I've had the nor of working and serving within
the music industry at places like WCVO/Columbus, OH, the RadioU
Network, and WPRJ/Saginaw-Midland, MI. I'm also honored to have
been involved in starting up the Christian music section inside
of Radio & Records magazine [later owned by the parent
company of Billboard] as the section's editor which
Billboard has the charts for presently, writing for and
later owning the Progressive Airplay Journal/Pure Rock Report,
consulting with record labels in various capacities, artist
management/consultation, and helping multiple radio stations
around the country. Presently I work with a few clients,
including the great people at iShine Media in Nashville serving
pre-teens with great media, and starting up FreQ Media as of
January 2013 that is offering up unique music and media the
Tell us about FreQ Media (a little history, etc) ?
began operations officially on January 1, 2013, but I have been
working on the launch for about two years now. It's becoming
increasingly difficult to succeed in terrestrial radio,
especially with the hard costs involved [doubly so if you are a
non-profit organization], so we've been planning to launch
multiple radio stations on the Internet that we pray will be an
encouragement to all that hear them. But we have plans well
beyond that, which will remain in a secret folder high up on a
mountain top outside Nashville for the time being.
2. What are your thoughts on the future of
has been growing for many years now, and most experts believe
that it will continue to grow into the future. Especially with
Internet car access available and growing every year, and the
great opportunity to listen to media on your smartphone anywhere
you have a cell signal. There will be a growing amount of
competitors in the field, so your product has to be excellent to
rise above the thousands of stations – terrestrial and web-only
– that exist. I believe the sky is the limit for those that
superserve the listener in this medium.
are some of your plans for Internet Christian radio?
Wow, they are large. We're hiring staff right now that will
begin moving this spaceship into the future. Plans are to launch
over two dozen stations that will superserve different
demographics of music listeners, while also offering up new
formats that have never been attempted before. We will be able
to reach out to different demos and go after niche music fans
that the Christian radio community is not reaching presently. It
will be challenging, exciting, innovative, and scary all at the
same time. I'm humbled to be involved with this honestly and
can't wait to see what God has in store for this effort. It will
be unlike anything that exists today.
One of my personal driving forces is to help the artist expose
their art to the world. I have several artist friends who have
had so many doors closed in their faces within the walls of the
industry that they are beyond frustrated. And many of them are
brilliant writers, performers, art makers, and ministers. If
they were around a decade ago they would have been signed in a
heartbeat – that speaks VOLUMES about where the industry is
today and where specifically the Christian side of the industry
has set up its tent in reaching out to people – all people –
with God-inspired art.
Unfortunately terrestrial radio is also doing little today to
champion that effort, so we will partner with the growing
independent artist market along with labels that are looking for
non-traditional ways of getting their music out to the masses in
new and exciting ways. Innovation for us will be key, and our
staff will help us tag team with artists that are doing
life-changing art in purposeful ways. We're extremely excited
about that opportunity, and from a ministry aspect, it will be
an amazing ride.
4. What do you think is the biggest obstacle for
it is with any tech-driven opportunity, monetization is the
biggest hurdle for FreQ Media to exist into the future. We will
have a unique approach to this obstacle, but until we get into
the deep end of the pool we won't know if the end user will be
on board with it or not. I believe they will as a fellow
eclectic music lover.
The second obstacle will be quality people that can play a role
in this process. Thinking outside of the proverbial programming
box can be difficult for some, so the human resource factor will
be just as important as the financial one. New talent will
always be another factor that all of us in radio and media in
general will face a shortage of, at least as it stands today.
Hopefully that will change in the near future – but only if some
us go out of our way and train up people that God places in our
path that will carry the mantle into the future. We're hoping to
play a role in the element in the future once we have our feet
5. Where will Christian radio find its future air
Right now we are pushing quality people to work in formats they
do not truly have a passion for, or into another position well
outside of where they feel called to be serving, and sometimes
even their individual skill set. That is troubling. I wish I had
an easy answer for your question, but I do not. There are not
many organizations that are championing the talent discovery
pool at this juncture, and that circumstance will continue to
damage the long term health of art and innovation by those who
love Christ. Some schools and a few media companies are doing
it, and they are to be supported strongly by all of us. Visible
College in Memphis comes to mind as a school who is equipping
students in very real ways to follow their destiny with all of
the tools they need to succeed within the local church, and the
corner of the music industry they desire to play a role in. But
we need a mega-enhancement of that effort to provide more
outlets for people to be trained in art creation, and then in
turn be let loose to impact society with their talents and then
be impactful enough to train up future art makers.
6. How can internet radio reach the local
can do a good job of reacting to and serving the local market,
if it desires to do so. Not in the traditional ways that a
locally planted terrestrial radio station can impact their
community of course, but technology, and those that use it, can
impact the local culture as deeply as they desire to do so. Just
a few years ago we didn't have things like Facebook and Twitter,
as an example, to get messages and movements going in individual
peoples lives. Another few years down the road something else
will come to the forefront of technology that will enable us to
secure an even more intimate connection with the individual.
That is exciting and something I hope to be a part of.
7. Generally speaking to the industry, what are
the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio today?
Soapbox question there for sure. I'm going to be very real here,
and that usually means stepping on some toes. If those toes are
yours, that's not my true intent, but more to inject honesty and
a dose of reality into the equation …
Many people in AC radio and several folks at the bigger record
labels probably believe we're doing great. After all, Christian
radio continues to hold onto it's listeners in the way of
ratings via Arbitron, right? While other mainstream formats
continue to fall, we've held our own. But what doesn't get
mentioned outside of private conversations is that we continue
to see this industry “made into vanilla” on most fronts.
What I believe is the down-sizing [or vanilla-izing] of our
industry is the primary issue we face, and I see little effort
to change that tide from pushing all forms of art out to sea
beyond what lite rock music seems acceptable to radio and the
major labels at any given moment. Case in point is that I know
of very few people in my circle of friends in multiple states
and family members who listen to Christian radio on a regular
basis. I tend to ask a lot of questions when the subject comes
up, and their answer is always fairly simple - they don't like
it. It's not diverse enough for them. So they look for their
music entertainment and encouragement elsewhere. So why is that
happening? Right now, in the direction that we are headed,
diversity and progression are not embraced with most radio
entities and the people who program each station or network.
have less local radio stations being accessible to the
individual. We have less radio singles being serviced today than
in any time in my 18+ years in the industry, and the number
continues to shrink. And the songs that are offered continue to
push programmers deeper into the funnel of an AC/lite rock
mid-tempo mentality of programming. Regrettably, those reporting
stations that desire to go out of the norm and program something
outside of the current 'box' of songs made available to radio
[read predominately AC-driven songs], are getting looked down
upon by some promoters in the industry, and ultimately even
removed from the ranks of reporting stations for playing songs
“not released as radio singles.” Playing a majority of official
singles isn't good enough any longer as it was when I was at
R&R. The “line” then was if a station was playing 60%
currents, they stayed on as a reporting station no matter what
else they were playing. That doesn't seem to be the case
anymore. Maybe it's become more political than relevant-driven?
I don't know since I'm not on that side of the fence any longer.
But something has changed, and I'm not alone in thinking it's a
survival tactic more than a growth tactic that works in radio's
favor. People need to be reminded – radio charts are supposed to
be a true reflection of what is happening at radio, not
what the industry desires the charts to look like. When that
imbalance begins to occur, then radio is the one left out in the
cold. What the labels don't realize at times is that their
short-term desires may be served, but the long-term health of
the industry and growth potential at radio is undermined when
radio is not placed at the forefront of the equation.
You can also count the number of artists that have “broke
through” each year over the past several on one hand. And that's
for all formats within CCM. Is that truly healthy? But that's
what we've allowed to take place by squeezing things down to an
almost one-format mentality. That's also not productive for all
of the amazing artists out there that deserve attention from
terrestrial radio on some level – and are receiving none. Now,
some positive changes have been sprinkled here and there,
as in the case of Air1's new Mixology program that champions new
music. But those opportunities for new talent and new art to
gain a decent dose of exposure are too few and far between.
are still some big markets without a CCM station, why do you
think that is?
First, it takes big money to land a frequency in a Top 25
market. Especially Top 10. Second, the networks haven't found an
opening that will work for them [go to reason one again] at the
time they become available. Anybody got $10-15 million in their
What (if any) Christian radio stations do you consider as
Wow, that's a toughie. A few are doing things really well, and
that deserves attention for sure. RadioU quietly continues to do
their Rock network extremely well, connecting with the
individual with most of their dayparts being live [how many
other stations anywhere can say that?]. And their morning show
is one of the best in the country – bar none. The R!OT deserves
to be in 100 or more markets. And their Fusion show on Saturday
nights is about as eclectic as radio is anywhere.
Z88 in Orlando probably has one of the best promotion and
community impact plans out there, and that shows up in their
Arbitron ratings big time. I wish Dean and the staff could
invest that mentality alone with Christian radio around the
country in a series of seminars or online classes – we'd all be
better for it. I spent a full day with their staff when I was
with R&R, and you won't find a tighter group in radio.
Everybody knows their role, and that has allowed them to grow
their numbers and impact across the board. Championing their
Rock and Urban side channels was a brilliant move years ago as
well. Hopefully those will expand over time to impact a younger
audience – something that is missing in almost every market the
Where do you see Rick Welke in 5 years?
No crystal ball
here! I simply hope that I am where God wants me to be, doing
what He wants me to do. If FreQ Media is growing and covering
more formats/people groups, I'd be happy to continue to do that.
But if He has something else in store, I'm good with that too.
He is way smarter than I will ever be, so I'll look to Him for
guidance in all decisions and continue to follow that one new
brick he keeps laying down on the invisible path in front of me.
Word to the wise: attempt to keep Him first in all things and
everything else will work out!