1. What do
you think is the most important issue facing Christian radio
There are always several important issues, but one to focus
on is the general belief that America and much of the world is
in a time of spiritual seeking. There are many “religions” for a
seeker to choose from. Christian radio has to position itself to
not only nurture the Christian listener, but also to reach these
seekers in a way that makes the station and Christianity
attractive enough for them to discover it is the Truth.
Christian radio, because of the mission, should strive to be not
just on par with secular stations in regard to professionalism
and quality, but exceed it…not just for competitive reasons in
the historical sense, but because of the Higher Calling and
2. Your consultancy is very involved with Salem
Communications. How did the “Fish” concept come about?
Ed Atsinger and Howard Freedman asked me to fly to Camarillo,
California to meet with them. They told me they were thinking
about putting on a contemporary Christian station, but if they
did they wanted it to operate on a high level of professionalism
with the most sophisticated programming and marketing
techniques. They knew VallieRichards
Consulting’s reputation and history in secular radio and wanted
to know if we could bring the same thing to Christian radio. In
some ways it was actually an answer to prayer, I had wanted us
to become involved more in Christian radio and this was the
opportunity. We signed a deal that day. That led to us working
with Dave Armstrong and Chuck Tyler in the Los Angeles market,
debuting the first “Fish”. Chuck and I discussed almost every
possible aspect of Christian music radio, basically
re-inventing. The formatics, music structure, positioning, etc.
all went through a tough filter of determination to debut with
the quality product we all desired and knew Christians and
Christian radio deserved, finishing with a highly competitive
We also knew from the beginning that branding would be a key
ingredient to our success. Many names and positioning statements
were discussed, but when I recommended something that had never
been done before, “The Fish”, everyone was on board immediately.
Dave and his team in LA took the name and concept and have done
a great job in developing the brand with great creativity and
commitment. Variations of the original Fish logo are used around
This, of course, led us to working with the rest of the great
team at Salem - Joe Davis, George Toulas, Ken Gaines and the
rest of the leadership there.
The second Fish debuted in Atlanta with Allen Power and Kevin
Avery. They have done such a good job, and they won the Dove
Award for station of the year. They are pulling great numbers in
Atlanta, by far better than any contemporary Christian station
has in the past.
As you know, there are now several other Fish stations,
including Portland, Milwaukee, Chicago, Sacramento and Cleveland
and others. Salem is not only committed to the format, but
they're also committed to hiring great people that are true
professionals in each market.
3. What do you think is the current state of Christian
radio…(and where's it going)?
Actually, I am optimistic about the future of Christian
radio. I know in the past most Christian stations have struggled
to pull good ratings, but I think we are showing with The Fish
that it can be done…and should be done. Increasing ratings and
getting more people listening is the most obvious ways a
Christian broadcaster can go about working to help fulfill the
Great Commission. Just as the Christian music industry raised
the bar and started producing great product early in the last
decade, it seems now that Christian radio can raise the bar and
deliver great Christian radio. Not only is the product there,
but all indication is America is seeking spiritually, which
makes this format attractive, not just to Christians but to
Many secular stations/formats talk about being "the family
station" and "family values", but it is absolutely true with The
Fish. Many secular stations talk about "music variety" and
"music you won’t hear anywhere else", often that is hype, but
with The Fish it is true (compared to secular market stations).
Salem is committed to making great Christian radio, so is
Consulting. It's only a matter of time before other qualified
companies see it’s a viable format and jump in. When they do, I
expect and hope (for the format's sake) that they will do it
well. Stations currently in the format should frequently
re-visit their mission statement and strategy in order to
perform at their best as the heritage Christian station in the
4. Do you think most of the same programming basics apply to
Christian radio… are there any basics that you’ve found just
don’t work in Christian radio?
Most of the same basics apply. At this moment I can’t think
of an exception, though there may be a couple. You have to keep
in mind that Christian listeners have the same choices and
lifestyles of other listeners. Their lives are just as busy,
their problems are just as big, their music preferences are just
as varied, etc.
5. What is the role of the CCM air personality...how does it
differ from secular radio?
It's very much the same. The air talent still must be topical
and relevant. He has to complement the format and be into what
he/she is doing. Talk to the listener one on one, making eye
contact, and be passionate about the music and the radio
The station should strive to have a compelling and
entertaining morning show, ideally one that can out perform the
rest of the station.
6. What impact do you think Christian Internet radio is
It is having impact. One of the primary reasons is there is
not as much choice on the terrestrial radio dial for Christian
programming as there is secular. They have fewer
choices/alternatives, so the Internet provides a service, an
option. I must say that I am impressed with the effort being
made by the Christian community on the Internet and how
Christian “broadcasters” have learned unique and creative ways
to reach the listener. In many cases it has been because the
opportunity was not there with a big signal or big budgets, so
the Christian broadcaster had to be creative and use “guerilla”
As you know, it's not just Christian broadcasters that are
benefiting and using the Internet, but missionaries and other
Christian organizations have been aggressive on the Internet as
well. Even so, as good and as effective as it can be, it’s not
like reaching several hundred thousand people at a time like a
radio station can. It's another delivery service.
7. What have you found listeners are saying is the biggest
negative on Christian radio today? Biggest positive?
Some of the same things as in secular radio…"songs I don’t
like", "too much talk", etc. The positive is the response from
people that say the station makes a difference in their
lives…that’s something most secular stations cannot say.
8. In the overall picture, do you think a Christian music
station airing a ministry talk block will hurt or help its cume?
Let me answer this way, do you ever find a #1 secular music
station, whether it's in Erie, Pennsylvania or San Francisco,
that will air a talk block of a half hour or hour in primetimes?
The reason is because it doesn’t fit the station and the
listeners' expectation. There are some exceptions and each
situation should be looked at individually and strategically
based on what the situation is in each individual market.
One answer to this, or most questions, doesn’t fit all
One significant difference is most of those secular stations
are competing to win in the ratings, so they are doing all they
know how to do to not only attract listeners, but to keep them
listening as long as possible. Most Christian stations are not
as focused on the Arbitron ratings, but keep in mind, ratings
are people. The better the ratings, the more people you are
reaching with your message. If part of the station's mission
statement is to reach as many people as possible, the station
should be programmed in such a way as to maximize its
9. Why do you think the CCM format is growing right now…and
do you think it will continue?
Partly because of what I said earlier, many listeners are
spiritually seeking. The music is better than it has ever been.
More stations are operating more professionally, strategically
and creatively. The Fish is scoring in every market it goes to.
The marketing is better than in the past. There are several
reasons that could be sub-captions for these examples.
Yes, I believe it will continue to grow, but only if it is
done correctly and with conviction. The best concepts can fail
if they are not produced and marketed correctly (on-air
marketing and/or in outside marketing).
10. How do you feel about voice tracking?
If done correctly it can actually make radio better. I know
some don’t agree with this, but voice tracking can be to radio
what recorded television shows were to live TV. It comes down to
the talent. A good talent voice tracking is better than a bad
live jock. A bad jock voice tracking is worse than a bad jock