Jim Stephens Interview
President and General Manager
Carolina Christian Radio, Inc.
Career Capsule: I got into radio while in college and although I didn’t graduate from college I did come out of my college experience with a career! After college I was involved in “secular” radio until God got a hold of my heart in 1977. Within a year God opened the door for me to go to work at a Christian radio station, WPJL in Raleigh, NC. I remained at WPJL for almost 15 years.
Through a series of miraculous events, God opened the door for us to buy 1490 AM in Wilmington, NC in 1992. It was an off the air station that my wife and I were able to resurrect and we signed on in March, 1993 bringing a contemporary Christian music and teaching station to the Wilmington area. Earlier this year we celebrated our 27th year on the air.
In 1995, we were able to buy a construction permit for a non-comm FM station and put 90.5 FM on the air with the help of some special community leaders who loved the Lord. Over the years other stations followed eventually reaching the maximum for our market with 6 stations–all with different formats to minister to different segments of the Christian community. We currently have 3 non-comms; our flagship station is Life 90.5 with full-time contemporary Christian music, a teaching station–The Word 88.5 and a Praise and Worship station–The Dove 89.7. We also have a 4th commercial FM that is currently leased.
And after over 29 years, next year I plan to retire to Florida to be closer to our children AND grandkids.
Jim, tell us what’s new at Life 90.5 … news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
We’ve expanded our office space by about 50% that will serve well for a number of years. We’re also adding a new production and on air studio in the first quarter of 2021. Also we’re in the process of stepping up our game on our flagship station with a MAJOR upgrade of our on-air programing from Simian to WideOrbit. That should be completed in January.
How has your Life 90.5 show changed during the pandemic?
The one thing we noticed after the pandemic started and after everything closed down was our listeners listening habits changed. With the kids doing remote learning there wasn’t as much audience interaction during the morning drive show. Now since the kids have started returning to class schooling, morning drive has picked back up a lot.
What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
There have been a lot good advice over the year but one piece of advice I’ve always remembered from my earliest days at the University campus radio station was to “smile” while talking on the air. The listeners can hear that smile and many have confirmed that.
Some say the more Christian stations in a market the “better”…. What’s your opinion?
Personally I don’t care for the duplication we have in our market, especially since this is a small market. With that said, local is always going to be king because the big boys can’t ever provide the connection with listeners that we can. We work hard to serve our listeners and community as their local Christian radio ministry. We’re involved in a Feed the Hunger Pack-a-thon this weekend where we’re expecting to pack 100,000 meals, 10% of which will remain right here to feed the hungry in our area. We’re also actively working right with the local Salvation Army with their Christmas outreaches.
What’s your opinion on podcasts… is it necessary to have one, are they a threat to radio… etc?
We’ve been jumping in with both feet on digital development by raising money to hire a digital director to handle our social media, including podcasts, video and much more. We also raised enough money to make sure our DD has gotten and will continue to get the training she needs as well having the equipment for video-casting, podcasting, upgrading our streaming, radio apps, websites etc.
Where will new up and coming air talent for Christian Radio come from?
We were blessed to hire a young lady who moved here and who had experience in talk radio but not Christian, although she was a PK who grew up on Christian music. She has also been an incredible find and asset for us. She even decided after graduating from college with a teaching degree to stay with us rather than teach a bunch of 3rd graders—imagine that.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
I truly think the greatest obstacle is our lack of faith or belief in all the Lord wants to do through us here in southeastern North Carolina. We’ve seen Him do incredible things but I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of what He wants to do. I see unbelievable opportunity for more impact and ministry in our community through our local involvement and through the life changing music we play everyday.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
There have been many radio influences over the years but I want to honor my Dad. When I was born he was working at WIVY in Jacksonville, FL. I’m not sure if that influenced my eventual career but here I am…a 2nd generation radio announcer.