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Chris Lemke Interview

Chris Lemke
Executive Director
WCSG
Grand Rapids

Career Capsule: Chris began his full-time radio career 35 years ago at WCSG/Grand Rapids, serving as on-air host, PD, GM and now Executive Director. For better than 20 years, he’s mentored other persons/stations in programming, fundraising and management. In 2011-13, he also served as Christian Music Broadcasters’ interim executive director and continues to serve on CMB’s Board of Directors. Chris loves long walks, cooking and gardening. He and his bride of 32 years, Susan, live in Grand Rapids. They have six children and one grandchild.  

 

Chris, tell us what’s new at WCSG… latest news, changes, & what’s new with YOU… etc?   

The biggest news at WCSG is a new facility!!  The dream of a new building has been on and off of whiteboards and in and out of committees for over 20 years. In 2017, we received the green light from Cornerstone University to raise funds after the Board approved our plans. It took two years to raise the $4.6m. Construction began last fall and the staff moves the week of June 29-July 2. As for what’s new with me? I got a haircut, I’ve started work (again) on my master’s degree and I’m trying to lose this COVID-19 pounds I put on since February.

 

Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?

It’s not flashy or glamorous, but it’s us being true to who our listeners know us to be. It’s us staying in touch with our listeners; listening to them, sharing the mic with them, allowing them to speak and be “the star” of our shows. It’s helping them connect the dots to who Jesus is and the difference we all make when we work together. We’re experiencing an abundance of favor from our listeners both in market share and revenue, but it pales in comparison to the favor of God’s work we’re seeing in our listeners’ lives as they share their stories with others.

 

What is the best managerial advice you’ve been given? The worst?

Wow.  Best manager advice?  There’s been a lot of great advice, because I don’t get it the first (or second time).  One piece of positive advice I really try to model is under promise and over deliver. That’s tough, because I like us to help people and I can sometimes over-extend both myself and our organization. There’s great wisdom to be found in a team – not just in leading one, but ensuring you’re a part of one and not so far ahead that you lose touch with everyone else.

 

Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?

I think there’s advantages and disadvantages.  Grand Rapids has no less than five Christian stations, three of which are Christian AC. Of the five and for various reasons, only one consistently has more than a 2.5 market share. As a station, we have no disrespect for the other stations, and we could work together on community projects, but we’re also mindful of building brand loyalty, which is hard enough in a tight market like Grand Rapids. But there’s another reason we don’t consider other Christian stations our competition, and that’s because other Christian stations are not our biggest or major competitiors, and neither are mainstream stations or podcasts or other media. We believe our biggest competition is who we were yesterday. Skill and resources are important, but if there’s no desire or passion to learn and do better than yesterday, then please stop and find something else to do.

 

Regarding podcasts, what is your opinion on doing them, is it necessary to do one, etc?

I think, just like on-air content, podcasts need to be unique content if it’s going to succeed. I’ll also add, unique content alone does not a good podcast make. It’s got to connect with the listener, and I think the more listener involvement in a podcast via shout outs or questions answered, the better (just like we want on-air). I have three podcasts I listen to regularly; they’re short (15 minutes or less), they’re always fresh with original content, and they’re energized with content that interests me. If a station can do that, fantastic! I’ll also add, it requires a ton of marketing, and even then that may not be enough to acquire a significant number of listeners. As a parenthetical thought, watch the relationship and grow that’s happening with users of YouTube and users of TikTok and see if you don’t grasp the wisdom that “less is more”.

 

In what area do you believe Christian Radio needs to improve most?

I think we really need to be more intentional and real with people. I think there’s a bit of a fear factor that if we’re real and intentional, we’ll offend listeners, or we’ll be called in by management or the owners. Within our stations we need to ensure there’s solidarity on vision and purpose with everyone from owner to the overnight voice. We’re going to incur offense – the Gospel is that, but it’s also the most attractive message ever told. doesn’t do that. As Christians, we’ve abdicated our role as disciplers to the government and academia and allowed these institutions to politicize racism and homosexuality and abortion. That’s why at WCSG we’re going through a re-thinking and repositioning of how we can continue our intentionality about communicating Christ when Christ intersects with racism, homosexuality, abortion, etc. We can say this kind of “education” is not the role of Christian music radio. That saddens me. God forbid we just make people feel good in the name of encouragement as our listeners pass by on the other side of the person in need, or worse, as we entertain our listeners on their way to hell.

 

Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?

Ha!  See my previous answer.

 

Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?

I love this question and I hate it, because there really are too many to mention, and I’m certainly going to miss some dear people. In the early days, people you’ve never heard of like my early mentors of Tim Detwiler and Tom VanderMolen, and then of course Lee Geysbeek was there from the start with the other two. Over the years, Wayne Pederson, Jon Hull, Brian Wright are people who challenged me to make an even bigger difference. And in the past 10-20 years, enter dear friends like Joe Paulo, Michelle Younkman, Jason Sharp, (and yes, Mike Couchman – before he was cool) and way too many more to mention. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my biggest radio heroes, that is, the members of our WCSG team. I’ve been full-time at WCSG since 1984. Dozens of our team members have come and gone, most leaving with great memories and some not so much. But all have had a heart for our listeners, and all have contributed to where WCSG is today. By God’s grace and enabling, they have served WCSG and the West Michigan community well, and they are my heroes. I’ll close by saying this: it is so true you do not become a great leader alone. If you know me at all, then know you have been a part of helping me fulfill any goodness God has accomplished through me, and for that I thank you. Here’s to even better days still ahead.

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