Career Capsule: Jerry Grimes is best known in Christian Radio circles for his six years as an Advocace consultant and his time with WAY-FM and as General Manager of Marconi and Dove Award-winning 89.7 WMHK in Columbia, SC (now part of K-LOVE.) He began working in radio at age 15, serving as a weekend announcer for a split format, 3,000 watt FM station in Greencastle, Indiana, his hometown. After studying journalism and political science at Indiana State University, Grimes began a career that spanned newspapers, television and radio. He holds the MA Degree in leadership from Columbia International University and was ordained in 2005. In December, he transitioned to his current position of VP Creative Services for Positive Alternative Radio.
Jerry, Tell us what’s new at PAR… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
PAR is an amazing place to work! These people are on a mission to do nothing less than change the world. That may sound like hyperbole to some, but from my viewpoint, that dream and these people are for real. I consulted PAR from 2010 to 2016, and have enjoyed watching the current team and plan come together. Today, we’re hard at work launching the #ENCW Project, a way to bring Christian radio together to impact 1 billion lives in just five years. Exciting stuff! We’re also trying to transition from a group of radio stations with websites, social media, etc. to truly being digital content providers reaching and serving a growing audience. We are embracing video, getting smarter about social media and growing a team that is as comfortable interacting with the audience on camera as they are behind a microphone. I love the work I am getting to do! It challenges me as a creative guy and as a leader. I get to do almost all of my job from my home in Columbia, SC where my wife is taking the market by storm as a Realtor and where I am close to my grown kids and grandson, Jack…the best kid ever!
What is your typical day like regarding your new position?
When I am working from my home office, the day usually starts after time with prayer, the bible and listening to music. While still early in the morning, I am interacting with our team using ASANA, our group working and project tracking platform. That continues pretty much all day. We have built a highly interactive culture. We may be in separate offices, but it really feels like everyone is just next door or down the hall. I try to block schedule my video conferences and calls to allow for a good chunk of the morning to work on creative projects as early in the day as possible. I’ve always been more creative in the morning than after lunch! When I am on the road, the day starts after personal time with Jesus at a station or home office with back-to-back meetings. I do have a lot of driving to do between South Carolina and Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia where are stations are located. But, a lot of that time is great for “windshield discussions” with our team and its leadership. I also use Siri to dictate a lot of texts, which sometimes makes for interesting conversations!
What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
When I took the helm of WMHK as GM, I had a hard act to follow in Jim Marshall. Unlike me, Jim has a keen sense of programming and had been in that side of radio most of his career. I am essentially a marketing guy. WMHK was #2 in the market in women 25-54, and had been #1 in some books. We had a huge cume and by all accounts were doing great from a programming standpoint, having been shepherded by two great programming minds, Tom Greene and Steve Sunshine. My wife looked me right in the eye and said, “The station sounds great…don’t screw it up.” I never forgot that and although I drove Tom, Steve and John Frost crazy with questions, I never mandated any big changes in programming because I knew I wasn’t my area of strength. I did get tired of hearing the same songs over and over, but I also loved seeing our ratings books come out where we dominated the market year after year.
Worst programming advice…
Probably from one of my friends who suggested we should play all Christian rock after 7 p.m. “so kids could listen when they do their homework.”
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
I suppose there is a law of diminishing returns, but in general, I think competition is healthy. I also believe in excellence and winning. Colossians 3:23 talks about doing your work like you are doing it for Jesus. I think if we all do that, it won’t matter how many stations are in a market. Worrying about how many terrestrial stations there are and formats and all is antiquated thinking anyway. With apps, Pandora, Spotify, etc. we are in a time when the listener has myriad choices to choose from. In effect, there are hundreds of stations in each market already.
Regarding creativity, what are some things you do to ignite it or get it flowing?
Pray, of course. I look to the Lord to guide my steps, guard my heart and watch my tongue. Having said that, the one thing I try to do every day is listen. What are my co-workers really saying? What do I think the audience is saying in this or that bit of research or data? The more I listen, the more I learn and the better decisions I can make.
I am a caffeine addict, so if I am stuck and need to come up with an idea or write some copy, I’ll fix a cup of joe or head to Starbuck’s. Music stirs my soul, so I hardly ever go longer than an hour without firing up Apple Music, PAR’s new Encouraging Radio app or Pandora. And if things are really dry creatively, there is always chocolate!
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
The single biggest obstacle is resistance to change. It always is. We all want things that are going well to stay the same, and listen, compared to most formats, CCM is doing quite well at retaining an audience. It’s hard to justify sweeping changes, but we have to consider what the world will be like in just a few short years and begin to see ourselves as more than great music programmers. We should be platform neutral, digital content providers who know how to tell a great story and connect with the audience in new and powerful ways. The second biggest obstacle, frankly, is the network radio model. I am quite sure those buying up stations and programming them from afar are just doing what they think God is calling them to do. Many are saved and drawn close to Christ through networks. But that model is also an obstacle because it is making it tougher to get colleges and other institutions that hold licenses to hold on to their stations during these transitional times. Thirdly, funding. I spent six years working on ways to help stations grow donor income outside of their sharathons. It can be done, but it’s often hard work and many stations aren’t embracing development best practices fast enough to survive long term. On-air fundraising has its limits and we have to think outside that box if we are going to survive.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
There are so many! Of course, I am going to be accused of sucking up to the boss, but I love Brian Sanders as a leader and a friend. I am thankful I get to work with him daily. I have been very influenced by Chuck Finney and John Frost, two very smart guys I still listen to whenever I have the chance. Paul Martin at Advocace has done a lot for radio and is always asking the right questions. Bob Augsburg is also a hero. Here you have a guy and his wife, Felice, who started out with just a dream and listening to God and built an incredible ministry that I still admire today. Melissa Montana and her team at Star 88.3 in Ft Wayne are my heroes, too. Threatened by potential network purchase of the station they were all working for, Melissa and her team went out, started a non-profit and raised the money to buy the station and keep it local. Wow! Really, anyone keeping community-focused Christian radio going strong is my hero!