CCM Stations Could Play More Variety

There are a lot of great-sounding CCM stations in the U.S. Stations are focused, tight, and deliver a valuable mood function for the audience.

But there’s a problem. Programmers are quick to point out that their audience is different than any other format. So why do so many programmers strictly apply programming principles from other formats? Especially when it comes to library depth.

The Audience IS Different

It’s true. CCM listeners are different than other formats. They are loyal, passionate, and invested in their favorite stations. It’s uniquely personal.

It’s fairly common to find listeners that listen exclusively to their favorite CCM station. That’s vastly different from secular audiences.

Yet CCM programmers tend program their music library like a CHR programmer that targets audiences with short attention spans and little station loyalty.

CCM libraries are typically tight. Too tight.

Now I’m all for playing the hits. And it’s true that there aren’t that many mass-appeal monster hits.

I also understand that the history of the format’s popularity doesn’t span as many eras as in the pop universe. That’s a factor.

But spinning relatively small collection of songs by a handful of artists is a great recipe to win a direct programming battle against another station in the format.

This audience is different. They listen because of what the station stands for, and the spiritual lift they receive from it. They tune in to be inspired. Not to get a quick fix of hits.

CCM stations have an opportunity to broaden appeal and become even more special to their core.

Here’s how:

Consider adding more variety to the library. But be smart about it. Here are some ideas:


  • Platoon less familiar and weaker-testing songs. Choosing to platoon songs can solve scheduling challenges.


  • Add Era Depth. This is an effective tactic, especially for AC-leaning stations. There are a lot of great-sounding, rarely-heard songs from the 80s and 90s. These songs won’t test well because they’re unfamiliar. But they fit the mood, purpose and sound of today’s CCM AC stations. Use these songs as a programming tool. These songs must be curated properly and positioned between familiar, mass-appeal hits. But fans aren’t going to tune out because CCM listeners aren’t button-pushers – at least not as much as mainstream listeners.


  • Special Weekend Programming. Consistency is good. But it can also become routine. And routine is boring. Special music features are highly popular, and promotable. How about experimenting with a Flashback weekends, playing all (or mostly) songs from the 80s and 90s? Or a countdown of the Greatest CCM hits of all time over Labor Day weekend? Or take a page from Classic Rock with two-fers, playing back-to-back songs from familiar hit artists?


  • Daily Special Features. Repackage your library with special music features during the weekday, too. And go beyond the typical “all request lunch hours”. Themed mini-features are popular. An afternoon show could offer a themed 5-7 song feature at 5pm. Let listeners build a playlist around a daily topic. For example, Songs For a Road Trip or I’m Forgiven!


  • Educate the Audience. Another popular feature is Song Of The Day. Choose a song and tell a story around the song. The story could be about the artist, the song, the message or a story from life the song speaks into. This is an opportunity to introduce a song in an entertaining way.


  • Introduce New Music. Every PD I talk to complains about how long it takes for new songs to be test well. Why? Three reasons: 1) We don’t play them enough to become familiar. 2) Listeners don’t hear the songs other places. 3) We don’t promote new music well. Embrace and celebrate new songs. Build them up and make them familiar.

This is not a blanket recommendation to dramatically change your station. Rather, it’s a plea to creatively fine-tune programming to be more interesting and add surprises to the mix.

Listeners love your brand. Your challenge is to find ways to surprise and inspire them more often!


Tracy Johnson
Founder/ CEO, Tracy Johnson Media Group

Recognized as one of America’s most innovative radio programmers and managers, Tracy Johnson’s broad background in traditional and digital media has influenced hundreds of radio stations, programmers and personalities.

Johnson’s radio programming success began in Lincoln, Nebraska and included stops in Kansas City and Jacksonville, Florida, eventually leading him to San Diego in 1992. There, Johnson led KKLQ (Q106) from 19th to 1st.  The “worst to first” achievement was soon duplicated when he directed KFMB-FM from 22nd to 1st. 

Applying his strategic expertise and creative promotion and marketing tactics, the stations earned dozens of industry achievement awards, including named Radio Ink Magazine’s “Best Programmer in America”. In 1998, Johnson became Market Manager of KFMB AM and FM.

In all, Johnson has programmed and consulted over 200 radio stations in more than 15 countries.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to apply this experience and knowledge full time, Johnson became EVP of Audience Engagement for Triton Media, advising over 700 media companies (radio, television, newspaper) to create synergy in their traditional and digital offerings to create new sources of audience engagement and revenue.

As founder and CEO of the Tracy Johnson Media Group, Johnson offers programming, marketing, promotion, talent coaching and digital consulting services. 

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