Prior to joining
Salem in 2003, Tom’s extensive broadcast credentials included
serving as President/General Manager of WLS-AM/FM in Chicago;
President of Syndication for Sabo Media in New York City; Vice
President & General Manager of the Christian formatted USA Radio
Network in Dallas, and held key programming/management positions
at KCMO/Kansas City, WMCA/New York, KRLD/Dallas and WASH-FM in
about Salem Radio Network, (a little history, etc) ?
The Salem Radio Network(SRN)—headquartered
in Dallas, Texas—is a division of Salem Communications, the
largest commercial U.S. radio broadcasting company that provides
programming targeted at audiences interested in Christian and
conservative opinion content, as measured by the number of
stations and audience coverage. SRN was founded in 1993 by Greg
Anderson, who literally began SRN out of the trunk of his car
with two employees; today SRN has grown into a national radio
network that syndicates talk, news and music programming to
approximately 2,400 affiliated radio stations.
2. Describe your mission with
SRN, goals etc?
SRN produces Christian talk
programming (including The JANET MEFFERD Show which is heard on
over 110 radio stations nationwide) and “general market” talk
shows such as Bill Bennett’s MORNING IN AMERICA, The MIKE
GALLAGHER Show, and many others. Additionally, SRN News—based in
Washington, D.C.—is a 24/7 news service offering live news and
special events coverage to over 1,400 primarily Christian-format
radio stations. And our Salem Music Network unit in Nashville
supplies both Contemporary Christian and Gospel formats around
the clock. In everything we do, our overarching mission is to
provide quality, values-based programming which it safe for the
whole family. Even on our “general market” talk shows which
compete for ratings and revenue with all of the leading networks
in America, we hopefully comport ourselves in a more redemptive
manner that pitches issues and controversy a little higher than
some of our competitors. Less about “right vs. left” and more
about “right vs. wrong,” issues that will resonate as much 1,000
years from now rather than just making the phones levitate over
a particular vote in Congress this week.
3. In what ways does Christian
Talk touch its listener unlike other formats?
Broadcasters’ formats may vary a
bit. But under every radio group’s hood is still just an
engine—some more high-performance than others. And whether it’s
Salem or any other company, it’s still ‘show biz’ with a varying
degree of glitz and pizzazz. We’re all after the ears of our
listeners. And therefore, there are a great deal of
But the one thing that distinguishes Salem from other companies
is our intricate involvement with the community in each of our
Christian Talk markets. Other companies give to their
communities too (March of Dimes, Breast Cancer Awareness, etc).
But those humanitarian efforts are rarely, if ever, in sync with
the format of those stations.
My friend Ron Walters was with the Ravi Zacharias team a few
weeks ago casting the vision of some Salem Teaching/Talk station
Pastors Events and hoping to entice Ravi to become a frequent
keynoter. Halfway thru the meeting, someone asked; “What does
Salem get from these events? What’s the payoff for you guys?”
It’s a fair question because “what we get” is the matrix by
which all ‘for profit’ companies are measured. All except for
one…Salem—we give with very little thought of getting, as seen
by the 45 free annual major banquets for pastors, 12 free annual
golf tournaments, two free annual bowling tournaments, 25 free
annual major women events, etc, Nobody does that, not even other
Christian broadcasting companies.
4. How do you personally
prepare for each day?
I thank the Lord for the blessings
of my wife (we celebrate our 23rd Anniversary in August) and my
son (17) and daughter (14) who are always an inspiration to me.
I am in constant topic prep, following breaking news, catching
national talk shows on radio and TV, and going through online
and print news sources…seeking unique items tailored to each of
our talk hosts. I also am in contact with sources from coast to
coast who share their perspective with me and, in turn, I am
able to pass along to others. But since each of our hosts has
his or her own producer, my role is more “global” in nature,
hopefully adding seasoning or a unique spin on how an issue or
topic impacts our target audience.
5. Where do you find new
talent for Christian Talk radio?
I have one basic rule: hire
interesting, compelling storytellers who will engage the
listeners and prompt them to action. That action may be as
simple as praying for our national leaders (tough sometimes,
despite what we are directed to do in Scripture) or it may
require prompting men and women to sign a petition or donate to
a worthy ministry or charitable cause. SRN assignments in recent
years have taken me from the front row of the Knesset (Israel’s
parliament) to slums in Mumbai and Hyderabad, India. I’ve been
up close and personal with five U.S. Presidents and help babies
suffering from malnutrition in Guatemala. At every stop, I’ve
met people who clearly could—and one day might—make great
Christian talk hosts. One just needs to seize the opportunities
God lays in front of us.
What promotions have been most memorable for you at SRN?
I’ll give you two…one heartwarming
and one a little more news-oriented.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction in 2005, SRN
joined forces with Oklahoma City-based Feed The Children to
deliver food, emergency supplies and essentials to the Gulf
Coast. Marshalling the resources of all of our SRN network
hosts, we joined forces with our Salem-owned radio stations and
all of our company’s platforms including Web and Digital,
culminating in over $2-million of support for Katrina victims.
In 2009, again bracketing both SRN
and many of our Christian talk station hosts, we generated over
1.3-million signatures for our online petition opposing
ObamaCare and expanded government intrusion imposing
restrictions on organizations regardless of their beliefs. The
signatures—the largest number of signatures on a public policy
petition ever presented to Congress—were accepted at a
Washington news conference by two U.S. Senators and 8 members of
the U.S. House. Sources on Capitol Hill told us we had a real
impact on the national debate.
7. Generally speaking to the
industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian talk
Like all spoken-word formats,
Christian talk radio must constantly attract and keep new
audience members while continuing to build on the loyalty of the
listener base it already has. But challenges from “the culture”
present Christian talk radio with many obstacles: standing for
Traditional Marriage, for example, is just part of our DNA. Yet
declaring that Marriage is confined to one man and one woman is
portrayed by some as “hate speech.” Ditto with American icons
such as the Boy Scouts and other institutions. And even the
recent headlines about IRS intrusion into the tax-exempt status
of certain political organizations revealed that ministries led
by Rev. Billy Graham and Franklin Graham were among the targets.
As Dr. Frank Wright, president of National Religious
Broadcasters so boldly stated: "Pernicious targeting of
faith-based organizations by any state actor must not be
tolerated." So Christian Talk radio is in the vortex of social
and political issues which in the past were sometimes ceded to
our General Market counterparts.
8. How do you communicate with
the show hosts, help them with their shows?
In-person, on the phone, via e-mail
and through their producers. Every day is a blank canvass, and
since Talk Radio operates as a free and open exchange of ideas
and opinions, there’s never a dull moment as we create
compelling programming day-in and day-out.
9. What (if any) Christian
talk stations do you consider as innovators today?
There are many, but the “standout”
in my mind is KKLA/Los Angeles. Continually innovating, and
America’s most interactive and engaging Christian Teaching and
Talk platform. KKLA superserves America's largest National
Ministries (like In Touch with Charles Stanley, Focus on the
Family with Jim Daly and Insight for Living with Chuck Swindoll.)
Beyond that, the station is deeply embedded in and and trusted
completely by the Southern California evangelical church
10. Where do you see Christian
Talk Radio in 5 years?
There are many serious challenges
facing Christian media in general and Christian Talk Radio in
particular as secular forces impact our culture and our
listeners, many people in our core audience feel they are under
the microscope and under attack. That leads me to believe we
will continue to be the place they turn for the Truth, and
therefore our future is extremely bright. Not just in the next 5
years, but for decades to come. As President Reagan was fond of
saying, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”