Christian Music Broadcasters’ Pioneers: Dan Baughman

Welcome to a series of stories about some of the pioneers of Contemporary Christian Music Radio. Previous articles/stories can be found here. Some of these pioneers started radio stations with just a few dollars to their name. Many had very little radio experience. But each had vision, a calling, and a deep passion for using Contemporary Christian Music and radio to impact their community. There was a time when many of them were considered the rebels in Christian media. Today, they are considered the pioneers.

Dan Baughman – Visionary, Change Agent, Dedicated, Team Builder

Dan Baughman didn’t take the traditional route to Christian broadcasting. He didn’t take a traditional path to becoming a Christian either. He thought he was living a pretty good life. He didn’t have a lot of time for God, but always tried to be a good person. As an adult, he and his wife decided to enroll their son into Christian school, but it wasn’t because of strong spiritual beliefs. He says he didn’t even realize at the time that by placing him in a Christian school, he would be surrounded by Christians. But it happened. The influence of Christianity became more and more a part of his life. A few years later, as Dan was looking at some of the drawings of the children at the school, he noticed that each child in the school wrote what they were thankful for. He was shocked that his son, Brad, had wrote that he was thankful his dad was a Christian. In Dan’s words, “God set the whole thing up… putting me in an environment full of Christians. I began to be convicted that I need to give my life to Christ fully. I came to Christ, November 29, 1989.” 

Soon after, he turned his radio dial to the local Christian radio station for the first time, and his first thought was, “That is just bad radio!” The station he was listening to was doing a fund raiser and encouraging people to get involved, so Dan went to the radio station to see if he could help. He soon was answering phones during the fundraiser and eventually was helping with the lawn care at the station. After that, occasionally doing some on air shifts and filling in during staff vacations. Later, he was asked to consider running for the Board and he was voted in as the President of the station board in 1996. In 2001, he accepted the position of President/CEO for CVCO “Christian Voice of Central Ohio” (WCVO/Gahanna-Columbus and WCVZ, Zanesville).

Making changes

The stations were losing a combined $250,000.00 a year and WCVO’s CUME was around 33,000. Dan knew changes needed to happen. He changed the name to “River Ministries” and WCVO soon became known as “The River.” He invested into Arbitron (now known as Nielsen) ratings because he wanted to learn as much as he could about the audience and the potential audience. (He believes strongly in the value of the ratings matrix. Even today, he wonders why many stations do not see ratings as a priority in their budgeting.) He was determined to put the listener first and believed that was going to be the secret to success. That ratings information led to making some radical changes in the format of the stations and it wasn’t long until the changes led to increased revenue and Cume growth. Dan believes to this day that God brought him to these stations “to trade in wheel chairs and walkers for car seats and strollers.” The stations eliminated the preaching and teaching format and changed to CCM, and ripped the band aide off quickly instead of slowly.

It wasn’t a smooth transition. There were board members and some listeners that opposed the moves that were being made. Some felt that CCM music is not real ministry and called it “new age music, and watered-down Christianity.” The board voted multiple times to fire Dan. There were countless complaint letters, and phone calls. Some callers said, “Yes please, let me speak to Satan.” During this time, God audibly told Dan to keep moving forward, and to “be still and know that I am God”.  He was often ready to “go back to Egypt” because things were so difficult. But God surrounded him with the right supportive people.

Jim Foster and Dan On Air Fundraising

More changes

Both radio stations they operated were operating as a non-com stations, even though they were on the commercial frequency. Dan worked to switch the stations to fully commercial status. And that’s not all… WCVO began as a 3kw operation and it was soon upgraded to 6kw for much better reach.

The Team at The River 2007

Later, WCVZ was sold, but 3 additional stations were acquired.  Today, River Radio Ministries has signals in Columbus, Chillicothe, Newark, and Lancaster OH, and they continued to be  committed  to serving their communities. Dan believes that The River was transformed from an embarrassment to the community to a national leader with a desire to help raise the bar in all of CCM broadcasting.

Dan with wife (Vicky) at a WCVZ event

Dan pushed for excellence in everything. There were logo changes, slogans, core values, and even a new mission statement. Alan Mason and Tim Miles were a big part of those. (The original mission statement was really long and the team wrestled it down to “Encouraging Connections, Sharing Jesus.”) The team began running everything through that easily memorized statement. They started TEAM FUN who planned monthly team events: ice cream walk, Starbucks run, bowling, serving, chili cookouts, card games, movie days, came Friday. Each of these things helped The River literally change from a sterile, white corporate office building to a vibrant, colorful culture where the team was built on trust.

One more important thing to note here…The River defied another industry trend, by investing in marketing. During the initial format flip, there was a significant marketing blitz. That shouldn’t be overlooked. Many stations still hesitate at spending marketing dollars. To this day, The River understands the value of marketing. Early in the transition to the River, Dan told a secular concert promoter that he hoped to sound as good as the local big AC station in town and wanted advertisers like Kroger on the air. The promoter laughed and told Dan that would NEVER happen. Since that time, The River has consistently beaten that station in the ratings in Morning Drive, and had Kroger (and every other grocery chain at different times) on the air for over 15 years, showing that when you strive for excellence, you can achieve the seemingly impossible.

Team members along the way included…Tate Luck, Mike Russell, and Consultant John Frost,  who were key to the launch of The River. They spent countless hours planning each launch going from a preaching/teaching format to an all CCM format. Another name that was instrumental was Scott Thomson from an accounting and process standpoint, Matt Levin in Engineering, automation, audio processing and Computers, information systems, and networking, and Todd Stach later helped to rally the teams and move forward in programing and music. There was also a  big loss along the way. Sales Manager, Chris Heigel, lost his life to cancer while working at the River. That was a tough season for the team.

When asked about some of his fondest memories, Dan remembers concerts with PFR, Big Daddy Weave, and a concert with Amy Grant. What he remembers even more than the Amy concert was her kindness.  He describes Amy as “the kindest and most real person that he ever met.”

PFR appeared at a 2003 concert in the park

Dan recently retired and is turning 70 this year. He plans to spend more time with his wife and family, do some traveling, and just enjoy more free time with wife Vicky, and dog, Bailey. 

 

Note from Dan

Dear CCM Radio,

As we did an analysis back in the early years of The River, we quickly learned the reason that  income and Cume were declining at our radio station(s). We were following people to the grave instead of attracting a younger audience. Change is hard! I have boxes of letters upset people wrote when we changed the format and targeted a younger demographics. But the Bible mentions fear 365 times, so never let fear be the reason to not make changes. Sure, we might lose some listeners and donors, but at the same time, we will gain donors and start appealing to more younger listeners. Also, market the new format so everyone knows we’re here. Become a welcome mat for the listeners. I quickly realized we’re here to manage the business and God will manage the ministry. 

Let your light shine through marketing! Jim Leightenheimer, board member and professor at Cedarville University said: “We increased effectiveness marked by unifying our mission [resulting in] a committed, engaged, loyal team, a growing and loyal audience recognized by the industry and peers for excellence.  The River has the best team!

God called me to this position, and I honestly resisted it. I asked God to open doors then quickly cursed him when he did. God revealed to me that He equips the called and not necessarily calls the equipped. When I read in the Bible how God used a donkey, I then knew I was good. Again, the station’s reputation wasn’t good, but He protected me every step of the way. 

Reflecting back, changes could have happened quicker, and an expansion program put in place for bigger signals. We had no computers and had to develop file sharing and build servers and software to help us understand and manage our business. An immediate goal was to sound as good as other stations in our market so we started to invest in our power plant and processing. Today stations in our market want to sound as good as us. Always strive for excellence because of who we serve.

The last but most important thing:  I read a book called Good to Great, and in it the author, Jim Collins, writes that our greatest asset isn’t simply people, “it’s good people.” Of all the assets we have we need to make sure that our people feel appreciated and valued. Tap into their knowledge and ideas. TAKE GOOD CARE OF THEM. Make it hard for them to leave because they feel so appreciated.

Part of the current River Team in 2022

 

Who is a CCM Radio Pioneer that should be featured in a future article? Reach out to me at fdice@onechild.org.

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.

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