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Radio Interview

                                     

Terry Dismore

Consultant

Lazarus Communications Group

Columbus, OH

 

 

Terry's Career Capsule
Terry Dismore has celebrated his 30th year in radio recently. Starting out in a small town station in Southern Indiana, he worked in and around Louisville, Kentucky in formats as varied as country to full-service (remember that?) most of his career before moving to Columbus, Ohio in 1999. He was on one of the pioneer Christian radio stations in the country, WXLN in Louisville from 1983 until 1988 and was at WJIE in Louisville from 1992 until 1999. After that, Terry was instrumental in getting WCVO in Columbus turned toward its current direction. Now, Terry leads Lazarus Communications Group of Columbus. They are focused on taking people (and radio stations!) from where they are to where God wants them to be with management and programming consulting.

 

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

It’s tough being “in the business” and “in the ministry” at the same time. So many of my clients are under strong financial pressure and pressure to reach a wider audience. Combine that dichotomy with the necessity of seeking God’s direction on everything, and I think Christian Radio may be one of the most difficult areas to be leading. However, the key here is that God has a say. He is able to do more than we ask or imagine, so when I talk with my clients, I normally ask them to think way outside the box regarding ministry and broadcasting. If you put God first (there’s a tough one!), He will help you focus on the direction to go that will lead to more financial and audience success.

 

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

It might be easier to ask how it’s the same. That would be a short answer. I think the leading stations have finally learned the “secret” of how to get cume, attain ratings and build TSL. As I mentioned earlier, this is a large part of the equation for Christian radio, and it’s something that we just didn’t “get” five years ago. We are also well researched for the most part. Since there have been some major successes in Christian radio as far as ratings go, more stations have more tied up in their capital, whether financial or spiritual. That requires a pretty clear vision of the future from the leadership.

 

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

I will answer by telling what I have looked for and continue to seek in PDs. I think that this person serves a role that requires strong spiritual values. I don’t mean legalism or rules (yecch), but an understanding of what it means to seek God. Second, that person must understand, elucidate and inform the vision of the station. I have found the discussions I have had with PDs like Dean O’Neal, Chuck Finney, Mike Novak, Tate Luck, Dave St. John, Jon Hull, Therese Romano and others rarely go to how to program. They focus on the vision of their leadership and on the needs of their listeners.

That said, they also seek to grow the next generation of Christian radio leaders. That was why I so enjoyed working with people like Dwayne Harrison and Gary Thompson. They understood that part. Legacy is who you have worked with, not who is there now. What seeds are you planting for the future of the industry?

 

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

May I answer as a listener? I want to hear songs that move me, that connect and that hold spiritual truth. They have to sound good, too. I have noticed that the best songs seem to be those with which we can sing along. In the privacy of one’s own car, of course!

 

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

I agree with my friends Tate Luck and Dave St. John that promotions for Christian radio are most successful when they are helping people focus on others. A station that is truly great will be humble about itself and will help their listeners serve others. Sure, most people want to win something, but if you want to really grow and demonstrate the love of Christ, an outward focus is vital.

 

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

Being one that has rarely dealt with labels, I will leave that to my PD friends to answer.

 

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

Lack of vision and lack of focus. Although those seem to be the same, they are vastly different. Vision determines what you focus on. It is my experience that opportunity frequently sidetracks vision. Vision is what keeps you on track. Vision directs every facet of a station. Opportunities will come along that look good, feel good and may seem good for the future of the station, but if a diversion from the vision is the result, it is a mistake to pursue it. For instance, many stations have taken the opportunity to build networks of translators and other full-power stations. Now, if that is the vision given by God, follow it. But I suspect that many times growing a network is based on opportunity. In Henry Blackaby’s “Spiritual Leadership”, he talks about the pursuit of vision. His point is that if you can do it by yourself, it’s not God’s vision. A God-sized vision requires two things: God and you. He needs us and wants us to be a part of great things, but we are un-equipped to carry out a God-sized vision without Him.

 

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

One of my mentors in this business, Steve Butler, reminded me when I had my first morning show that every time I cracked the mic, I had a bigger audience than the biggest congregation in town. The personality’s job is to pray, prepare, plan, and proceed to build community, entertain and encourage listeners toward a further commitment to Christ. Obviously, this is more than just putting liners into words that “Becky” can relate to, although that’s part of it, too. They must understand the world in which we…Becky and the personality…live. The Christian radio listener is not immune or impervious to things going on about them. They look to personalities like us to let them know how we process events and react to the world around us. One mistake I hear some personalities make is talking about something that might be of interest to “Becky”, but is of no interest to them. While we can ’t always be interested in everything our listeners are interested in, we can usually find someone who is. Let that person speak for “Becky”. Your core listener can tell the difference of when you are talking “with” her and when you are talking “at” her.

 

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

All the stations I am about to mention are on the ball with the format. The River in Columbus, The Fish in Atlanta, New Life 91.9 in Charlotte and Star 99.1 in New York City (among many others) are right on the game with how to sound. They are standard-bearers. The question though is about innovation, and that’s a whole different animal. “The General” Jim Hoge and crew at Z88.3 in Orlando are innovative in their use of technology and extra-curricular activities to reach mid-Florida. For instance, did you know that WPOZ is the Primary EAS station for central Florida? And they do their own streaming and web hosting. I am amazed at what Tim McDermott and Jon Hull do in reaching Houston with KSBJ. They are innovative in their use of promotions, and I think Tim really “gets” how to build influence. Chuck Finney is one person that I know that is always looking for an answer to the question, “what can we do better?” Although KLTY has been on-air for many years, it never sounds stale when I am in the Metroplex. Dick Whitworth and Dave St. John work for a station that is part of the Northwestern University radio network. I am amazed at how KNWI in Des Moines sounds. Frankly, I think they may be lining out the future of the rest of the network. Finally, when I am in Philadelphia or Delaware, I enjoy listening to The Reach FM network. Formatically, they are better every time I hear them and they sound like they are having fun. I believe they may be what some of the rest of us sound like in a few years.

 

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

I think we will probably have to redefine ourselves. There has been an argument for several years over what Christian radio is supposed to be. Are we seeker-friendly or are we for the body? I could write a book! I think we are made for the body. Remember, well-done Christian radio will reach and influence those that are pre-Christian. However, I think our prime listening core is Christians. Here’s where it gets tricky. I don’t believe we are called only to comfort the body or only to challenge the body. And I really don’t think we are called to politically influence the body. We are called to strengthen the body. I told the staff at WAKW this summer, “there is nothing on earth God cares less about than Christian radio.” Let that sink in for a minute. Ready for another truth? There is nothing he cares more about, either. Christian radio is a tool for Him to use to reach people. That is all, and we must make sure that we are reaching and influencing people. Notice I didn’t say “the most people” I just said people. Ratings and cume and TSL are important to us. Spins and rotation and artist separation are important to us. Income and donations and spot load are important to us. Although God is aware of those things because they matter to us, I imagine that His main concern is on people. So, our focus as Christians must be people. When we forget that our job is to strengthen the body by helping it grow and develop, we have lost our way.

 

 

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