06 Dec May I Have Your Attention, Please?
Dear Christian Radio,
We have a problem.
We have big goals and an even bigger vision. However, we aren’t having the desired effect on the culture-at-large. “The test of the vitality of a religion is to be seen in its effect upon culture,” Elton Trueblood writes in his book The Company of the Committed.
To increase our cultural imprint, we need to be more like James Corden:
Obsessed with relevance.
In his book, May I Have Your Attention, Please? Corden writes,
I should never have been this guy. I wasn’t the cool, clever, good-looking boy at school. I was never supposed to be the person who writes books or TV shows, hosts award ceremonies or appears in films. Things like that shouldn’t happen to someone like me (HUMBLE). But I always dreamt of it, hoped for it, longed for it … (HUNGRY).
And from a 2015 Wall Street Journal profile,
Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” has become one of the most successful YouTube franchises of all time … For CBS, the segment has exceeded all expectations. That type of impact is what late-night television is increasingly about—building what Corden calls RELEVANCE. This means obsessing less over Nielsen ratings (which, in an era of social media and streaming TV, mean less and less) and more about making a cultural footprint.
The vision of Christian Music Broadcasters, our primary trade association, is to increase CCM radio’s cumulative listenership from 32 Million to 50 Million. To sell that vision, CMB invited researcher Alan Burns to speak at the annual Momentum conference in 2018. Burns proclaimed that reaching 50 Million is doable and “the #1 thing CCM stations can do is to be ‘more fun’ to listen to.”
So, how can we create the most fun, engaging content for listeners and drive results for our ministry partners? I’d argue we get humble, hungry, and obsessed with relevance.
In 1993, Bob Briner released the book Roaring Lambs, which rocked my world. I believe these words are even more valid today:
“We don’t have to be content with a position on the sidelines when our Lord Himself has assigned us a starting role on the winning team … We feel we are making a difference because we are so important to ourselves. We have created a phenomenal subculture with our own media … so that we have the sense that we’re doing a lot. But what we’ve really done is create a ghetto that is easily dismissed by the rest of society.”
Let’s stay out of the Christian ghetto, folks, and build some world-class radio stations. Radio stations get the ratings they deserve. We need to give our audience more engaging, relatable, and shareable content. We will improve engagement with listeners when we stop blaming competition, technology, or the nebulous “lack of resources” and, instead, focus on super-serving our listeners.
Essentially, every sound from the speakers ought to create value for our listeners. Every promotion. Every liner. Every song should go through the filter of “how does this benefit THEM?” What are we doing to create a genuine connection with our listeners?
We can’t afford to do a promotion just because we have something to promote. Everything we do must create a positive emotional experience for our listeners. Remember when Oprah’s Favorite Things started on “The Oprah Winfrey Show?” Her motivation wasn’t forced by giveaways. It resonated because it was thoughtful, creative, and uber-compelling to watch even when the television audience didn’t win a thing.
We must look past what the receptionist, an individual donor, or even GM wants and let our listeners solely dictate the songs we play. Let’s be humble enough to look at the data to see what our listeners are streaming and downloading even if we don’t agree with it.
And if we are truly humble, we won’t fear failure. Consider this thought experiment: If you were starting a Christian radio station and you had to reach 10x the number of listeners you have today, what would you do differently?
Do you want to reach more people? Truly? Well, there’s a cost to make those connections. We must be more like Corden and create content that is so compelling it’s worth 100 Million views. It means investing in talent and cutting overhead. It means excellence first, always. It means having the courage to gracefully let team members go who aren’t the right fit. There is no margin for lukewarm attitudes on the team. P.T. Barnum was right, “comfort is the enemy of progress.”
OBSESSED WITH RELEVANCE
Relevance is having the quality or state of being closely connected. To form this intimate bond with our listeners, we need a new mindset. Audio is our medium, and we had better sound incredible all the time. Technology allows stations with limited budgets access to top talent via syndication or voice-tracking. But it’s also a liability to just set it and forget it. The edge radio stations have over the streaming providers is actual humans run radio. Don’t concede this. Try disabling the automation for a week. Have the live shows run the show in Live mode. When you don’t have a live show in the studio, have an audio engineer (i.e., board-op with a good ear) preview every track and run the board. Imagine the difference if everything that came out of the speakers was optimized to maximize listening pleasure.
If we want to be relevant, quality matters more than ever. Radio stations are brands. Brands are defined by how they make people feel. QUALITY IS THE NEW KING.
I too believe Christian radio can reach and even surpass 50 million listeners if we will humble ourselves, get hungry, and obsess over relevance. Thank you for your attention.
Founder, Goldsmith Media Group
Paul Goldsmith – GUEST BLOGGER
Paul Goldsmith is the founder of Goldsmith Media Group, a company he formed with Lisa Williams to coach and consult Christian radio stations. He is also co-founder and Chief Business Officer at Vidare Creative, a full service marketing and fundraising agency for non-profits.
James Corden, May I Have Your Attention, Please? (Random House, UK, 2012).
Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed, (HarperCollins, 1979).
Bob Briner, Roaring Lambs, (Zondervan, 2000).