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Rick Welke

CEO/General Manager

FreQ Media-PMI, Inc.



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Rick's Career Capsule
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 world over.


Tell us about FreQ Media (a little history, etc) ?

We 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 Internet radio?


It 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.


3. What 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 Internet radio?

As 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 under us.


5. Where will Christian radio find its future air talent?

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 audience?

It 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.

We 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.


8. There 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 back pocket?


9.  What (if any) Christian radio stations do you consider as innovators today?

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 world over.


10.  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!




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