Career Capsule: I have been a radio professional for 15 years this year. I started by calling sporting events for an internet station, leading me to broadcast games in the United Center, Sears Center, and Solder Field in Chicago. After recommiting my life to Christ I moved into Christian radio. Starting at Shine.FM then to AM 1160 in Chicago. In 2018 I moved to the Green Bay area to become the APD at another station and in 2020 I was called to launch Clear Hits Radio; Wisconsin’s home for Christian Hip Hop. But it’s gotten much bigger than I thought, and we are growing beyond Wisconsin.
Caleb, tell us what’s new at Clear Hits Radio… news, changes, & new with YOU… etc?
God’s been doing some crazy things this summer for Clear Hits Radio! We just got done celebrating our one year celebration with Reach Records Hulvey, Sansone, Thre, J-Phish, and Josiah Lowe. We had about 150 people show up to the show and the venue held only 200 people.
Since July we’ve seen our listenership almost triple, and are in discussion to become an exclusive iheartradio station.
We recently came into partnerships with Life promotions, Trackstarz, the bookkeeper 24/7 and New Release Tuesday allowing us to run creative new content on the weekends.
We have launched a $10,000 fundraiser to cover the cost of operation that Lord willing will allow our team to use our remaining budget on building an emergency fund, and cover travel expenses for events in New York and Nashville.
We are a volunteer-run station right now, so no one is working full time on the station, including myself. I recently got state certified and will be a paraprofessional in the local schools as an Autism specialist, and I am in the early discussion to help them launch a podcasting club. We are a team of tent builders like Paul.
How has your station been affected by the pandemic? What’s been the biggest issue for you, What have you learned about Christian Radio in the pandemic that you didn’t know prior?
Launching a radio station in the midst of a pandemic threw a lot of curve balls for sure. First off, there were no events to introduce ourselves at, and it really forced us to be creative on a very limited marketing budget. It also limited the amount of businesses interested in wanting to partner with us as they were just struggling to make it themselves. We are grateful for the ministries and businesses that have partnered with us during this time, but unfortunately some of the other businesses are really struggling.
I think the biggest issue for us during the pandemic was the lack of live events. With the limited budget we really believed that being at or even hosting live events was the best way to promote who we are and what we are about as a ministry.
And that’s been proven since the two events we’ve been at & hosted in July, our listenership has grown amazingly.
Another issue we have is weekly content. Right now the content is not where I want it to be. We need content creators that can connect with the culture of hip hop in a Christian perspective; and that’s hard for Christian radio personalities because we’ve been wired to reach the soccer moms and her family; so a lot of it is having to scratch all that you’ve been doing for so long..
That’s why I have taken so much time off on air because I have been someone that I wasn’t at all the other stations I was at, and I am relearning the advice I have given content creators for years, and I am relearning to be myself.
I think once our content creators are ready, including myself; we will begin to see more growth as well.
From the programming perspective, what makes Clear Hits a unique format?
Clear Hits is unique because of who we play and who we are trying to reach (pun maybe intended?). I love the CHH stations out there, but they highlight a few labels, a few artists, and target a specific audience with that type of CHH.
We are looking at artists that they may not play all the time, but their music is just as good quality wise as some of the major labels, and are blowing up on the internet without a label.
You look at Battz, A.Ruiz, GOWE, Kamban, Caleb Gordon, & Shepherd are putting out hits that have been some of the top trending songs on tiktok, youtube, award winning Chh albums and have even been featured in blockbuster movies; but because they are not on bigger labels; they may not have the same love on some radio stations. We highlight these artists, and make sure that we celebrate their unique styles.
Not everything has to be a banger, that’s why we run spoken word, jazz hip hop, korean and spanish hits as well. We believe that the Culture of Hip Hop is the key to reaching the next generation of Christ followers of all nationalities, and we want to provide the music that introduces them to Jesus through the culture they love. I think that’s what makes us different. We bring Christ through the culture of hip hop.
What surprising challenges have you faced with launching an on-line station? What would you do differently?
There are so many things I would do differently. I think I would have launched it sooner, but not in my home studio. It makes it so hard to balance my home life from my work life. I’m sure I drive my wife crazy with that.
I would have had someone with business experience on our team to start. I feel like we are behind with growth professionally and financially because I am learning on the go. God’s been faithful, but I think I would have and would still welcome someone with more business experience to help with that side of Clear Hits.
What are your priorities for Clear Hits Radio, the programming, raising revenue, etc?
Our top priority this upcoming year will be content creation. Our team is not just on air, events, social media, etc. We are all content creators. Our on air personalities will also have a presence on tiktok, instagram etc. We are more than just the music we play. Being online only, we need to grow online content on all platforms.
We are increasing our live event schedule in our area now that college students are back. We have a show with Xay Hill headlining on September 18th, and in December we are having 2 shows near the UW-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh campuses where the concert will also be a winter gear drive for the Afghani and Somali refugees coming to our area. Many of them have never needed winter coats before, and now they are being flown here 2-3 months before it’s winter in our area. So we want to help them get as much winter gear as possible.
Lastly, we are also preparing for a crazy summer 2022 Schedule. We have events in 6 different states, and headlining our 2 year anniversary concert in the beginning of August.
What do you see is the future for Clear Hits Radio, and for internet radio in general?
I think the biggest thing I am learning is that you don’t need to be an FM station to reach people and impact them anymore. Sure the numbers are not as big as they could be if we were an FM, and maybe God will open that door for Clear Hits one day to be an FM station. But our numbers are as good if not better than some of the smaller FM stations in our area.
I truly believe God has us where we are at for a reason, and he is showing me that with online station, we can still be in cars with our relationship with Live365 & soon with iHeartRadio; we will be very accessible in cars, or wherever you want to listen throughout the country.
Generally speaking to the industry, what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian Radio overall?
I am probably not going to be popular for this, but I believe God has given me this platform to say this one thing in this Q&A. It’ll most likely be ignored by most of the readers, but for those of you here still know I say this out of love for Christian Radio and the medium God used to save me so long ago.
Christian Radio is nowhere near ready for the next generations. I’m not even talking about teens and college students. I am talking about me.
I am 34, my wife is 36. My friends range from 27-50. They all can’t stand where Christian radio is at the moment, and they don’t understand why I love this media ministry so much. They look at it as content for a specific gender, race, and money group. It doesn’t sound genuine, and many believe it sounds like they are trying to please “Jen” while ignoring the realities surrounding everyone else in the world; because they believe Christian radio only ministers where the money is.
There’s a belief among my age group that Christian Radio doesn’t understand what we care about and they have no desire to connect with them. And honestly, from my experience, I can see why they believe that. I’ve met very few people in Christian radio with a desire to connect with my generation in Christian radio.
I believe there is a level of comfort that what they are doing is working because the money/support is still coming in. Yet, once that generation of faithful donors is gone, I think a lot of radio stations will be in trouble because they are not doing enough to reach our generation.
I also think the inability to understand podcasting and how to use social media platforms like twitch, tiktok, and youtube properly will be something that’ll hurt many stations.
Many stations have the equipment, but fail to use it to its full potential.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
First and foremost, Brian Utter and Carl Fletcher at Shine.FM. Brain and Carl invested so much into me while at Shine, and to this day Brian has made time to share his wisdom with me when we can connect. It’s also fun to have someone share memories of Carl with. Brain is constantly learning and growing, and is leading an amazing team of young broadcasters that will be ready to serve your community when they graduate.
I am so grateful for Mark Elfstrand. He is the greatest interviewer I have ever worked with, and taught me the important lesson of making work fun. Yes it’s our job, and we are called to do it with excellence; but we are working in radio. How many people get to say that!? It’s a blessing to have worked under such a legend.
Garrett Michaels taught me the importance of excellence in all that we do for Jesus. He showed me that a small market radio can have a major market sound with the right team on the same page.
Finally, from afar, I have admired both Chris Chicago and Mike Couchman. These guys have taken the music that I love to airwaves, in cities that I love. Because of them, I believe that many people have found Jesus through their ability to adapt, understand and learn new skills on social media, and on air. They are my heroes in CHH radio.