3 Components of Highly Successful Christian Radio Stations

After many years of researching Contemporary Christian music stations, I’m often asked what our findings have revealed about the key to success for stations in the format. I’ve thought long and hard about those precious nuggets that we have uncovered in research that make this format tick. What is the secret sauce? Is it understanding that the audience shares one common quality—that faith is central to their lives? Is it an appreciation for the music, its authenticity and unique styles? Or is it recognizing that talent must convey commitment, wholesomeness and yet entertain in a contemporary fashion all at the same time?

Sure, all of those elements help define a successful Christian music station. But the key to a successful Christian music radio station that stands out to me is this: despite its unique attributes and appeal, the same best practices that apply to secular stations also apply to the CCM format. More than anything, concentrating on the basics of great radio entertainment—consistent with the values of this audience—will drive the success of your radio station. There are no shortcuts or tricks of the trade that we have learned about this format that will get you there any faster.

So yes, the best practices of Contemporary Christian radio stations are generally the same as they are for other formats. Here are three components shared by successful stations:

1. Successful, consistently high-performing stations hold strong images.

Want to be a success? Be famous for something that matters to the audience, and that starts with becoming synonymous with the Christian music position in your market. Why? Because when your potential audience has the time to listen to the radio, they don’t give it a whole lot of thought. They get in the car, reach for that button. Hmm, I’d like to hear some Christian music. If they don’t think of your station in that split second, it’s not likely you’ll get a lot of listening. It works the same way for every format–Country, Rock, News, you name it. If your station isn’t well-branded and its position isn’t easily communicated, they aren’t going to think of you and therefore won’t listen. You need to get a very simple, valuable word into their heads that they associate with your station.

2. Winning radio stations find a music recipe that is appealing to a large number of listeners.

Find something valuable, and let people know they can find it on your frequency. How do we figure that out? We start by “segmenting” the music, breaking it down into discrete styles like Contemporary Christian AC or Contemporary Worship. Then we test the appeal of each style and determine which station has the image for it. Next, we model various combinations of music styles to find the most appealing, available music recipe for your station. It’s the same technique we use in every music format and it’s critical to the success of a Christian Music station. Find an appealing music formula and get famous for it.

3. Successful stations hire and coach relatable, entertaining talent capable of generating provocative content.

Personalities surely must be different in Christian Music Radio, right? Well, in our experience with superstar talent, the touchstone of success is exactly the same as in other formats. To succeed, a personality or show must make a human connection with the audience. They must master the art of entertaining content. Find out what matters to the audience. Put a unique twist on that content that matches your persona. Present it in the fashion of all great entertainment: provocative introduction, building to a climax, quick resolution. This sort of entertainment doesn’t just happen, you don’t just turn on the mic and see what comes out. It requires preparation, planning, discipline and self-editing—just like in any other format.

Through our research, have we learned that Christian Music Radio is different from other formats? Perhaps in the words the audience uses to describe the format and talent, and the attributes and content they value, certainly. But in the keys to success, the same principles apply: Build strong brands, find a valuable music recipe that you can own and develop talent that master the art of entertainment.

Sam Milkman
Executive Vice President/Senior Consultant, Coleman Insights

Sam joined the team in September 2009 when Coleman Insights acquired his firm, mediaEKG®, for which he served as President since 2006. Prior to starting mediaEKG, Sam held broadcast programming and operational positions, including Operations Director of WXRK-FM/New York, Research Director of WHTZ-FM/New York and Program Director of WMMR-FM/Philadelphia. 

He began his career as a litigation, intellectual property and entertainment attorney at the Philadelphia law firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll. Sam holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania and a Juris Doctorate from Cornell Law School.

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