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Mike Couchman
WAY FM / Denver

Pop Culture





If you’ve worked in Christian radio for more than five minutes, you’ve probably been near a call like the one I got last week.  The listener who speed dialed me after I turned the mic off said “I am really sick of hearing about TV shows on this station.  Every time I tune in, it’s American Idol, American Idol, American Idol, and more crap about American Idol.”  He tells me this despite my break actually being anti-Idol.  It went something like “regardless of who wins tonight, the real winners were those of us who never got sucked in to begin with.” (Full disclosure: I stole the break from somebody else on the team.  I thought it was a simply brilliant concept, since I’ve never once sat through an entire episode.)


The thing is, this listener who does not fit my station’s “target listener profile” wasn’t totally wrong.  Rude, yes. But just as clearly, he’s a P1.  We’re his first choice radio station.  He comes to us for certain reasons, and we failed to measure up.  (Although with this particular listener, I gotta wonder if nothing short than a mandatory minimum God-per-hour would meet his holy standards.)


Modern Christian radio has grown leaps and bounds in being relevant to what our average listeners care about.  We’ve gone from ignoring mainstream culture a decade ago to sometimes defining parts of it.  Unfortunately, in the process, we (yes, I) have strayed from weaving the power of our faith into the pop culture elements that connect us with our listeners.


What is the number one reason your listener comes to your Christian radio station?  If you’ve spent any time speaking with them, or reading your own perceptual research, your answer is likely some variation of “They come to me to affirm and encourage their faith in Christ.”  They may love your conversations about many other things, from Modern Family to your favorite local ice cream joint.  It’s doubtful those things are what draw them to you though.


Am I suggesting that you should ignore pop culture, or back off on how much you talk about it?  Not at all!  Instead, I’m asking you to look at what angle you’re coming at it from, and how your listener’s values influence their own angle.  If you’re going to bring up American Idol, Desperate Housewives, etc., I contend that you should run it through these two filters (that I clearly didn’t use in my own example above):


  1. What can be said about this topic on MY station that no other station in the market could say?  Think of it this way:  you’re at the helm of your market’s leading Christian radio station.  Your relationship with Jesus potentially adds a lot of levels and points of view on pop culture that no other station in your market can fathom.  To not let that come through your show is akin to sitting on one of your most powerful weapons.
  2. What can I say about this topic that no other personality on my station, or anywhere else, would ever think of saying?  Figuring this out will endear you to your audience. (Or in my case, send them running the other way sometimes!)


Then, when those small but loud “Crusader” factions tell you what a crappy, worldly sell-out you are, you an at least have a clear conscience knowing that you did your absolute best to bring your unique faith to the table.


If you’re going to bother talking about pop culture, but all you have to say the same kind of drivel that your local Clear Channel stations are already saying, what’s the point?  To prove that you can be “relevant?”


Relevancy is fine and dandy.  Important even. But you’re not being relevant to your listener when you forget why they chose you over that Clear Channel station in the first place.


Mike Couchman is the new Program Director for WAY-FM in Denver, and also heard on the SOS Radio Network based in Las Vegas, WRBS/Baltimore, WAYK-WAYG-WAYO in Michigan, and WHMX in Maine.