THE POWER OF ONE. Is “The Sky Falling” or Is “The Sky The Limit” following KLOVE’s Takeover of the Airwaves?
This is a new dawn.
As Christian broadcasters, we have the opportunity to go places we’ve never gone before while, at the same time, we’re faced with unique challenges–new challenges–monumental challenges.
While the radio industry has faced head on a slew of mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies, and uncertainties, Christian radio has faced its own set of challenges.
Donors are aging. Attitudes toward religion are changing. Culture is shifting.
Technology is unraveling the old model of media consumption. We no longer live in a linear world. We now live in a non-linear environment where we consume media on our terms. Gatekeepers are no longer in control.
I was asked to write an article on the impact KLOVE may have on the marketplace as that ministry takes control of some of the most prestigious broadcast signals in America. So, over the past few days, I’ve been pondering what approach to take. Was this article to be “the sky’s falling” or “the sky’s the limit”?
For the record, this isn’t my first rodeo. I spent years in the TV distribution business, overseeing a vast array of iconic intellectual property that generated billions of dollars in ad sales and license fees. When God called me to invest my time and resources in Christian radio 8 years ago, it was unexpected.
I had a pretty storied career prior to getting into Christian radio. I produced over 3,500 hours of TV, won 9 Emmys, and dozens of other awards from Addy’s to Telly’s. I launched and distributed the three highest-rated syndicated series in the history of Television, including WHEEL OF FORTUNE, JEOPARDY!, and OPRAH while head of global marketing and creative affairs for KingWorld. I even founded a TV direct response company that won INFOMERCIAL OF THE YEAR, PROGRAM LENGTH INFOMERCIAL OF THE YEAR, and generated some 150 million dollars in sales with a full-time staff of just 6 people.
In 2010, I chose to come to Nashville. Why Nashville, you ask? Because over the years, I had paid out millions of dollars of royalties to record companies, musicians, writers and publishers as a result of my direct response sales. Bottom line, in Nashville you make a lot of friends when your signature is on the royalty checks.
Once I arrived in Music City, I had the opportunity to have dinner with two friends, Joe Battaglia and John Frost. These gentlemen had been friends for several years. My old buddy, Bud Paxson, the man behind HSN and PaxTV had introduced the three of us years earlier. At the time, John and Joe had a small radio show on the air that had its limitations. So, we teamed up and launched what would eventually become the #1-rated Christian music show in America, KeepTheFaith. The show is now carried in various forms on some 300 signals in the U.S. with nearly 8 million cumulative monthly listeners. We also produce multiple versions for both commercial and non-commercial stations. In addition, we deliver a version that allows the local station to white-label the show with their own talent and music play list. This version, called HyperDriveLocal.com (http://hyperdrivelocal.com) can also be white-labeled, giving stations access to dozens of stories and phone calls on a daily basis while maintaining control over their own talent and music playlist. KeepTheFaith is designed to enhance, not replace, the local station experience.
Years earlier, I had created a TV infomercial where I had sold a collection of Christian music without calling it “Christian” music. I did this so that I could get the infomercial cleared on TV stations and networks that did not air religious programming. These networks included the likes of Lifetime, Bravo, Discovery Networks, and other mainstream channels. I called the collection, KEEP THE FAITH: THE QUEST FOR LOVE HAPPINESS and PURPOSE. I knew that this title would be acceptable to both the mainstream and the core Christian audience. I only bring this up for some back history, so that you better understand where I’m going with this.
Let me weigh in on KLOVE:
I so admire the management of KLOVE and their many accomplishments. KLOVE has become the Wal*Mart of the CCM world. One-stop shop. The ministry’s reach is massive–from coast to coast. Unparalleled. The company no longer reaches millions; KLOVE reaches MASSES. Now the juggernaut is positioned to go from being Wal*Mart to Amazon. With this massive distribution comes many potential consequences.
KLOVE is positioned to have a monopoly on artist cooperation, label promotions, concert deals, movie marketing dollars (yes, they still accept those), national consumer press, and everything else a powerhouse can command. Most of all, they’ll have a robust pipeline to donors.
KLOVE has the ability to operate hundreds of phantom local radio stations with little or no operating expense on the local level. Meanwhile, competing local Christian stations have bills to pay and mouths to feed. If KLOVE takes away just 20 percent of a local station’s donor base, that station will have no choice but to cut costs. This will, undoubtedly, result in the loss of jobs. Anyone not generating revenue at a station will be vulnerable.
I understand that we live in America. KLOVE’s takeover of the Christian airwaves is “the American Way,” not to mention that they stepped up and purchased stations that were for sale in the first place. It takes both a SELLER and a BUYER to make a transaction happen. Got it. However, what is the cost to local, boots-on-the-ground radio ministries?
The late Bill Hearn, my dear friend who headed up Capitol Christian Music Group, taught me “THE POWER OF ONE.”
When I came to town to license the KeepTheFaith music collection, I told Bill that I would put up the 250k to make the infomercial. I’d license his masters and pay the publishing. Bill was all in with one exception, “David, I love this plan. You’re going to give CCM exposure to an all-new audience not reached by Christian radio. However, this is only going to be successful if ALL of the labels are in, not just Sparrow.” So, Bill did something I’ll never forget, he picked up the phone and got me eleven appointments across town. I’m talking Benson, Word, StarSong, you name it. There were a lot of players back in those days. Bill got them all to take a meeting with me. Ironically, because Bill was “in,” they all signed up!
We launched the KeepTheFaith collection in February of 1996. The first version featured Carman and Yolanda Adams as hosts. The second version was fronted by Bob Carlisle. All in all, because of Bill looking at this as an “industry opportunity” versus a “Sparrow opportunity.”
- KeepTheFaith became one of the most successful compilations in the history of CCM, garnering both Gold and Platinum status by the RIAA;
- KeepTheFaith generated over 25 million dollars in sales;
- KeepTheFaith aired over 16,000 times on national cable and local broadcast outlets, including Lifetime, Bravo, Discovery Networks, etc. Nearly 12 million dollars was spent promoting the industry’s CCM artists and songs to a mainstream audience;
- KeepTheFaith created a new breed of CCM consumers. 92% of the compilation’s buyers had never purchased this genre of music before. The #1 market for sales was not even in the Bible belt. We’re talking San Francisco;
- KeepTheFaith helped to nearly double the overall sales of Christian music in the 90s;
- So that you can see how we positioned Christian music for the mainstream, I’ve put the original KeepTheFaith music collection infomercial up on YouTube on a private link: https://youtu.be/jrMEvJs8djs
So, what does this have to do with KLOVE? Simple. THE POWER OF ONE.
It’s time that we get out of individual silos and work together.
If our mission statements are basically the same, why can’t we just come together to accomplish something absolutely phenomenal?
Here are some Thoughts:
- My recommendation to KLOVE is that EMF share just 10% of revenues generated in a local market with other non-commercial CCM stations that can only survive through local donor support. The survival of “boots-on-the-ground” local market radio ministry is vital to the future of Christian radio. KLOVE is a non-profit. The ministry does not have the same kind of local overhead that individual Christian stations are strapped with. KLOVE cannot possibly minister to the needs of the local community, but this is vital. Only local broadcasters are equipped to truly put boots on the ground. If there is no other local CCM station in a specific market, I recommend that KLOVEshare proceeds with other applicable ministries;
- My recommendation to KLOVE is that EMF reach out to each local CCM station, both commercial and non-commercial, to jointly sponsor artist concerts. Why compete and drive up costs? Work together! Split costs!;
- My recommendation to KLOVE is that EMF partners with Salem and other broadcasters to create a monumental industry-wide initiative utilizing “the Power of One” approach. Look at the monumental success that https://standuptocancer.org/ has had. One Big Idea, multiple networks coming together for one common cause–TO BEAT CANCER. By the way, look at how successful the WOW collection was for years and years because everyone in the industry worked together for the greater good;
- Create a super ad and underwriter network on all CCM stations, bringing a massive collective reach to advertisers and underwriters that are only interested in reaching the masses. Yes, I know. Our universe is split between commercial and non-commercial stations. So, we must create messages that are FCC-friendly. No problem. We’ve done this with KeepTheFaith Radio. It can be done!;
- Work together to create a major national personality that can live on all stations–collectively. We simply don’t have our version of Ryan Seacrest or Bobby Bones. As a result, we have nobody that will ever be recruited to appear on Dancing With The Stars or garner the cover of People magazine. We can make this happen by creating highly targeted program franchises, beginning with select weekend programming. We just need to start with one program that makes its way on every CCM station in the nation. Remember, THE POWER OF ONE!
We can do this! It just takes us all to come together as ONE. We need to start by having an honest conversation. How are we going to stay relevant for our listeners in this changing world? How are we going to get out of our comfort zones and take Christian radio to a place it has never been before? This can be a WIN-WIN-WIN for KLOVE, the local stations and listeners.
So, I truly believe that THE SKY’S THE LIMIT if we all just realize, WE TRULY ARE ON THE SAME MISSION. It’s time to let go of our territorial past. It’s time to get out of our own silos to come play with our neighbors. It’s time to bring our community together for the greater good.
Now, more than ever, we need THE POWER OF ONE.
David Sams is CEO of KeepTheFaith, America’s top-rated syndicated Christian music program with nearly 8 million monthly listeners. You can contact him at [email protected].