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Dan Vallie

CEO/Founder

Vallie/Richards Consulting

 

Dan's Career Capsule
A broadcast veteran of over 32 years, Dan is CEO and founder of Vallie·Richards Consulting, Inc. His successful career spans three decades and now carries over into the new millennium (and a fourth decade in radio). Prior to founding Vallie·Richards Consulting, Dan was Vice President of Programming for EZ Communications, a group merged into American Radio Systems, which sold to CBS. Dan is a frequent speaker at various industry conventions, including the National Association of Broadcasting, Inside Radio conferences, Radio and Records conventions, National Religious Broadcaster’s conventions, The Gallup World Conferences, as well as other conventions and for various broadcasting groups. His format innovations include the conceptualization of "The Fish", Contemporary Christian music stations with Salem Broadcasting in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Portland, etc.

1. What do you think is the most important issue facing Christian radio today?

There are always several important issues, but one to focus on is the general belief that America and much of the world is in a time of spiritual seeking. There are many “religions” for a seeker to choose from. Christian radio has to position itself to not only nurture the Christian listener, but also to reach these seekers in a way that makes the station and Christianity attractive enough for them to discover it is the Truth. Christian radio, because of the mission, should strive to be not just on par with secular stations in regard to professionalism and quality, but exceed it…not just for competitive reasons in the historical sense, but because of the Higher Calling and Purpose.

2. Your consultancy is very involved with Salem Communications. How did the “Fish” concept come about?

Ed Atsinger and Howard Freedman asked me to fly to Camarillo, California to meet with them. They told me they were thinking about putting on a contemporary Christian station, but if they did they wanted it to operate on a high level of professionalism with the most sophisticated programming and marketing techniques. They knew Vallie·Richards Consulting’s reputation and history in secular radio and wanted to know if we could bring the same thing to Christian radio. In some ways it was actually an answer to prayer, I had wanted us to become involved more in Christian radio and this was the opportunity. We signed a deal that day. That led to us working with Dave Armstrong and Chuck Tyler in the Los Angeles market, debuting the first “Fish”. Chuck and I discussed almost every possible aspect of Christian music radio, basically re-inventing. The formatics, music structure, positioning, etc. all went through a tough filter of determination to debut with the quality product we all desired and knew Christians and Christian radio deserved, finishing with a highly competitive product.

We also knew from the beginning that branding would be a key ingredient to our success. Many names and positioning statements were discussed, but when I recommended something that had never been done before, “The Fish”, everyone was on board immediately. Dave and his team in LA took the name and concept and have done a great job in developing the brand with great creativity and commitment. Variations of the original Fish logo are used around the chain.

This, of course, led us to working with the rest of the great team at Salem - Joe Davis, George Toulas, Ken Gaines and the rest of the leadership there.

The second Fish debuted in Atlanta with Allen Power and Kevin Avery. They have done such a good job, and they won the Dove Award for station of the year. They are pulling great numbers in Atlanta, by far better than any contemporary Christian station has in the past.

As you know, there are now several other Fish stations, including Portland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Sacramento and Cleveland and others. Salem is not only committed to the format, but they're also committed to hiring great people that are true professionals in each market.

3. What do you think is the current state of Christian radio…(and where's it going)?

Actually, I am optimistic about the future of Christian radio. I know in the past most Christian stations have struggled to pull good ratings, but I think we are showing with The Fish that it can be done…and should be done. Increasing ratings and getting more people listening is the most obvious ways a Christian broadcaster can go about working to help fulfill the Great Commission. Just as the Christian music industry raised the bar and started producing great product early in the last decade, it seems now that Christian radio can raise the bar and deliver great Christian radio. Not only is the product there, but all indication is America is seeking spiritually, which makes this format attractive, not just to Christians but to others.

Many secular stations/formats talk about being "the family station" and "family values", but it is absolutely true with The Fish. Many secular stations talk about "music variety" and "music you won’t hear anywhere else", often that is hype, but with The Fish it is true (compared to secular market stations).

Salem is committed to making great Christian radio, so is Vallie·Richards Consulting. It's only a matter of time before other qualified companies see it’s a viable format and jump in. When they do, I expect and hope (for the format's sake) that they will do it well. Stations currently in the format should frequently re-visit their mission statement and strategy in order to perform at their best as the heritage Christian station in the market.

4. Do you think most of the same programming basics apply to Christian radio… are there any basics that you’ve found just don’t work in Christian radio?

Most of the same basics apply. At this moment I can’t think of an exception, though there may be a couple. You have to keep in mind that Christian listeners have the same choices and lifestyles of other listeners. Their lives are just as busy, their problems are just as big, their music preferences are just as varied, etc.

5. What is the role of the CCM air personality...how does it differ from secular radio?

It's very much the same. The air talent still must be topical and relevant. He has to complement the format and be into what he/she is doing. Talk to the listener one on one, making eye contact, and be passionate about the music and the radio station.

The station should strive to have a compelling and entertaining morning show, ideally one that can out perform the rest of the station.

6. What impact do you think Christian Internet radio is having?

It is having impact. One of the primary reasons is there is not as much choice on the terrestrial radio dial for Christian programming as there is secular. They have fewer choices/alternatives, so the Internet provides a service, an option. I must say that I am impressed with the effort being made by the Christian community on the Internet and how Christian “broadcasters” have learned unique and creative ways to reach the listener. In many cases it has been because the opportunity was not there with a big signal or big budgets, so the Christian broadcaster had to be creative and use “guerilla” warfare.

As you know, it's not just Christian broadcasters that are benefiting and using the Internet, but missionaries and other Christian organizations have been aggressive on the Internet as well. Even so, as good and as effective as it can be, it’s not like reaching several hundred thousand people at a time like a radio station can. It's another delivery service.

7. What have you found listeners are saying is the biggest negative on Christian radio today? Biggest positive?

Some of the same things as in secular radio…"songs I don’t like", "too much talk", etc. The positive is the response from people that say the station makes a difference in their lives…that’s something most secular stations cannot say.

8. In the overall picture, do you think a Christian music station airing a ministry talk block will hurt or help its cume?

Let me answer this way, do you ever find a #1 secular music station, whether it's in Erie, Pennsylvania or San Francisco, that will air a talk block of a half hour or hour in primetimes? The reason is because it doesn’t fit the station and the listeners' expectation. There are some exceptions and each situation should be looked at individually and strategically based on what the situation is in each individual market.

One answer to this, or most questions, doesn’t fit all stations.

One significant difference is most of those secular stations are competing to win in the ratings, so they are doing all they know how to do to not only attract listeners, but to keep them listening as long as possible. Most Christian stations are not as focused on the Arbitron ratings, but keep in mind, ratings are people. The better the ratings, the more people you are reaching with your message. If part of the station's mission statement is to reach as many people as possible, the station should be programmed in such a way as to maximize its opportunity.

9. Why do you think the CCM format is growing right now…and do you think it will continue?

Partly because of what I said earlier, many listeners are spiritually seeking. The music is better than it has ever been. More stations are operating more professionally, strategically and creatively. The Fish is scoring in every market it goes to. The marketing is better than in the past. There are several reasons that could be sub-captions for these examples.

Yes, I believe it will continue to grow, but only if it is done correctly and with conviction. The best concepts can fail if they are not produced and marketed correctly (on-air marketing and/or in outside marketing).

10. How do you feel about voice tracking?

If done correctly it can actually make radio better. I know some don’t agree with this, but voice tracking can be to radio what recorded television shows were to live TV. It comes down to the talent. A good talent voice tracking is better than a bad live jock. A bad jock voice tracking is worse than a bad jock live.



 

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