Feature InterviewInterviews

Dave Wonders Interview 4-3-17

Dave Wonders
Program Director/Mornings
Pequot Lakes, MN

Career Capsule
– In 2007, I got my start in radio at WVOE, the student-run station at Northwestern College (now the University of Northwestern)
– From 2010-2011, I was music director and morning host of 98.5 HD2 The Remnant
– In 2011, I interned with KTIS on the morning show and in the production department.
– In 2012, I briefly worked with Praise FM doing tracking and production work
– Later in 2012, I moved to WZFJ The Pulse which is part of the MCBI radio network. When I started, I was in the midday slot, then afternoons, then a team afternoon show, and for the last 5 months, I’ve been in the morning slot. During my time at The Pulse, I’ve gotten to do a little bit of everything (other than engineering) and now I’m PD!

David, Tell us what’s new with WZFJ… news, changes, & with YOU… etc

We are in a time of transition at The Pulse right now. After a long time member of the team moved on to another station in September, I slipped into his role as program director and have been trying to find my “sea legs” ever since. It has been an awesome experience so far and I feel like I’m learning something new every day, but we are still a man down and that has meant extra stress on me and the rest of the team. I’ve also been the interim morning show host which has meant tripling my daily coffee intake (I am NOT a morning guy), but we are getting close to filling that position and I’ll be back with my co-host in the afternoon. While there has been a lot of shifting going on, the ministry hasn’t slowed down at all. We are hearing lots of great testimonies from listeners and there is a lot of excitement about how God is growing this ministry. In the next two months, we’ve got a parade, a Compassion drive, multiple fundraisers with area non-profits, and a bunch of concerts to promote. The train never stops!

What are some unique characteristics you’ve discovered about your market?

We live in what many refer to as “Vactionland” in Minnesota. There are about 2,000 lakes in our listening area and many large resorts, so our population triples during the summer. The Twin Cities are only a couple of hours south, so we get a huge influx of folks from the metro visiting their cabins on the weekend. We also have a lot of snowbirds with their summer homes here and their winter homes in Florida. Because of this massive infusion of listeners during the summer, we have our primary fundraising drive in July and we also ramp up our promotions with county fairs, parades, and community events. A lot of folks find us on vacation and then they report back to us that they stream us when they are back home.

What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?

I think that the best programming advice I’ve ever been given (and really it applies to a lot more than radio) is to take stock of the “why” behind what we’re doing. Why does our clock look the way it does? Why are we playing this song? Why are we doing this promotion? When I start to dig into these questions, I either find that we don’t have a good reason and we’ve slipped into a rut, or we do have a good reason and it is vital part of our DNA. When examination exposes weaknesses, it opens up the opportunity to try new things and innovate. When examination exposes strengths, I find myself energized as I’m reminded what our vision and mission is and how we’re hitting it.

The worst advice I’ve ever heard is to trust your instincts… or rather ONLY your instincts. I think we can and should try new things. We should buck trends. We should look at the research and the charts and then light them on fire and follow our hearts. BUT (!!!) we also need to constantly check our blindspots. We need to do our homework. We need to have accountability structures in place and folks that we’ve given permission to call us out when we’ve started to drift into crazy territory. We need to listen to the Holy Spirit.  I am absolutely a maverick at heart, and I need to remember that my instincts are frequently wrong and I need to seek out wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6, 27:17).

Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?

If all the stations are all doing the same thing and going after the same listeners, then no. Efforts are duplicated, the pool of listeners is split, everything becomes a game of one-upmanship and we are distracted from our primary goal of reaching the lost and equipping the believer. I get that every station is going to be offering some different things, but like the apostle Paul, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20). If there’s already a Christian station or two or five in your area, why not go somewhere where there isn’t that kind of coverage or serve an audience that isn’t being served? I feel immensely blessed to be in a market where we aren’t oversaturated with Christian stations. As The Pulse, we get to be THE local Christian music station in the area and our sister station The Word gets to be THE teaching and talk station (though The Word plays some music–they are a hybrid format–their sound is pretty distinct from ours).

What is the ONE thing you must have everyday to do your job?

The Holy Spirit. I promise I’m not trying to just give the Sunday school answer on that one! We have to be listening to his voice and we need to be operating in concert with him. When people are being fake on the radio or on social media or from the pulpit,  you can smell it a mile away and that hypocrisy does damage to our message. I think the most important part of our show prep is the time we are opening up our Bible and doing our morning devotions. We can only give what we have. If we aren’t growing spiritually, what can we hope to share with our listeners? I find that even being honest about my spiritual struggles on the air resonates with people and can help meet them where they are at.

Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?

Youtube. There are a lot of folks who are taking advantage of having free, easily-accessible platforms and honing their broadcasting craft. Have you seen the number of subscribers and views that some of these content creators have? Certainly there is a lot of garbage and noise out there, but to quote Macho Man Randy Savage, “The cream always rises to the top!” Youtube, Soundcloud, Podbean, WordPress, Facebook Live, etc. are providing tools to practice storytelling from the comfort of home and a lot of young people growing up in that environment are going to make incredible on-air talents.

Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?

I think that young people are being incredibly underserved by Christian radio and if we don’t change that, our stations are going to dry up and die when our aging donors do. All kinds of studies bear out the fact that adolescence is an important time in a person’s spiritual development, but it is also an important time in a person’s musical development. Young people are developing musical “independence” from their parent’s tastes earlier then they used to as delivery and discovery methods are changing. If we don’t start offering something to them now, we can’t expect them to come on board later in life. I also believe that as the cultural divide between the World and the Church widens in the coming years, we won’t have the number of listeners we’ve been blessed with in the past. We need to take a hard look at launching formats aimed younger (knowing that they might not be as financially stable as our AC stations and might be propped up) as an investment in the future of Christian radio and in the church.  

Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?

My biggest radio hero and influence would be Mark Seignious (AKA “Disney Dayton” or “Seignious The Genius”). Mark is an immensely talented broadcaster, but more than that, he has a heart for investing in young people. During my time at Northwestern, Mark was more than just my favorite professor: he kindled in me a heart for radio ministry and he constantly pushed me to strive for excellence in my craft. When I was phoning it in, he reminded me I was better. When I nailed it, he wasn’t miserly with his praise. When I was discouraged, he spurred me on. When I was hungry, he took me to China Restaurant. Northwestern’s radio broadcasting program puts out a lot of great talent, and I think much of that can be traced directly to the Mark Seignious. I wouldn’t be in radio today if it weren’t for him.

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