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.
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.
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
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.
What do you think are the main characteristics of today’s Christian
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
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
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
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.
What do you believe is the primary role of the Christian radio air
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.
What (if any) Christian radio stations do you consider as innovators
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.
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