Jess Hart Interview
Career Capsule: I have been in Christian radio for 12 years, all of that time here at Spirit 92.9. I started part time in promotions, with no intention of going on air. But the PD at the time decided I was well spoken and relatable to ‘Becky’, and started training me for on air. I first did overnights, then middays, then moved to mornings, and was promoted to PD and Music Director after 4 years at the station.
Jess, tell us what’s new at KKJM… news, changes, & new with YOU… etc?
It’s been a busy season as we upgraded to Zetta over the past month, while also making plans for spring concerts and fundraiser, and hosting a marriage and parenting seminar with Kirk Cameron. Our staff also took a couple days to get away on a retreat together and do some team bonding as well as strategic planning for 2020. I highly recommend it if you can do it. There’s something about getting out of the walls of your station and sharing ideas and deeper conversations. Our theme for fundraiser and really for this year is ‘Greater Things’. We’ve seen God work in some exciting ways through Spirit 92.9, and we’re excited and expectant to see how he’s going to work through it both on and off the air in the new year!
UPDATE: Since this interview was done pre-fundraiser week and pre stay at home order, just an update….we did have to cancel spring concerts & events, however went ahead with a ‘Hoperaiser’ instead of typical fundraiser March 17-20.
Your station has a great heritage… how important is that, and why do you believe the station has lasted so long?
Over 20 years ago, when a man named Andy Hilger decided to start a Christian music station in St. Cloud, everyone told him it would never work. Nobody would listen. But he believed God was calling him to do it, and wasn’t the type of guy to take no for an answer once he set his mind on something. At the time, a bright young air talent named Melony McKaye was working for Andy at the cluster of mainstream stations he owned, and when she heard what he was planning, she told him she wanted to be a part of it, and she helped develop what became known for a time as Spirit 93. Central Minnesota has a large Catholic and Lutheran population, and also a strong evangelical presence. This could be an obstacle for Christian radio in our community, but we’ve made the focus of the radio station to be on what unites us as a Christian community-and that’s Jesus. We are intentional about being welcoming to all and being real…sharing our struggles and victories. We are also intentional about getting to know our listeners and donors. We call them. We pray with them. We get to know them and become friends. We have created a safe, welcoming place where we treat listeners like family. I believe intentional relationship and being real and welcoming are the keys to the stations longevity and success. And it sets us apart from other options that come into our listening area.
What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The best-be real. Be you-in a way that’s honoring to God but relatable to others. People can tell when you’re fake. But they can connect with you when you’re real and vulnerable. The worst? Don’t take any risks.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
This is a hard question. While I believe that any way a person can find hope and connect with God is a good thing, and that variety makes that more of a possibility, I also see how stations like ours work SO hard to invest in our community and love on our neighbors, and the struggle of trying to thrive while not having the resources of larger radio groups or networks. I do believe a station that is IN the market they serve can have a much greater impact through relationships. It’s a lot easier to have a bigger impact on a community for the kingdom when there’s not multiple stations competing for listeners and donor support.
What’s your opinion on podcasts… is it necessary to have one, are they a threat to radio… etc?
I don’t have a whole lot of experience with them, to be honest, but I know my twenty something kids do, and I know that they are the future demographic of our format, so I see the importance of them. However, I don’t think any station should have one just to have one. They need to be adding something very valuable to listeners and potential listeners, and creating deeper relationship with them. Endearing them to your station or on air personalities and artists.
In what area do you believe Christian Radio needs to improve most?
I think many of us are moving in the right direction, less radio, more relationship. Being real is so vital. Our listeners are struggling with many of the struggles we hide and refuse to talk about. There’s mental health issues. Their families don’t fit the Christian ‘mold’. They struggle to trust God. Not that we focus on these things of course, but talking about them in a way that points people to hope, and to Jesus as the source of that hope, in a way that’s real and makes them want a relationship with him.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
I think it’s us. Not being what listeners really need and want, but being what WE think they need and want. Not being real and welcoming. Not being intentional to play music they love and connect to. Not knowing their stories and how to speak into their reality and connect with them on a deeper level. Talking about things they don’t care about. People crave relationship and need to know they aren’t alone.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
I look up to and am inspired by the personalities who make me feel seen and understood and loved. Lisa Williams-before I even knew her, I knew her, because she creates a friendship and is so warm on the radio. And it’s who she is in person too. The kind of real I’ve been talking about. Dick Whitworth was our consultant for my first 11 years here, and taught me so much. He is a friend and true mentor. Melony McKaye and Lisa Barry are women I listen to often. I’m always amazed at the unique angles they find and the real way they talk about things I am struggling to figure out how to talk about. Ellis & Tyler at Z88 have such a great rapport. They are morning show team goals. There’s so many great talents in our format.