Career Capsule: Commercial high-tech sales leader for 15 years. Most recently for cloud and digital applications for Silicon Valley companies with services and products aimed at cable and broadcast television. Operations, engineering and programming experience in career early days. WAY Media board member 18-years while working in the mainstream. Helped start Morningstar Radio Network (now Salem’s Todays Christian Music). Worked at the USA Radio Network as the Director of Operations. Was the GM of KGNZ-FM, Abilene at 22. On-air with WHWL, Marquette, MI in 1981. Served in the US Air Force as a crew member on the mid-air refueling jet, the KC-135 (Boing 707).
John, tell us what’s new at WAY FM.. news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
An increasing concerted effort on video and digital outlets. A new video studio is under construction, new streaming services will be announced later this year, improved use of social and a focus on reaching even more Millennials and Gen Z is in the works.
Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?
We use the positioning statement, “Uplifting, Upbeat, REAL”. It is the real part that is unique to WAY-FM. We are all broken in some way. The list in Hebrews 11 is a string of flawed men and women of God. What is at risk? When we feign perfection, we cut ourselves off from help. There is a saying, “You are only as sick as your secrets”. For me to admit my need is the start of allowing grace to thrive (Titus 2:11-14).
What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Best: You are not good enough for on-air work, consider management and sales. Worst: You can’t turn down money.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
I would be pleased if every station in every market was playing something that points listeners to Jesus. The arts used to be based in the gospel and the church. When Paul was talking about how some preach for less than pure motives, he rejoined that “Christ is proclaimed” (Philippians 1:12-18). I don’t know anyone doing Christian Radio with the kind of issue Paul is talking about (preaching from impure motives). You and I don’t own a town, even if you were there first. I believe in free-enterprise. Competition makes you better. That can’t change when I’m on the infringed side of the equation. We owned Nashville. Others came along. We got better. We owned West Palm. Others came along. We are getting better. We owned Huntsville… you know the pattern, we got better. Portland had great stations; a major donor wanted the mix and message of WAY-FM, and now, the other stations are getting better. Dallas-Fort Worth has some of the best Christian stations anywhere – with WAY-FM now making moves in the market, we are all getting better. I know this issue is felt deeply in our industry. If you don’t agree, my appeal is that you ask an objective friend to work thru it with you. It is easy to vilify those doing well or better. I too have to check my feelings and motives. James 4:1-3 asks the central question, what do I want that I’m not getting? Charles Spurgeon said it this way, “The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the child of God rests his head at night, giving perfect peace.” This issue is felt deeply. To help remind us of the law, CMB has an anti-trust prompt on their website.
What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job?
Gratitude. Not in general gratefulness but in specific gratefulness that realizes “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our (see my) behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Jesus).” 2 Corinthians 5:21. My response, AWE — gratitude on display. Hebrews 12:28 says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe….”
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
In the future, our communicators will come from not only mainstream radio but bloggers, YouTube contributors and those who have social media platforms.
Great communicators are born every day. We not only look for prodigious communicators but communicators that know and understand Micah 6:8 that God wants 3 constants from you — but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. In a world where an Oxford researcher points out that “Radio presenters and journalists among top jobs for psychopaths”, it is important to find talent that are submitted to the Lordship of Jesus. I am so impressed with the heart of the talent the Lord has led to WAY-FM, both off-air and on. Our CTO, Dean Sims came to us from Compassion International. He embodies what I’m talking about above. Joy Summers is half of the duo CJ & Joy. She recently gave a talk at her alma mater, Cedarville University. She spent 30 minutes unpacking Bravery No Matter the Battle. Her afternoon co-host, CJ Lusk got into trouble in mainstream radio when he spoke unashamedly about his Jesus following faith. Our mid-day has Brant and Sherri. We helped support and pioneer Brant’s show being syndicated and the property of a great non-profit, CURE International. If you don’t know this amazing communicator, get to know him thru his books, podcast and daily show. You can make room for his show. We have The Wally Show in the morning. Whether it is a video for our World’s Biggest Small Group or coming up with a new game that works well on radio as well as live Facebook, Wally helps us drive REAL like no other talent so far. The Wally Show does it so well that when someone at church finds out I work at WAY-FM, they ask me if I know Wally personally. Wally has asked me to say no. Wally also has a major part in the movie, “I can Only Imagine”.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
Not thinking about the future but only the present and past. Faron Dice, Chief Content Officer at WAY-FM reminds us that we are in the golden-age of Christian Radio. There has never been a time where more people can hear music with a message. With the exception of one major market, at least one listenable FM is playing Christian radio. Bill Gates said “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
Are we getting ready today for the “rolling living room” that is coming as cars drive themselves in future years? Are we learning how to communicate better thru blogs? Podcasts? Are we radio people or communicators? Do we have Alexa skills? Know the second-place smart speaker? Most of the time when I talk this way, I hear “it is easy for you to speak, WAY-FM has amazing resources” and it does. I started managing in 1987 in Abilene, Texas with no resources. Hudson Taylor said it well – “God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s supply”. Do we have a scarcity mentality?
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Jack Hill is a man you will meet in heaven. Jack gave me a chance at 22 to run the Christian Radio station he founded in 1981. He loved me thru some rough spots in learning how to love God thru loving people. I once thought I was speaking under my breath and Jack heard me when I said, “that man is driving me crazy and will drive me right out of here.” Jack’s reaction – he came up to me, put his arms around me and said, “John, I am not going to let you hate me. “I will not let Satan drive a wedge between us.” Talk about disarming! Imagine the kind of control of your emotions to not react but change the situation. Jack invested in me. At another time, when Jack was driving me crazy, I called Jim Campbell to talk about an opening. Jim asked me questions about what I was leaving. It was more like the woman at the well kind of inquiry. Burt Perrault was the GM of KSBJ before Tim McDermott. I left a great job in operations at USA Radio to join a start-up in Houston. So did he. Burt is one of the funniest well read, Jesus loving men I’ve ever met. His son Tom Perrault is the COO at Dunham + Company and is another of those men who help me see the value of having fun along life’s way. Tony Bono is a man few know in Christian radio. When the Air Force moved me to Abilene, Texas, I met Tony. Infectious is the best word to describe his love for communication thru the medium of radio. Tony has skills in more disciplines than anyone I know. He is adept at engineering principles of propagation. Tony has done something like 50 metro move-ins; helping a fringe station cover a more significant market. He is also skilled at programming. The combination makes him a practical futurist. I could not finish the list without mentioning Bob Augsburg. I stayed a volunteer board member for WAY Media for so long due to what I saw year-after-year; a man who by faith embodies the seven core values of WAY-FM. His greatest quality is his reverential fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). I am so very grateful for the investment of many; Jon Hull, Jim Channell, Skip Spence, Rob Branch, Randy Martinez, Gary Hill, Bob Agnew, Jon Fugler, Jim Sanders, Paul Goldsmith, Bill Lyons, Joe Battaglia, George McNerlin, Don Burns, Tim Coleman, John Frost, Robby Newton, Felice Augsburg, John Clemens, Mark Johnson, – I could go on and on. I am blessed to have so many heroes and influencers.