CMB Pioneers: Jon Hull
Welcome to another story about one of the pioneers of Contemporary Christian Music Radio. You can read previous stories here. Some of these pioneers started radio stations with just a few dollars to their name. Many had very little radio experience. Some worked in mainstream radio before coming to CCM. But each had vision, a calling, and a deep passion for using Contemporary Christian Music Radio to impact their community.
Jon Hull – Mentor, Encourager, Teacher, Mission-driven
Jon Hull “walked the aisle” in 1971 at the age of 15, but didn’t do it like most people do. He came down from the platform of a church to approach the altar. You see, he was playing drums for a Christian youth-choir. At the church there was always an altar-call, but on this day, in his words, “I realized that the relationship I was inviting others to experience was one that I didn’t have myself. So, I got up from my drums in the middle of the song and asked Jesus to forgive me. “
From that point on, he realized just how powerful Christian music could be in softening complacent hearts. He was originally a theatre major in college and had big dreams about going to New York and landing lead-roles on Broadway. But friends helped him realize that “stardom” wasn’t all he thought it would be. Another friend gave him a lead for a radio internship to fulfill some college needs. Two years later the man who gave him the internship, Jim Campbell, from Radio Training Network, launched WCIE/Lakeland, FL.
In 1976, Jon transferred to Florida State University (Go ‘Noles) and became a Mass Communications major.
His first radio job was for an AM Daytimer (1330 WCVC – The Christian Voice of the Capitol) where he worked between classes and on weekends. For those who can remember working at a ‘daytime-only’ radio station, that means he worked from sunup to sundown on Saturdays. It wasn’t so bad during wintertime, but in the summer when the days were long – it was brutal. Records, turntables, carts, cheap-microphones and a “Flintstone-era” control board. But he loved it.
WCVC was what most of us would call a “dollar-a-holler” station. Management wanted to fill the day with paid teaching programs. When they couldn’t fill a slot, they played music. The format was Southern Gospel, but Jon hoped to introduce listeners to CCM. (You know, folks like Evie, The Bill Gaither Trio, Keith Green, and Second Chapter of Acts.) He was told he could bring in a few LP’s, but that all song selections had to be approved by management. The approval process included putting small, red Avery File Folder “dots” on the tracks not allowed for air play. (Jon may have removed a few dots!) One day, while on the phone complaining to (then girlfriend, now wife Karen) about how frustrated he was with “lack of vison at the station,” the station receptionist hot-lined him to ask him if his microphone was on? Whew. He checked, and thankfully it was not. The station was in a single-wide trailer parked directly next to the AM transmitter building. It turns out that there was so much RF (radio frequency) pumping into that trailer that the tubes in the control board had actually become “microphonic” and were picking up echoes of every word he said. “That was awkward,” Jon says, “and I learned a lesson in humility.”
Jon worked for and with Jim Campbell from 1978-1989 as WCIE’s evening Announcer, Afternoon Announcer, Production Director, Program Director, and eventually Station Manager. Jim is still a mentor and friend to this day. According to Jon, “He taught me so much about so many things. I’ve modeled much of my programming and fundraising practices after what I learned from Jim.”
One day at WCIE, they invited the station front desk-receptionist onto the morning show to provide some color, and she quickly became a star. Rita Christie would sign off every morning with this phrase “Have a Jesus-FILLED day!” They eventually had t-shirts, bumper-stickers and mugs made! It became a trademark she took with her when she began doing Christian TV in Central Florida.
They were very involved in concerts at WCIE. Because they were owned by a Church with a 10,000-seat capacity, Christian concerts were happening about every six weeks. One highlight was recording Sandi Patti’s “Live” album there in 1983. This is the live album which features the Sand Patti/Larnelle Harris duet “More than Wonderful.”
A funny story about Sandi Patty from Jon… “When she first visited WCIE, she offered to “sing and play” for the Christian School that owned the station. However, because she was an unknown, Jim Campbell asked to “audition her” to make sure she was of sufficient quality to sing at the middle-school chapel. He’s still mortified by that to this day, I’m sure.”
In the 1980’s, Jon hired Bill Scott and Dave Kirby who are now with Vidare Creative. Dave attended the Christian school that owned WCIE. Once he got his FCC Third Class License (with broadcast endorsement,) he was hired for weekends. Bill Scott sent an unsolicited tape and resume. When Jon called Bill’s home in Michigan to offer him the job. His mom answered and said he couldn’t talk. When he kept calling back, eventually she told me not to call again. “Bill is going to work for another radio station in Florida and doesn’t want to talk to you!” A few weeks later, Jon got a call from Bill telling him that he had somehow gotten two different radio stations in Florida confused and had said yes to the one he didn’t want to work for and no to the station he did want to work for. He didn’t realize what he’d done until he drove onto the property of the radio station he’d said yes to. He quickly found a pay phone. “Can I still come and work for you?” he sheepishly asked on the other end of the phone.
In addition to Jim Campbell, there were great friends and co-workers at WCIE, including Rodger Roth, Rita Christie, Lynne Miller, Steven Winters, Tom Trulson, John Little, Jim Gates, Kevin Wallace, Lori Lynn (later Lori Lynn Ryder) and the aforementioned Bill Scott and Dave Kirby. Chief Engineer, Rodger Roth made it possible for the station to have some of the best studios and equipment in the industry. Also, while at WCIE, he helped launch WLFJ/Greenville, SC and The Joy FM/Sarasota, FL.
1n 1989, Jon left WCIE to take a job as PD at K-LOVE in Santa Rosa, CA. It was true culture-shock for his family, moving from the “buckle of the Bible-belt” to living just north of San Francisco, which was more like “Babylon by-the-bay.” K-LOVE only had four signals at the time, and they couldn’t actually even hear their city of license signal at their studios.
He stayed at K-LOVE for three-years, working with Dick Jenkins, Therese Romano, and Doug Griffin (who sometimes went by the name of “DJ Douggie-fresh.”) Before departing, he recommended hiring David Pierce, who ended up making a long and storied career at EMF.
In 1992, Jon left Northern California to help start “The Word in Music Satellite Network” and KBIQ (Q-96) in Colorado Springs.
“God has allowed me to work with some of the most godly and passionate communicators in CCM,” he says. “Here are a few of the names: Buddy Holiday, Tim McDermott, Joe Paulo, Jeff Scott, Roger Clark, Tom Carter, Doug Hannah, Joey K, Lori Bradley, Brant Hansen, Susan O’Donnell, Bill Ingram, Duane Allen, J.P. Spees, Dave Cruise, Chuck Pryor, Mike Kankelfritz, Sterling Tarrant (again), Lori Cline, Coppelia, Amanda Carroll, Liz Jordan, Jen Driskel, Heide Jones, Brittany Whatley, Troy West, Desiree Gonzalez, Drew Wilson, Jess Arrendell, Shawn Farrington, Elaine Welcome, Rachelle and Carder (our current morning team,) Carlos and Morgan (in the afternoons) and now, Taylor Mills who’s doing our “Hope on Demand” evening show.”
He adds, “While here, I’ve been coached and mentored by Brad Burkhart, Mike McVay, Tommy Kramer, Alan Mason, and John Frost. I’ve been so blessed to work with these amazing people. “
Missions and Mentoring
For almost a dozen years at KSBJ, Jon led the Mentoring Outreach to stations here in the US and around the world.
KSBJ Mentoring helped start and mentor stations in Tanzania, Slovakia, Romania, Liberia, Indonesia, Mali, Lithuania, Poland, South Sudan, Guatemala, Nigeria, Australia, Paraguay, England, South Africa, Ecuador, Bonaire & the Philippines.
In his Mentoring role, he also helped JOY FM/St. Louis, WGTS/Washington, DC, KCBI/Dallas, Z-88/Orlando, SOS Radio/Las Vegas, KLRC/Siloam Springs, AR, My Bridge Radio/Nebraska, K-LIFE/San Luis Obispo, CA, KLJC/Kansas City, WAY Radio/Brunswick, GA, Sound of Life/NY, WOW Radio/Pensacola, FL, Shine FM/IL, KCMS/Seattle, KWPZ/Lynden, WA, The Journey (in Virginia AND Texas), 89Q/Wausau, WI, The Bridge/Delaware, Positive Life Radio/Walla Walla, WA, KVER/El Paso & The Promise/Michigan.
Hope Media CEO, Joe Paulo, likes to say that Jon started his Christian radio career learning how to “do” great radio, spent the middle part of his career teaching others how to “do” great radio, and is now spending the latter part of his career learning how to “pay” for great radio.
Jon attended his first “National Gospel Radio Seminar” (NGRS) during GMA Week in 1982 or ’83. That year, he became involved with the NGRS Steering Committee and joined friends like Joe Battaglia, Lloyd Parker, Jim Black, Jenny Lockwald, Keith Whipple, Joy Fletcher, and others in helping to craft the education and growth of our industry.
Later, NGRS became NCRS (the National Christian Radio Seminar), NCRA (the National Christian Radio Association) and eventually CMB – Christian Music Broadcasters. Jon has severed on the boards of directors for both the Gospel Music Association and National Religious Broadcasters. He truly believes there have been many, meaningful, late-night conversations there with other men and women who were passionate about using the medium of Christian radio to change their communities for Christ. One memorable moment during those conferences was when the Steering Committee was invited to Steven Curtis Chapman’s home for dinner and to hear some new songs. At the time, SNL’s “The Sweeny Sisters” were popular. Bob Lepine (Family Life) asked Jon to join him in doing an impromptu “Sweeny Brothers” medley of Steven Curtis Chapman songs. Let’s just say, nobody soon forgot their presentation (no matter how hard they tried.)
Words from Jon…
If I’m being honest, I’ve wasted a lot of time chasing things that ultimately are both unimportant and not eternally satisfying. That’s something I think a lot Christian radio professionals could say. When we first get started, our hearts are on fire to share the Gospel authentically and winsomely on the radio. That’s our mission. But then we start becoming concerned with ratings, budgets, images, and being noticed. Any of those things can cause a dangerous “mission-drift.” Over the years, I became way too focused on things that ultimately were not on God’s “top-10 list” for His followers. So, if I were to write a “Dear CCM Radio” letter, I would seek to impress three things. First, you and I have been given a tremendous opportunity akin to the Parable of the Biblical Talents in Matthew 25. Let’s not be like the “wicked” servant who buried his talent and didn’t produce any gain for his master. Second, since I have fewer days ahead of me in Contemporary Christian Radio than I have behind me, I need to keep reminding myself of how short our time on earth actually is. It’s valuable for us to spend that time actively drawing closer to Christ and encouraging others to do so. We have the biggest pulpit in our respective communities. Are we allowing God to equip us so that we’ll be prepared to step into that pulpit? And, if we are: what are we using the pulpit for? The third thing I would offer is that we are gatekeepers. Let’s be careful about what we allow to get past those gates. There’s a lot of great and edifying Christian music available. There’s also a lot that while sounding good, doesn’t really say much. If we can concentrate on featuring more of the first kind, and less of the second – I believe God would be pleased.
Hope Media Group recently announced a merger with WAY Media.
Jon says, “I don’t know that anyone in our industry has ever tried something like this before, so I can’t wait to see how God chooses to use it for His glory. Here in Houston, we’re busily talking to donors about helping us build a new Ministry and Media Center that will function as Hope Media Group’s Houston headquarters. It will feature lots of audio and video studios along with creative workspaces for our ever-growing staff. The Capital Campaign to pay for that space along with operational costs for Hope on Demand, NGEN, Vida Unida, establishing an endowment and “future-proofing” some of our technology amounts to $33 million. It’s the largest project I’ve ever been involved in, and one I’m thrilled to be a part of. Helping to plot the course for what Christian “radio” looks like in the future is exciting. I’m humbled to be a part.”
Who is a CCM Radio Pioneer that should be featured in a future article? Reach out to me at email@example.com.
Faron Dice has been in Christian Music Radio for almost 40 years. He is the former Chief Content Officer for WayFM, and currently loves working with radio stations and artists as National Director of Radio and Artist Engagement for OneChild.