Career Capsule: I have spent 28 years in radio, starting while a junior in high school running the board on church programs and ballgames at WGNS-AM in Murfreesboro, TN. I also covered city council and county commission meetings. I worked in radio full-time as I pursued my degree in Radio/TV Management at Middle Tennessee State University. My career has probably been a little different than most. There have been a few times that I was close to moving, but in the end, I have spent my entire career in and around the Nashville market. I have done news, Top 40, Oldies, Mainstream AC, Hot AC, Country, Christian Top 40, CCM and Southern Gospel.
I have spent the past 19 years at Salem. Back when I started in 1998, we had one network, known as Morningstar. Today, that is the Today’s Christian Music Network. I did overnights for about a year and a half, before moving to evenings on TCM for just over a year. At this point, the SMN operation in Nashville consisted of three networks. I then moved to afternoons on what was then known as Solid Gospel, now Singing News Radio. During that time, I also was Imaging Director for both TCM and Solid Gospel. I later moved to middays and picked up Production Director duties for our local cluster of stations. Just over three years ago, I became Program Director of Solid Gospel. Since then, we have changed the name of the network to Singing News Radio to do a better job of co-branding with our Southern Gospel magazine, Singing News Magazine. It is the most recognized publication within the Southern Gospel genre. We have affiliate stations across the country and a large audience on our stream and app.
Greg, Tell us what’s new with Singing News Radio… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
What’s new- The newest addition to Singing News Radio would be our night show, Southern Nights with Troy Peach. Troy has a past in Southern Gospel radio, but more importantly to us, he is part of one of the most recognized and loved groups in Southern Gospel, the Perrys. The great thing about Troy was that he was instantly known by all of our audience when he started on the air. He is also able to interact with the audience at concerts. This has been great in the markets where we have an affiliate. In other markets, he is able to push our Singing News Radio app.
Our afternoon show, Southern Gospel Today with Wayne Haun is 2 years old next month. Wayne is an amazing talent. Many will recognize Wayne from the 6 Dove nominations that he just picked up. He just moonlights as an air-talent, but he gives us 110 percent. His knowledge and love for this format just can’t be matched
With the resurgence of hymns, I recently started a Sunday morning hymns program called The Red Back Hymnal. Listeners have responded very positively to this, and we are looking at possibly adding an additional hour to the program.
What are some unique characteristics you’ve discovered about your market?
Unique characteristics of market- I will address this looking at the Southern Gospel genre, since we are national and don’t have a station in our local market. Southern Gospel is a unique format. The audience is still buying CD’s. They are still buying Singing News Magazine. While they are slow to change, the audience has embraced technology. The Singing News Radio stream is routinely one of the most listened to within Salem. The audience skews older and is intensely loyal! This is not a format you can fake your way through. The audience knows the history of the groups, artists and songs. I find it to be a format that is most successful when built around a heavy dose of recurrents and gold, with a sprinkling of classic songs. Our active music library represents more than 40 years. At the same time, the genre is breaking young new talent all the time. There is amazing talent in Southern Gospel these days. The lyrics of the songs address Christianity in a deep and meaningful way. Southern Gospel is really several formats grouped together. You have traditional Southern Gospel, such as the quartets. You have country gospel, bluegrass gospel and what some refer to as a mountain gospel sound.
While CCM is very song based, I would say that Southern Gospel continues to be based around known groups and artists. In fact, certain artists like Brian Free and Assurance and Jason Crabb have continued to push the boundaries of the format, yet the audience has accepted this because of their long time love for these artists. Is there common ground between CCM and Southern Gospel? Absolutely! Triumphant Quartet just took “Chain Breaker” to the top of the Singing News chart in just a few months. I guess that shows a song with the right message can transcend genres and be repackaged to reach an entirely different demo.
What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The best programming advice I have ever been given is, “it’s not about what you like”. I’m not the target demo for this format. I will admit I grew into an appreciation of Southern Gospel music before realizing that I really enjoyed the music. In the 17 years I’ve been on the network and especially since becoming Program Director, I’ve tried to keep that bit of advice in mind. I try to put myself in the mind of my audience when it comes to content I do as a personality and when it comes to the music we play.
As far as the worst programming advice? I can’t say that keep your breaks brief is bad programming advice. It’s actually very sound advice. I always want what I and the other personalities say to matter and be effective. We definitely take a different approach on SNR, because this is a different type of audience. This audience consumes Southern Gospel radio the way most people consume TV. Their time spent listening is very high. Each personality on the network approaches their show more like a morning show than a quick segue between the songs and the break. We talk extensively about the artists. I also consider ours to be a lifestyle format. For example, our audience loves cooking. Our morning show host, Gregg Hutchins, does “Cooking with Gregg”. Even though we make these recipes available free on our website, we have sold thousands of copies of Gregg’s cookbooks!
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
In general, I would say fewer Christian stations of the same format per market would be ideal. This keeps the available Christian audience from being divided even further. The unique thing with Southern Gospel music is that there are more markets that don’t have a Southern Gospel station than do. I believe that is why our stream logged 2.5 million hours of listening last year. The audience that is looking for Southern Gospel is having a hard time finding it. Fortunately, it seems the format in general is in an upswing. Our affiliate base is up and continues to grow. Likewise teaching and talk and even some CCM stations are exploring some Southern Gospel programming on the weekend.
What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job?
I have to have two things to do my job every day. I must have my Sony MDRV6 headphones and a very tall Tervis Tumbler of half sweet/ half unsweet tea.
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
I think future Christian air talent will come from a variety of different places. I’m sure some will come up through the Christian genres. Others, like I did will be Christians that make their way from secular radio. For us on Singing News Radio, our most recent air talent additions have come from the artists within the format. I don’t see that as being the norm, but it has worked wonderfully for us.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
I would say the biggest obstacle to Christian radio is finding a way to stay relevant in an iPod world. If you are the average millennial just wanting music, the iPod will win. Christian radio will always win with the audience that is looking for personality, content and community, in addition to a great mix of music.
I think the other big obstacle for Christian radio is finding money. Whether you are commercial or non-com, you are fighting for your share of ad dollars from businesses or listeners that support you. That pie is going to continue to be sliced in smaller and smaller pieces.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
My radio influences and heroes would be three of Nashville’s great radio personalities. Each held down mornings for decades in their respective formats.
Coyote McCloud, longtime morning host at legendary Top 40, Y107
Gerry House, longtime morning legend and broadcasting genius on The Big 98 WSIX
Carl P. Mayfield, longtime morning host on 103 KDF as an AOR station and later as a country station.
Each of these guys were stellar on the air. They all did characters, and they surrounded themselves with a great team. They were funny and engaging, and I think most importantly, always left you wondering what they were going to do next!