, Hull has held any number of positions including on-air host, Vice President of Special Projects and his current position.  Well respected in the industry and community, Hull was recognized as the 2003/2004 R&R Christian Radio Programmer of the Year and was recently awarded the Scott Campbell Award by the Gospel Music Association for his contribution to the growth of Christian music radio.  Additionally, in 2008 he was elected Chairman of the Christian Music Broadcasters educational track, a branch of the organization devoted to educational opportunities for Christian music radio stations around the country.



1. Personally how do you keep the ministry in the “business”? 

For me, it’s a question of calling.  While ‘business’ has to be a component of anything we do in the Christian radio industry, it can’t be the goal.  At KSBJ, the goal has always been to draw people closer to Christ.  We want to stand as a voice of hope, connecting people to God.  So, while we have to pay attention to income, expenditures and ratings, the ROI (return on investment) is ultimately measured by the number of lives impacted for Christ through our efforts.  To help keep this mission at the forefront, KSBJ offers a number of growth opportunities for our staff and volunteers, so that we can be challenged and energized spiritually.  If we’re not constantly being spiritually nurtured ourselves, it’s difficult for us to provide anything that fills our listeners.

 

2. Overall, how is Christian radio different today, from 5 years ago?

It goes without saying that it’s better and, for the most part, more effective. However, I’d rather look back a lot farther than 5 years.  I started in Christian radio in 1975.  Back then the ‘new technology’ issues we faced had to do with LP’s, Cart Machines and the burgeoning multi-track production phenomenon.  Most Christian stations were not operated 24/7, and there were only a handful of us that featured music as a major part of our format.  Varied block programming was our attempt at being ‘all things to all people,’ and it wasn’t unheard of for a station to feature everything from traditional hymns to CCM across a daypart.  While we thought we were revolutionary by playing radical artists like Honeytree and Chuck Girard, it was mild by the standards that would arise even a few years later. 

Early in my career, I remember getting called on the carpet by one general manager who thought the Bill Gaither Trio was too radical.  So, Christian radio has improved in almost too many areas to count.  Our understanding of our audience and the ability to communicate using compelling production and on-air presentations combined with the sheer volume of fulltime Christian music stations speak volumes about the growth of Christian radio.  The rapid growth is greater than just about any of us thought possible.  And if we can continue to navigate uncertain financial waters while keeping God at the forefront of what we do, I’m sure what we see in the years to come will surprise us even more. 

 

3. What do you think are the main characteristics of today’s Christian radio PD?

I think great programming directors have always been ‘jacks of all trades.’  We’re part counselor, part pastor, part drill-sergeant and part manager.  We have to understand talent and often have to pull an on-air shift.  We have to understand the music industry with all of its ins and outs, how it can serve our listenership, and how we can serve them;  all the while realizing that our primary objective is not to sell records but rather to serve our community through Christian music.  It is essential to be students of our audience with an inherent feel for what they need, want and dislike.  We have to understand the competition and where our particular strengths and weaknesses play into capturing and keeping ears.  We must be students of new media because otherwise, we won’t be prepared to embrace the technological opportunities coming down the pike.  We have to be diplomats with listeners and supporters while helping them understand our mission and calling and why it’s impossible to always make everyone happy with our programming.  We must also be able to clearly cast vision for those we lead and guide them toward reaching these outlined goals and objectives.  Above all, we must be servants – first and foremost to God and then to those we work with. 

 

4. What criteria do you require for a song to be played on your station?

Songs have to fill a need in the lives of our listeners.  They have to fit the format and represent something our core demo can relate to.  Some of them will encourage, some will admonish, some will entertain and still some will simply add to the audio tapestry that is radio.  For KSBJ, a song with a clear message is always a good beginning.  If it reflects an emotion or a point of view our core listener can wrap their heart around, that’s a bonus.  There should generally be a healthy balance between the song’s artistic value and its spiritual contribution, though some may lean more in one direction than the other.  Finally, due to the nature of our format and the way listeners consume it, a song has to have longevity to sound good on multiple listens.  If we perceive a high burn out factor, we probably won’t add it to our programming.  For KSBJ, we’re looking for songs we’d feel happy about spinning a thousand times or more.  Ultimately, that’s what builds the permanence of our format.   

 

5. What kind of promotions work best for Christian radio?

It’s a gross oversimplification, but the most successful promotions are those that fulfill a specific need with our listeners.  If we’re looking for an audience building promotion, it has to be a universal topic we can talk about to the population at large with confidence it will draw interest and ultimately listenership to KSBJ.  If we’re looking to build a higher AQH, then the promotion has to lend itself to that by encouraging the listener to want to stay with KSBJ longer.  Here at KSBJ, we like promotions that call listeners to some specific action, since that’s something they continuously demonstrate a hunger for.  There should usually be some element of fun involved since laughter is generally a great promotional tool, and it should be something that everyone can enjoy, rather than just a few prize ‘junkies.’  Recently, we did a promotion asking our listeners to donate shoes for orphans that would be delivered during our mission trip to Honduras.

 

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

I think they can help us best by working hard to reinvent their model.  The increasing pressures from licensing and performance taxes can’t continue on their current course, or we’ll ALL buckle under the weight.  I think the folks in the trenches generally get it, but I question whether those who are often quoted in the trades truly understand the reality of the ramifications of these additional costs for a non-profit station.  While I don’t think any of us want to shortchange those who create the music, the necessity of payment can’t be laid solely at the radio’s doorstep.   Ideally, Christian record labels will find a way to share these necessary costs with other sources.

 

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

To remember why we first loved Christian radio, to take the passion that got us here in the first place and to fan that flame for ourselves and others.   

 

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

I can only speak for KSBJ, but the primary role of our on air personalities is to fulfill KSBJ’s mission of being a voice of hope, connecting people to God.  Our on air personalities aim to be more than just DJ’s at KSBJ.  They’re people like anyone else – members of a family who are on the same journey as many of our listeners.  In my experience on air, I know the job is part ringmaster, part storyteller and part host of the party.  If we can live our lives on the radio with humility and integrity drawing more and more people to Christ, we will have fulfilled our role.

 

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

There are too many to count.  Some innovate in their programming, some in their philanthropic outreach still others in their fundraising.  Some innovate by impacting their local community, while others stretch their arms around the world to embrace a global vision.  I’ve seen stations whose names aren’t constantly in the trades do amazing radio day in and day out.  While not always recognized in the industry, this sort of work, I believe, will earn a hearty ‘well done’ from the Lord. 

 

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

Hopefully in 5 years we’ll be looking back at interviews like this one and say, “boy, we’ve come a long way since then.  We’re reaching more people for Christ than Hull ever thought possible, making a bigger impact in our community and replicating our current Christian radio model in other stations more effectively than ever!” 

  

 

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