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John Frost

Three Types Of Christian Radio Stations





I’ve discovered that there are really just three basic types of Christian radio stations.   

The vast major of stations merely occupy a spot of the dial.  Their genesis may have coincided with a preacher, or a college president, of the head of a denomination, or a trustee being handed a radio station and having to decide what to do with it.  The operation of these stations is often viewed as an extension of something else, like a college, rather than as a unique medium of radio with its own inherent strengths.  Often these stations are programmed more like television than radio stations and “churn” their audiences every time a new program comes on the air.   These stations are often run by people who rarely talk seriously about how to reach more people.  One author refers to this as having passion for doing the project but not having passion for spreading the message.  The most obvious symptom I’ve noticed of this kind of station is employees that don’t even listen to it.

The next kind of radio station has a sense of direction or purpose, but they apply it mostly when it is convenient and affordable.    This kind of station has a few resources, such as ratings data, research information or outside expertise, but will willingly discard if the price is deemed too steep.  This kind of station still has several programming elements “that won’t hurt you”,  which, of course, always hurts you in building loyalty and accomplishing mission.   Despite some level of growth this station is reluctant to invest in more resources for growth---marketing, more compelling talent, research---because they view their “success” in light of how bad it used to be.  It is just this kind of business/ministry/radio station that Jim Collins addresses in his book, “Good to Great” when he says “good is the enemy of great”.  “The vast majority of companies never become great, precisely because the vast majority become quite good—and that is their main problem.”    

The third kind of station is always refining, reinventing itself and seeking ways to better serve its mission.   My friend Jim (not his real name) is the head guy at such a station.  He’s always wanting to improve programming, marketing, and research and challenges those around him to anticipate and plan for the future of Christian radio/media.  He may occasionally irritate those who would rest on station’s accomplishments, but leaders lead and followers follow.  Interestingly,  that clarity tends to attract those with vision, as well.  

Don’t worry if you see your station described in one of the first two categories.   The fact that you’ve read this far in a programming tip that didn’t include a funny cartoon indicates that you care about the impact of your station.  If you’re a program director choose every song, every promotion, and every image campaign as though it might be the very first time someone listened to your station.  If you are an air talent prepare like you would if the consultant was listening and make very break of value to the listener.  If you’re a station manager look for ways to encourage your people, and ask your programming team if there are tools or resources you can give them to make your station more effective in serving your listeners.  


John is a partner in Goodratings Strategic Services, and has been a successful major market disc jockey and program director for such companies as CBS, Cap Cities, Westinghouse, Sandusky, Gannett, and Alliance during his 38 year broadcast career.  John joined Goodratings’ partner Alan Mason in 1999.