Career Capsule: The very first thing I did in radio was win an hour on the radio on WIFE, a Top 40 station in Indianapolis. It was the summer between 8th and 9th grade and the aircheck is funny but not pretty. I studied communications at Butler University and went on to work at WKLR which was an oldies station. After that I spent some time in Benton Harbor MI, and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where I became a PD for the first time. I also came to Christ there and later moved into Christian radio at the Fish in Sacramento, and WMHK in Columbia SC before coming to KFMK, Spirit 105.9 in Austin. I’ve been doing a morning show with Amy Byrd for nearly 15 years at WMHK, and later KFMK. We also hosted the morning show at KCMS in Seattle from Austin for five years.
Steve, tell us what’s new at KFMK… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
What’s new at KFMK is new everywhere. The coronavirus crisis has caused us to reevaluate everything. We’ve gone through our station imaging and removed anything that is not strictly in the hope and encouragement lane. We’ve also added some specific imaging, including prayers from local leaders packaged into our legal ID. We ran local church services on the air Easter Sunday, not something we would normally do. And we’re going to be participating in a car parade thanking hospital workers at a shift change. The church is asking that the cars be tuned to Spirit 105.9 with windows rolled down. We’ll be thanking the hospital workers with shout outs on the air.
Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?
John Frost has it right when he says we need to be more than just nice Christian people saying nice Christian things. I think it’s easy to fall into a trap of wrapping everything up in a neat little bow and sounding like a card you would buy at Lifeway Christian store. Real people, really connecting with a real range of emotion can separate one station in the format from another. Make them laugh make them cry make them think, do anything but be forgettable. Another thing that can make a big difference is connecting meaningfully with your local community. This is more than just mentioning the names of local landmarks but having the uniqueness of your community woven into the fabric of your radio station. We’ve tried to do this with a campaign called the Spirit of Austin. Among other things that campaign includes having noted local people, from pastors to restaurant owners, to local celebrities share what the spirit of Austin is to them. In other words what makes our unique city special to them.
What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Best: make it about the listener, not about the radio station. I don’t remember whether John Frost or Tommy Kramer gets the credit for this phrase, but it sums it up nicely: people are more interested in your home movies when they’re in them. Worst advice: shut up and play the hits. If that’s all we do, we will be replaced by Spotify or whatever comes next.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
Looking at the very big picture, it may be a good thing because a rising tide raises all ships or something like that. That means more people being encouraged in their faith and pointed to Jesus. But pragmatically that can be hard on the individual ministries. Really though all of us have competition, whether there’s another Christian music station in town or not. if we’re truly trying to reach a large audience, we should consider stations in other formats that reach our audience to be competitors. Not to mention other audio platforms and every other thing that competes for the listeners attention.
What is the ONE thing you must have every day to do your job/show?
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
That’s a really hard question. My first full time job at radio station had me on the air live from midnight to 5:30 AM every weekday. It was the perfect place to get some experience while not being very good. That job doesn’t exist anymore. I think we have to try to see potential in people who haven’t done this before, people who are interesting, and open to coaching. I do get kind of excited when I meet somebody in or just out of college who’s interested in radio!
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
Several things come to mind. The move of our culture away from Christianity. The aging of our core demographic. This is particularly hard for commercial stations. The emergence of new technology and new options for people to get the music we play. Many of these things are not only obstacles but are also opportunities. I particularly feel that way about the first one. If we can find ways to connect with people, who are not part of the evangelical subculture we can have more Kingdom impact than ever.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
There are so many people who I grew up listening to who made me want to do this for a living. Dan Ingram at WABC, Fred Winston and Larry Lujack at WLS, and probably most of all Steve Dahl also from Chicago radio. He was the first example I’d heard of simply living life out on the radio. John Frost has been a huge influence teaching me discipline and sticking with an overarching strategy and having each tactic work toward achieving strategic goals. Particularly when I first started working with him, he had me rethinking pretty much everything. Amy Byrd, my cohost for nearly 15 years, is such a great idea person that she stretches me nearly every day. And I know she would agree that Tommy Kramer has had a profound impact on us taking our show to a new level, even after having been on the air together for so long.