Jonathan Unthank Interview
Assistant Director of Programming/Music Director
The Light FM
Career Capsule: My first full-time Christian radio experience began in 1995 at WYLV Love 89.1, in Knoxville, TN where I served in various leadership roles and on-air for 15 years. I was fortunate to be a part of the station launch team and watch the station grow into a solid fixture in the CCM industry through 2010. I had the pleasure of working with Centricity Music’s Kris Love and Salem’s Mike Blakemore, as well as many other talented individuals during my years there. I also spent 3 years at Mainstream AC WJXB in Knoxville, as well as helped oversee Radio BGC, an online radio station made up of kids who attended local Boys and Girls Clubs in East Tennessee. Since 2014, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside an amazing team at The Light FM in Asheville, NC. I now serve as Assistant Director of Programming and Content for our stations and frequencies that serve our seven-state listening area.
Jonathan, tell us what’s new at The Light FM … news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
We are so thankful for God’s provision. Step by step He has provided for the ministry! We are seeing a lot of growth at the station, not only expansion in our coverage area, but also specifically in the digital realm with our Girl Talk Podcast and in-house Virtual Events. This year has opened our eyes to so many different ways of getting our message out through non-traditional means. It has stretched us, given us a fresh outlook on how to connect with our listening family, and we look forward to carrying many of the things we’ve learned into next year.
I have also recently moved into the Assistant Director of Programming and Content role at The Light FM, as well as handling Music Director duties. Looking forward to the challenge and the opportunities ahead to come alongside our audience each day and provide them with practical ways to grow in their relationship with the Lord, and in service to others…
How has your job been affected by the pandemic, adjustments, modifications etc?
I am based in our Knoxville, TN office, so working remotely with our main studios in Asheville, NC is something I have already been doing for several years. There have been minor adjustments along the way, but I am very thankful for the stable work environment, video conferencing, and the ability to keep things moving forward even during times the team has had to work from home. If anything, I have had fun picking out Zoom backgrounds I never knew existed.
What is the best programming/show advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Best: God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary. You may think your story is not worth much, but it may mean the world to someone listening.
Worst: Keep your struggles to yourself.
Some say the more Christian stations in a market the “better”…. What’s your opinion?
I think the landscape of competition has been shifting for some time now. It’s no longer just about another terrestrial station coming in to town, and how we share audience with them. It’s more about the importance of executing the mission and vision God has for your ministry in all spheres of media content (radio, social, video, online/apps, etc…). With so many different ways to access the same type of content, competition is a good thing. The challenge is to find a way to be great at what sets you apart and makes you, you. Zero in on those things. God’s plan for your ministry may not be the same plan He has for another ministry in town. He will provide the means to accomplish what He desires through you.
What’s your opinion on podcasts… is it necessary to have one, are they a threat to radio… etc?
Podcasts need to be an extension of your ministry. People love the behind the scenes aspect of life, music, and culture. If anything, podcasts help connect you in deeper ways with your audience. I think if we want to be relevant in our listeners’ lives, you have to meet them where they are…and podcasts are proving to be that tool for many radio stations.
Where will new up and coming air talent for Christian Radio come from?
YouTube Channels. Social media outlets. New talent at the university level. Engaging kids while they are young in the wonder and fun of expressing themselves through music and recording. We have to keep our eyes open for diamonds in the rough, and invest in them now.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian air talent?
Finding creative ways to keep the hope of the Gospel front and center in a world that seemingly paints Christians as out of touch and hypocritical.
Don’t get too wrapped up in the little things that it takes you away from the big picture. Take your time with your on-air shows. With the message we have to share, now is the time to take it up a notch. I listen to a lot of radio throughout the day. Different stations, different formats. Christian radio has so much talent. Take the time to prep. You will instantly stand out. Mainstream radio is not putting the effort in, in my opinion.
Take time to dream. Our world has changed in the past year. Pray for fresh ears to hear and fresh eyes to see what areas are not being served in your community, and be the first in line to meet the need.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Earlier this year marked my 25th year in Christian Radio. So many friends and colleagues, and grateful for each one. I guess I am kind of unique in the way I look at radio heroes. I love listening to the small town stations, and listen to the way they interact with their listeners. It may not be polished or what we would consider top-level talent, but they have a connection and loyal following like none other. They are real people, not celebrity hosts, just real people. They remind me how to serve well.