Career Capsule: I began in radio in 1981 when my dad got me a job at WHAK in Rogers City Michigan. Radio was never a dream, although I listened to the radio all the time and loved the DJ’s, especially on WLS which we could get across the lake. I graduated high school in 1982 and went to Liberty University where I worked on the campus station and on WLAV a top 40 station in Lynchburg at night. I left Liberty after one year and joined my parents in Green Bay WI where I worked at WDUZ and started sending out resumes to every Christian radio station in the country. I honestly sent every Christian station my resume, twice that summer, and fall. I took a job at a station in Crystal River Florida where I lasted three weeks. Jon Hull called me two weeks into the job from WCIE, I went over and interviewed and got the job. Little did I know that I was being hired at one of the top Christian stations in the country, that was God looking out for this young buck. I spent 6 life-changing years at WCIE in Lakeland Florida as production director. The next three years were spent at The JOY FM in Sarasota Florida as the PD and doing the morning show. In 1991 I joined WAY FM and became the manager and morning show host in Fort Myers Florida. WAY FM was another amazing job and opportunity. In 1995 I left WAY FM to move to Nashville where I worked in full-time youth ministry with Dawson McAllister and co-hosted his show. I only worked with Dawson on staff for 1 year but worked in partnership with him for almost 12 years. In 1996 I started ZJAM, a syndicated rock show that was heard live on Saturday nights on over 350 radio stations. I ran ZJAM Youth Ministries for over a decade, which featured the first online crisis hotline called Teenhopeline.com. We sent out daily Bible studies to teenagers starting in 1996 which was cutting edge. In 2008 I began Xtreme Talk Live, a Sunday night two-hour talk show that was heard around the country. During most of this time, 1991 until now, I also worked with ShareMedia as a fundraising consultant. That is what I currently do full-time right now. I am a fundraising coach and consultant with ShareMedia, helping stations in the UK, USA, NZ, and AU.
Bill, you’ve been involved in Christian Radio for a long time…. what changes over the years seem most significant?
I’ve seen a lot of changes in Christian radio over the years. When I first begin in Christian radio in 1983, there were no singles, we just grabbed the album and found great songs. Needless to say, we could burn a full album in six months. I’ll never forget when at GMA it was announced that there was software that could schedule your music for you. The huge argument was that the Holy Spirit would no longer play the right song at the right time because the announcers were no longer picking the songs. We have found over the years that God still plays the right song at the right time. Another GMA and for those of you too young to remember, that was the current version of CMB, we argued that the record companies could not tell us what song we needed to play, that was when singles were introduced. We have come a long way. I’ve enjoyed watching Christian radio grow. In the 80’s if you had a Christian radio station playing CCM music and a bookstore that sold Christian music, you lived in a rare area. Today it’s not uncommon to find multiple stations in the CCM format in just one city and of course, you can buy Christian music everywhere. I love the fact that most Christian stations sound very professional, test their music and do their best to compete in their city and yes, some are even reaching number 1 in their market which was unheard of back in the day. Christian radio has changed so much in my career. It’s been amazing to watch.
Christian Radio fundraising is a huge part of the industry, can you give us the top 5 items that should be on a stations checklist before a fundraiser?
About Fundraising: You need to make the fundraiser all about the listeners. I often hear “WE need your help, help US”, etc…it’s all about you and not the listener’s station. How about, “Your favorite station needs your help, jump in an help your station.” It has to be about them and not you. Do not live inside your radio bubble.
2. Know your goals and vision and know how to communicate them to your audience in a very clear and simple way. Know what your core ask is and brand it every break to get the best results.
3. Get listeners stories. No one can sell your station better than a listener with a great life changing the story. Get your listeners on the air multiple times an hour during your fundraiser. It’s funny but throughout the year the listener is number one but when you begin a fundraiser they often disappear. At many of my client’s stations, we have someone calling listeners all day long getting them to go on the air with us, it changes the whole event.
4. Make sure everyone is ok with asking for money on the air. If you are not ok with it, more than likely few will give. You can hear it on the air. If your station has touched lives and has done a great job, it’s ok to ask for money. I love the stories about how listeners lives were changed by the simple act of giving.
5. Plan on asking for big gifts. You have not because you ask not.
What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The best programming advice was to be yourself on the air and make the listener the star. The worst was to let the managers’ wife pick the music because she was in tune with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t a place where I personally worked but I did see that at a station. I was amazed.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
I remember that day where you didn’t dare go into a market where another CCM station was, that was the unforgivable sin. Times have changed no doubt. I believe having more stations in a market is challenging but makes us much better at what we do. I was talking to Frank Reed the other day who works at KLTY in Dallas. For decades they were the only station that was an all music CCM station and now there is KCBI, WAY FM, AIR1, The Journey and perhaps others. I loved Frank’s attitude. He told me that having others CCM stations in the market makes him a better personality and yet at the same time he was truly excited that other CCM stations were now in the market impacting more people for Jesus. We need to remember, at the end of the day we are on the same team, Frank is a great example of how to handle that.
What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job?
That is a great question. One thing I cannot have is a bad day because that could cost the client I am working for money and I take raising money very seriously. The one thing I have to have is the right perspective. I am raising money for a station to reach people for Jesus, that is a huge thing in my book. It’s hard living out of a suitcase on the road missing your family. I don’t travel so much because I need time away, just the opposite, I am a homebody. I travel right now because that is my calling and I have the privilege to help stations get the money they need to stay on the air and to grow.
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
That is an awesome question, Ted. It’s wonderful not having part-time air talent. Back in the day finding weekend talent was so hard. No with voice tracking you can have amazing talent on all the time, however, there are very few places that work as a training ground. At WCIE I did the overnight shift and Jon Hull let me run it like a morning show because so many people were working in Tampa and Orlando. It was a wonderful training ground. I often wonder if new talent will come from those who are podcasting because they are being real and connecting with people. I have seen radio stations run a contest looking for an on-air co-host for mornings and have found amazing talent amount, non-radio people. I feel like personality and content are what is going to win in radio and yet few radio people know how to be a personality because most of the career was during the time of reading liner cards. Music can be found anywhere. If it’s just music I am looking for, I am not going to radio. I go to radio for a great personality that connects with me and makes me feel like I belong to a great community. It’s personality and content first, music second in my book.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
I love your questions. The biggest obstacle is not walking in community with others. I am talking about you and me. I am talking our on-air talent not digging into the Word of God and walking with others who can help them during the tough times. You cannot lead where you haven’t been. You are a leader in our communities and if you are not walking life with a few friends who can encourage you spiritually and you are not in the Word, you will burn out and not have the impact that God has for you and your ministry on the air. All of us have challenges in our lives. This is why I am doing the Men of Radio Winter Retreat in January. I want men to network with each other as friends and spiritually. I know Lisa Williams has the same heart for this as she just did a retreat for the ladies of radio. Satan wants to take us out if we are making an impact. Surround yourself with other godly men and women. If you walk alone, you die alone.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
No one has ever asked me that question. Back in the day, it was Larry King. I loved his overnight talk show. Casey Kasem was my hero. I decided I was going to do a syndicated show one day and he inspired me to host 6 different syndicated shows in my career. I believe the largest show was on nearly 600 stations. In the CCM world, Jon Rivers, Jon Hull, Frank Reed, Rob Dempsey and Kevin Kruger. Each for different reasons and different seasons of my life. Many have impacted me over the years. I’ve worked with talent from over 125 different stations that I have been to over the years, so many have inspired me.