Career Capsule: Graduated from Mount Vernon Nazarene University where he had his very first airshift at WNZR. He began volunteering at RadioU in 1997 and has done nearly every timeslot on the schedule, but landed as the co-host for RadioU’s morning show (The RIOT) in 2002. He has been the Program Director since 2013.
Obadiah, tell us what’s new at RadioU… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
RadioU has just wrapped up its Fall Fundraiser and we are collectively catching our breath while eyeing new projects. We recently signed on a translator in Athens, OH; launched our Throwback Channel online featuring music from the early years of RadioU; and started a video game streaming segment for our morning show called ObadiahPlays. Personally? I have been able to speak at my church a few times recently and have been really enjoying it! (here’s one: https://youtu.be/tndQfAa-l5Q)
Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?
If there is anything that makes RadioU different, it’s our target demo. We are targeting college age males who are not Christians. We play a mixture of rock and hip-hop with a few other genres sprinkled in. This also means that our personalities and imaging have more of an edge than what you would often expect from Christian radio.
What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The best advice that I’ve ever heard in radio is to “see your content in their (the audience) eyes”. It’s a fine line that we walk to share our lives with people but remember that there are plenty of things in our lives that they will care absolutely nothing about. 🙂 Put the audience’s perspective first. Worst advice? This one is tougher even though I’m sure I’ve received (and given) plenty of terrible advice. That would be a question I’d love to have answered by friends and family: “What’s the worst advice Obadiah has ever given you?” Hahahaha. Please, someone somewhere research and write that article. 🙂
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
One of the oddest things about Christian radio is the homogeny. There is some variety but most of the variety revolves around which Newsboys lead singer you are currently playing. (I’m kidding!!) Having five stations in the market that are all playing the same music just feels like a bummer. We’re competing with each other for what? Money? Ratings? Here’s some bad advice from a guy at a non-profit: the Kingdom of God isn’t about either of those things. (See! Bad radio advice!) There is (or should be) enormous variety in the body of Christ. Why is there an odd expectation that we would (or should) all like the same style of music? If we’re going to load markets with Christian stations, why not try variety? Why not go after a different segment of the Christian audience or… and this is a rough one… why not go after some people who have no idea who Jesus is? There are incredible Christian artists out there that have few outlets that are willing to take a chance on their music. It would be awesome if we could start to give them a place. We all know why we don’t, but it would be amazing if we would.
What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job?
This is a place where coffee and internet go to war. I had a physical scheduled after my show and was told by the nurse the day before that I could only have water that morning. No coffee. This turns out to not be true. The guy was a nurse-in-training and was wrong but I did what we all do: obeyed without question. The doctor laughed at me and said I could have had coffee. At least I think he did. I was asleep by then. In truth, I probably need the internet more than I need the coffee but it’s a shame to have to choose between your children like this.
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
There are some fantastic college and university programs out there that offer great training grounds for Christian radio. We should hire some of these people. That being said: we need REAL people. The last thing I want is to turn on the radio and hear someone that feels like they’ve been churned out of some AC/CHR factory. I want to hear a genuine person. I’m more attracted to that than I am to the content of their breaks. I think we should be on the lookout for that everywhere. The dark secret of broadcasting is that it isn’t THAT hard. (Don’t tell anyone.) We can teach people to push buttons but we really need some people who can be genuine and Christian and live that life privately and publicly.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
The easy answer here is digital media (Spotify, YouTube, etc). This is a pressure we are all facing because, c’mon, who needs YOU to play a request when I can play whatever I want, whenever I want. I think this feeds back into some of what I’ve already said. One of our greatest assets should be music discovery, but if we’re all playing the same music, what incentive is there for me to listen to your station instead of the others that are playing the exact same artists? Personality is a good answer but we should dare to be different even though it’s a little scary. This feeds into the other big one: money. We’re non-profit. Fundraising is hard.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
I grew up listening to the Morning Zoo on WNCI in Columbus, OH. (They have grown into the syndicated Dave and Jimmy.) After 9/11, I became a Glenn Beck addict. I felt like he was the only person on the radio who was doing interesting, creative things. Many of the bits he made in those early years continue to be the highest watermark in radio I’ve ever heard. He and his producer Stu were hilarious. I finally had to quit listening because, to be honest, I think I was emulating him too much. When I started doing mornings, I was terrified and unconsciously looking for someone (anyone!!!) to show me what a morning show should really sound like. I gave him up and started listening to more music and these newfangled radio shows you could get on your iPod. Ever hear of a podcast?
Podcasts as a format have had a huge influence on me and how I do my show. They have become very shiny and well produced but in the early days they were spectacularly unprofessional and you got to hear people making tons of mistakes that, in radio, we would never put up with. They were great ways to learn what not to do, but they were also full of happy accidents. These unprofessional broadcasters were trying hard and being real. They had genuine energy for their content and they taught me a lot about being myself with an audience.
I was also a huge fan of NPR’s Star Wars radio dramas growing up. I loved the way that they were able to use sound to create such vivid stories.