VP of Programming CCM – Salem Media
WFSH – The Fish
Career Capsule: I started at 16 in 1979! Let’s say I’ve worked every daypart and many formats including Top 40, AC, Hot AC, Oldies, Country, Smooth Jazz, Album Rock, and even statewide public radio before working in CCM. I started in the upper midwest in Wisconsin where I grew up, and have also worked in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska before moving to Tennessee, where I started in non-com Christian radio. I’ve worked the commercial side of Christian radio here in Atlanta for the past 15 years. I’ve been in my current role of Salem’s VP of Programming for 5 years. I’m also the station imaging voice for our Fish stations in Atlanta, Nashville, Portland, Cleveland and one non Salem CCM in Bangor.
Mike, tell us what’s new at The Fish Atlanta… any news, changes etc… and what’s new with YOU?
I’m going to take this opportunity to brag about our team here at Fish Atlanta. Since my arrival, we’ve been able to take all our talent to the next level. Kevin and Taylor, our morning show is now syndicated nationwide, while keeping their ATL show completely live and local. They are a once in a lifetime morning show in terms of extreme talent, chemistry and experience and a joy to work with. Penny at night with her Keep the Faith show was our first show to syndicate from here. She is the Delilah of Christian radio, but much better because her show connects and changes lives with some of the best content and phone calls I’ve ever heard. She is also one of the best production wiz’s I’ve ever known. A++! She just signed on with our sister station KLTY in Dallas to do a custom 7p-mid show for them as well! Beth Bacall in afternoons is a legendary CCM personality and she share’s her gifts assisting me in coaching talent around the country. No one can get more depth and connectivity out of a 10 second intro than Beth! She’s also a joy to brainstorm with, as we often do. Just recently our very talented mid day host Kim Fitz, who replaced our heritage mid day host Parks after her retirement last year, also added mid days on the Fish Nashville and the TCM Network. Griffin, our morning show producer recently added Assistant PD to his duties to help me locally, because of all my corporate duties. I can’t brag on our station and not mention our in house live and local traffic department. Chris Monroe is the best traffic reporter I’ve ever heard. He grew up wanting to be a traffic reporter, and he’s on of the most liked and recognized voices in the market. Donna Rodriguez is a new and rising star in that department and our afternoon reporter Greg McClure is in the Georgia Broadcasting Hall of Fame! How’s that for an air team!
Off the air and behind the scenes, we have our marketing department with Mike Kelly, Amber Turner and Rebecca Hollis and the entire Fish Fun crew. They have taken our station to the next level in so many areas, especially digital. They make all of us on air folks look good and seen everywhere! Our sales manager and team is incredible, regularly outperforming our commercial competition in Atlanta. And our GM Val Carolyn is the best. His management style combined with his wealth of experience in this market and beyond builds bridges that we can all use to change more lives!
We back this all up with ratings. I’m proud to say that out of 40+ radio stations in the Atlanta area, our 14 month average is 4th W25-54, 7th P25-54 and 6th 6+. And yes, we’ve celebrated a few #1’s along the way!
What’s new with me? I’ve been working on new systems to help all our stations get to the next level while still keeping Fish Atlanta my direct responsibility. As you can see from the above, I couldn’t do any of that without the help of my talented team in Atlanta and our stations around the country.
I know you just asked about Atlanta but there are so many talented shows, personalities and programmers that I work with at all of our stations. I could write a book on every market! They include: Dallas, LA, Portland, Cleveland, Nashville, Honolulu, Sacramento, Little Rock, Colorado Springs, and Columbus. Then there’s the Today’s Christian Music Network and streaming stations in Minneapolis and Seattle.
How do you balance work & family, how important is it for someone in Christian Radio to ‘have a life”?
I think it’s VERY important to have a normal life outside of Christian Radio. When you’re too inside the industry, you lose focus on the listener, their outside experiences with the radio station, and what they really want. Sometimes, tuning out is a great way to tune into other’s everyday lives and see things from their perspective. My amazing wife Kim, who is not in the industry, also helps keep me grounded in the real world, where I’m not a boss but a husband, father and hopefully a contributing member of the community. We’re fortunate to live on a lake just west of Atlanta with a great community of friends so we’re never lacking in fun activities outside of radio. Taking a morning boat ride with my pups and listening to music or just nature is where I find my peace. My advice, find your passions outside of radio, make the time and dive in!
Personally at this stage of my life, health is huge. Personal and family. Taking time for both is essential. I recovered from two surgeries late last year and I lost my only sibling, my sister last year along with my father a few years before that. It really makes me appreciate those I’m fortunate enough to still have around. I’m so blessed to still have my mom in my life and I try to see her as often as possible in Wisconsin. Her influence is a huge part of what I am today.
One of my favorite rolls outside of radio is to be cheerleader to my kids! My daughter Whitney is an audio and video producer for Keep the Faith in Arizona and is getting married to a wonderful man Aaron. My son Brett is a producer for KFAN, one of the top rated sports radio stations in the country located in Minneapolis. My step son CJ is studying to be in the medical field. I couldn’t be more proud of all of them!
Overall, what is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Best: Do whatever you can to find out what your listeners want, need and expect from your radio station and give it to them in ways that matter, change lives and are memorable. (I’m still learning every day what our listeners want)
Worst: You don’t need to do research, just use your gut.
What’s something you’ve learned due to the pandemic, about Christian Radio, that you didn’t know before?
The pandemic made many, if not all of us work from home and go to our “cocoons”. My challenge to the team was: When you come out of your cocoon, how will you be changed? Caterpillars become butterflies. I learned video editing and now I’ve helped take our station to another level. During the pandemic, I had talent from all our Salem CCMs to do Zoom interviews with the biggest names in CCM. I edited them all together to present: “Good Friday Across America”, where the video aired online at all our stations and the audio portion went over the air. I think Christian radio was super important during the pandemic. While the places and times of listening changed, the importance of seeing God and our faith through all of this was more important than maybe any time of our lives.
What are your thoughts on podcasting, should all Christian broadcasters have a podcast?
Just like the radio, podcasting is one of the many ways to communicate our brand with our listeners along with other digital avenues, such as YouTube, Instagram, etc. I think for shows that have content that’s re-usable, they should have one for that. If you don’t, how about a different way to connect? Our traffic reporter Donna has a foodie “Dishing with Donna” Podcast. Our midday host Kim takes walks with inspiring people in her podcast, “Trails and testimonies”.
Where will new up and coming Christian Radio air talent come from?
They may come from stations like mine that still have live and local hosts and part time air staffers who are growing and learning. Since stations like this are few and far between, others need to be recruited from the world of social media. The personalities that are savvy and talented enough to draw a huge audience, may be great talents to use. We have also designed contests to find talent. Several years ago Our “Opening Act” teen contest winner was Stephen Stanley, who is now hitting radios nationwide with his great music! The talent is there. We just need creative ways to find them.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian Radio?
Stations: Not thinking out of the box in terms of delivery. Go to where the listeners are. We are brands that connect with listeners in many different ways. 2. Not appreciating, training and loving on our talent. In a world filling up with AI and generic sounding shows, our talent is the real encouraging human element that you can’t find on Spotify.
Talent: Many folks are on their own working from home or doing their own podcast or YouTube channels. They are not used to working with teams of any kind. You don’t have to be in a building to be part of a team. But you have to have a team spirit and heart to connect and work with others in a way that betters the team and brand. A great example, the Keep the Faith show from it’s inception has been a remote team but communicates all the time and puts out amazing products/shows each and every week. Live the team spirit!
Christian industry: Recovery from the pandemic. Since church attendance isn’t what it used to be pre-pandemic, the patterns of listening on the weekends have changed. Some may look at that as an obstacle. While Sunday morning may not be the drive time it used to be for CCM, Sundays as a whole are still very strong for us. That day more than ever, our audience is seeking special programming, and our partnership with the Keep the Faith show is our anchor. We are not designed or desire to be a Church replacement, but we have been to some extent during the pandemic and it’s aftermath. Hope for the future? I’m very excited to see the recent revivals happening in the news and even the Jesus Revolution movie taking off. Something big is happening and it’s huge for the Kingdom!
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Growing up as I kid I wanted to be on WLS in Chicago, my favorite radio station of all time. The jocks on that station were my early heroes. Radio had personality, lots of surprises and it was fun to listen to! We need more of that today. Other folks that changed my life are my first real PD Jonathan Little at Z-104 in Madison, Wisconsin while I was in college. He took the time to coach me after cutting fake airchecks in the prod room until I was good enough to go on the air at 2am, New Year’s morning! We still work together today because he’s in charge of Troy Research! Our consultant John Frost, who I’ve worked with since Tennessee, was instrumental in my transition to the CCM format and for our continued success in several of our Salem markets. David Sams is one of the best innovators and idea persons I’ve ever met. Without him there would be no Keep the Faith weekend show or KTF evenings with Penny. I’m very blessed and proud to consider all of them my close friends. Finally, the management team at Salem, all the way to the top, are huge influences of mine. When I hear them share their heart and passions behind why we do what we do, it confirms that I am part of something only God could be behind.