That may be the most cryptic/click bait blog title of all time. I promise however that it will make sense if you keep reading. Can you feel the suspense?!! Me too. So let’s dive in.
Mark Ramsey once said at a CMB Gold Member event that our format does more good for people than any other format, and frankly it’s not even close. I couldn’t agree more. The music we play doesn’t merely entertain (although it SHOULD be entertaining). Our music packages lyrics and melodies that connect people to the only real hope and peace. It provides them with the answer to all of the ills in America and around the world. Of course, that answer is Jesus.
I’m guessing you agree with Mark, which is why you do what you do. The problem is, if we are being honest, our format has always been about 10 years behind the mainstream. Some people are OK with that. Some might even say it’s that way by design, because if they hated Jesus they will hate us too. Some may refer to the Bible’s categorization of believers as Aliens & Strangers, others may note that the Bible says we are to be in the world but not of it. And it’s possible that people may see some form of one of these things to mean that it doesn’t matter what happens in secular society. We’re Christian radio. We do what we do; they do what they do. To that, I would say: Radio is Pizza for everyone!
I would love to see the puzzled look on your face, because that obviously doesn’t make any sense yet. Stay with me. I’m a man of my word.
Before we get into pizza though let’s talk about song rotations, specifically Currents. One of the big deviations from the mainstream that I’ve seen in Christian Radio is the idea that you can’t play more than one current at a time by the same artist. I’ve talked to a number of people who have said, “We’ll add the new (insert artist) song once we send their current song to recurrent or rest.” This approach is not said or done in mainstream radio. As I look real time at the giant iHeart pop station, WNCI in Columbus, OH, they have not one –not two –but THREE songs by or featuring Lil Naz in their top 11 spun songs (ranging from 51 to 104 spins per week). There’s also two songs by or featuring Justin Bieber in their top 9 spun songs. Now before you say, “well that’s pop radio for you” let’s take a look at Country. At present, I’m seeing multiple songs by or featuring Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean in the top 30. It’s not pop, but it’s also not Christian AC which has seen this as an absolutely never kind of thing.
I think this conversation is emerging in our format at this critical time because we’re seeing an increase in “artist features”. We’re also seeing our artists create more music, and at a much faster pace than in years past. We can talk about how DSP’s are driving this and how radio is different, but to our mission, it matters greatly how relevant we are. And guess what, we need to be more relevant.
Why does it matter how relevant our format is? We bring something to our listeners that no one else does. Now before you think I’m advocating for making our artists more famous, let me be clear: I WANT TO MAKE GOD MORE FAMOUS. That may sound odd. I’ll rephrase: want more people to hear about, know about, and come to truly KNOW God? The more relevant our format is, the more people listen. More people listening = more people impacted. Relevance matters.
So what do song rotations have to do with making God more famous? And what in the WORLD does this have to do with Pizza?? Several years ago I read an article Brant Hansen wrote where he said something to the effect of:
Our music isn’t high art, it’s just what people want. Or better yet it’s what they need.
Brant if you’re reading this…first of all YAY…and secondly sorry if I butchered that. This stuck with me though because I’m a music lover (that’s putting it lightly). I process LIFE through song lyrics and melodies. For most of our format’s tenure I agree that our music has been…simpler, let’s say. That’s not AT ALL a knock on our artists. It’s just a smaller pool, and artists have been silently judged based on how many JPM’s (Jesus per minute) are in a song. There has always been a box, and most songs have sounded like they fit inside that box. As my friend Bone Hampton would say, “It is what it is”.
What I’m seeing now though is a real renaissance. I think we’re seeing the best art we’ve ever seen, and the message isn’t being compromised. In 2021 we saw a 19 year old female (Anne Wilson), an unsigned artist (Andrew Ripp), and a guy with a Hispanic rap (Evan Craft) all go #1. How cool is that?? As we watch all this happen, however, we must be inspired to re-think how we play music. If an artist is featured on another artist’s song while they themselves have a current single, is that a problem? Or better yet, if an artist drops a new single while their own current single is still testing well (GASP!) is that a problem?
These are questions you have to answer. Despite what a consultant might have told you, or what you heard passed down from your first radio boss, YOU are in the position you’re in for a reason. YOU have been called by God for times such as these. Maybe it’s time to shake things up. I did just that 4 years ago, and it was kind of terrifying because, who am I? What if my station president thinks I’m crazy and loses confidence in me? Thankfully that didn’t happen. He trusted me. We shook things up…and it WORKED.
While I’d love to share the specifics on all that (and will at another time), all I’m asking you to do now is keep it really simple: When you were growing up and you bought the cassette or CD of your favorite artist, did you pop it in only to listen to current radio single? Did you then change CDs to another artist only to listen to their current radio single? None of us hears two songs on the radio by our favorite artist and thinks “man that one song really takes away from the other.” You wouldn’t hear the first one and think, “Wow this song kind of makes me like the other song that I heard an hour ago a little less.” Of course you wouldn’t, because nobody listens to music that way.
Our job is to play the BEST music; the right song at the right time. If an artist drops a single while their current single is still testing well, the new song isn’t going to take away from the current song. So why are you waiting to give your audience another song from their favorite artist? At The River, our top testing song at present is For King & Country Relate. It’s a 4.4 average rating. We’re spinning it close to 70 times per week and it still has a 45% Play it MORE. And guess what? We just added For God is With Us, and we’re going to be out of the box on a song they are featured on by Rebecca St. James, Kingdom Come. Why? Because people LOVE For King & Country. For God is With Us already has around 3.5 million streams on Spotify. Our listeners want to hear it. They also still want to hear Relate. So why wouldn’t we play them both? What benefit is there to wait on adding a smash song?
But Todd, what about artist separation? I’d have to change the rules in my music software or the songs won’t lay down well. Yeah, then change the rules. Give your listeners the best songs. If they hear Tauren Wells When We Pray, and then 30 minutes later hear him featured on David Crowder’s All My Hope they aren’t turning the station. Why? Because they love Tauren Wells, and nobody listens to music that way. You don’t do that when you listen to music, and they won’t either.
This isn’t zero sum radio. We shouldn’t look at it like, “if I give you a slice of my pizza that takes a slice away from me”. You know why? Because you can have more than one pizza. In fact every song we play is its own separate pizza. One doesn’t take away from another. That’s what I love about radio. It’s pizza for everyone!
And now I’m hungry.
Chief Creative Officer | Music Director
104.9 The River, WCVO