As 2023 comes to an end we asked Christian Radio programmers/leaders: What new trends have you seen emerge in Christian Radio in 2023?
Mike Couchman OM KJLY KXBS St Louis – The shrinking talent pool has become a talent puddle. It’s not new to 2023, but for whatever reason, this past year, the challenges of finding the right people seems to have become more pervasive across the format (and across all of radio).
Matt Pelishek PD KAXL Bakersfield – A trend I’ve noticed is how the external changes of the last few years (the way media is consumed, changing demographics, etc) has impacted the internal side of radio. I know it’s not everywhere, but I have noticed some of this internal tension popping up. There’s a generation of radio people wanting to step out and try new things to keep up with the external changes, but sometimes others who are more resistant, and trying to ‘stay the course.’ In some cases, that tension can rise when a fundraiser is impacted by the economy, and each side doubling down. Maybe I’m reading too deep here, but in a time where we all see people desperate for hope, that tension can be a ploy of the enemy. For anyone who might have experienced some of that type of tension, I think open prayer and communication as a team is a good place to stand against any of those ways the enemy tries to impact your ministry.
Josh Jones PD KKEQ Grand Forks – They may not be new, but we’re broadcasting in an area that still has people writing paper checks for a lot of things! We are noticing a lot more use of our stream with the app on our digital devices! We’re also noticing a lot more traffic on our podcast. Right now we primarily use our podcast for interviews, and topics that we dive in deeper on. We haven’t made the jump to regular content creating there yet. Our fall pledge drive had MANY new partners jumping on board. People are very hungry for good news and programming. Every Christmas, we invite listeners to nominate families for $500 gifts. A record number of families were nominated this year, and we know that a lot of people are hurting financially. Way more than usual. On the flip side of that, we’ve had a record number of businesses jump on board to donate so we could bless more families this year. I believe we are up to 45 that we can bless. God is on the move, even in times that seem bleak.
Jack Robertson Station Manager WSMP-LP Magee, MS – The one trend I have noticed this past year from the listener & really, from before then is the need for hope. That has been a huge conversation with listeners when they call the station, talking about the need for hope now more than ever. Not really programming but I have also seen a bit of a decline with listener support with the stations I have helped. Nothing to be alarmed about but a reminder that we need to do what we can to connect on a deeper level. Also with fundraising, I have also seen a decline in response with match challenges, maybe perhaps the days of “gimmicks” are coming to an end? Those are not good reasons to call & support a radio station. Again, we need to connect on a deeper level throughout the year & then celebrate with stories of lives changed & how the station has been a blessing. Showcase how God uses the radio ministry as a reason to give. Not because you have a drawing, a match or setting a timer.
Matt McNeilly Station Manager WMBI/Chicago – According to research from various consultants and research firms, one emerging trend is the growing demand among listeners for focused and targeted radio formats.
If radio stations have other products they wish to offer their audience, it’s best to do so on different platforms. This is why we are seeing a rise in streaming, podcasts, hi-impact video, social media, and YouTube audiences.
Although radio is still very strong, radio needs to follow suit to stay relevant.
John Frost Consultant – 2023 was another strong year for Christian music radio. Many markets have CCM stations at the top tier of market leading radio stations, unheard of twenty years ago. Many large and major markets have multiple CCM options, not always ideal for the stations but always good for listeners. I also believe that iron sharpens iron. I’ve personally experienced how having a direct competitor can make a station better.
Here are three key challenges that Christian music radio will continue to face in 2024:
Growing the talent pool. Technology is great but it has also eliminated many of the jobs we first had when we got into the business. Overnights and weekends are no longer points of entry for aspiring broadcasters. Instead we need to be looking in other areas such as digital production, social media, and on demand and podcast offerings, which means broadening the search beyond those with just call letters on their resume.
The “aging” of the format. Many successful CCM stations have a greater audience composition 45+ than 25-44. That can be misleading, however, unless put into context of the aging of all radio listening and the aging of the Christian lifegroup. (Ask a church person how they are doing in attracting 18-34’s). A recent analysis of the top ten stations (by share) in a top five market revealed only one with the 35-44 age cell larger than the older cells, even for formats generally thought to target younger listeners.
The 3rd challenge relates to what I’ve just said about aging demos. I’ve been involved in lots of research this year measuring the demographic appeal of the format. The macro view indicates that the trajectory of radio is still strong and meaningful 45+. However, we’re never going to be able to convince Millennials and Gen Z to consume FM radio in the way that Baby Boomers did. Raised with more entertainment options available linear audio is just a part of their menu, not unlike how linear television competes with on demand. It is important for radio stations to develop digital and on demand initiatives are tailored to the listening habits on these younger lifegroups. We have to go where they are.
Ty McFarland PD KCMS/Seattle – 30+ years ago, a lot of our stations were in love with Jesus but relatively unskilled at building audience. We had a message, and passion, but a small audience of insiders.
Over the years, the format has made significant leaps forward in building cume, in professionalism, and in pursuing excellence in every area. The audience grew significantly, but there might have been some question marks about the original message coming through loud and clear.
Brian Curee CEO Killer Bee Marketing – Today, I’m seeing more stations re-focus on sharing our faith in a more intentional way. The gospel that Jesus Saves, no matter how you say it, is still the best news ever. We now have skill combined with passion, and we know better how to build bridges to our culture. Let’s stay bold and focused on sharing Jesus! In the ever-evolving world of social media and the power of connection, one key to social strategy is for us to become better listeners. Listening to NOT just what your audience wants but what your audience is growing tired of. Just as a restaurant might shift to healthier options in response to customer demands, we need to tune into the changing tastes of our digital audience.
The spotlight has often been on public interactions. Brands typically focus on content that gains more likes, shares, and public comments. However, the untapped potential lies in the private aspects of these platforms – the direct messages and inbox conversations where deeper, more personal connections are formed. From my experience, and likely yours too, the private side of social media is a hidden gem for nurturing stronger relationships with followers, customers, and leads. In these one-on-one interactions, you can offer tailored support and truly listen to your audience’s needs.
They can hear more about my thoughts on why private social will be important in 2024 at https://killerbeemarketing.com/embracing-the-shift-why-private-social-media-strategies-are-the-future/
Dave Cruse PD The JOY FM Tampa – I think what I’ve seen most is a more intentional move toward alternative ways to connect with the audience. We’ve been talking for the last several years about repurposing content and using social media and video. We’re seeing more and more personalities finding ways to connect beyond their airshift.
I think we’re also seeing how important smart speakers and apps have become. Huge portions of the audience have replaced the in home radio with smart speakers. Apps take you places your signal doesn’t reach and can be especially helpful in combating weak signals and connected dashboards. In January of this year we lost our Atlanta tower to a tornado, yet our cume in the last book was higher than it was before the tower fell. That’s due in great part to our donor relations team, Atlanta staff and the app.