Rich Anderson Interview
Radio Fundraising Coach
Career Capsule: I grew up in the Western suburbs of Chicago and was blessed to have a low power FM station at my high school (WHSD). In the early 80s there wasn’t a radio station that reached my home with CCM. Thanks to a Christian principal, I hosted a weekly CCM show on my public high school station. From there I went to Wheaton College where I was active on WETN (sold to EMF in 2016) as well as AM 1000 WCFL (then Christian), 103.9 FM WCRM (then Christian), and NPR station WDCB (where remarkably I was also able to host a CCM show). After college and graduate school I moved to Springfield, MO to help my WCFL PD (Darrell Ankarlo – aka Kris Stevens) start KADI. It took forever to start that station so I got a job at local rock station KXUS to help put food on the table. Then it was on to WJQK in Holland, MI (afternoons and PD), WMUZ in Detroit (mornings), and finally WAYK/WAYG (WaYfm) in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, MI where I was GM and hosted mornings for 13 years. I then left daily radio for 9 years and worked for a global orphan care ministry where I was a major gift officer and birthed an artist and radio outreach (both focused on child sponsorship). I didn’t realize how much I missed daily radio until attending Lee Geysbeek’s memorial service and seeing many of my old radio friends. That created a yearning in my very being which brought me for a year to ShareMedia Services (now Dunham+Company) and finally into a role as an independent consultant where I help coach stations with their pledge-drives and fundraising. My biggest client is Smile FM, the largest Christian radio network in Michigan (27 stations in MI).
Rich, tell us what’s new … any news, changes etc?
I became a grandpa in 2020 twice (Benjamin and Alexander). I absolutely love both of these boys and treasure every moment I get with them (except for having to change messy diapers). I think they’ll both grow up to be my hunting and fishing buddies. 2020 was the best year financially at Smile FM (despite a pandemic) and I’m enjoying producing and hosting two annual pledge-drives, orchestrating Giving Tuesday, year-end, and overseeing direct mail and major donors. And we’re tracking to do even better in 2021. I’m hoping to be able to help out a few more stations this year. I’m fortunately in a life stage where it’s not about the money I can make from having more clients but rather about giving back to Christ’s Kingdom.
In your consulting experience, what ingredients are important to make a Christian Radio morning show work?
My consulting focuses directly on fundraising so I’m not currently coaching stations on their morning shows – except during pledge drives. Obviously it’s important to have chemistry (if co-hosted), authenticity, relate-ability, a unique Christian worldview, and lots of fun.
Overall, what is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
When Scott Veigel left WAYK as my PD he had an honest heart-to-heart with me. Scott told me I cared more about my product than my people. That was hard to hear but true. I got that switched around and became a much better manager. The Way of the Shepherd: Seven Secrets to Managing Productive People also helped me make this transition. The reality is, if you truly care about your people they will typically give you a great product. The worst advice likely came during the three years I labored at WMUZ (Crawford Broadcasting) where we were constantly told everything was about getting results for our advertisers. We endorsed every advertiser after each spot ran. Our listeners hated this but you did it or didn’t have a job. I’d speculate that it’s not great programming advice to encourage engagement in something your listeners loathe.
What’s something you’ve learned due to the pandemic, about Christian Radio, that you didn’t know before?
Some stations (including the network I consult – Smile FM) had record fundraising in 2020 in the midst of a pandemic. This was surprising because I remember that wasn’t the case for most radio ministries in 2009 during the great recession. 2009 was the only year WAYK ended in the red under my leadership. I think it goes to show that some stations have fiercely loyal listeners who, if asked, will rally in the midst of adversity.
Starting last year thru now many Christian Radio stations have had very successful fundraisers, some their best ever. What would you attribute this to?
Fundraising isn’t something you just do during the week of your pledge drive; you lay the groundwork for it throughout the year. Stations that are doing a great job meeting the needs of their listeners, all year long, have better fundraisers. As I mentioned in https://www.hisair.net/rich-anderson-three-dos-and-donts-for-pledge-drive/, “Most research suggests that the number one reason people give to Christian radio is because they like what they get, or their family gets, from your station. Your donors are giving because of what they get from your station and because doing so likely provides them with a good feeling. A distant second is because they believe they should support ministry.” During COVID, when church doors were shuttered and in-person gatherings were very limited, I believe many relied more on Christian Radio for companionship and truly appreciated the hope and encouragement they received from listening daily. When stations then asked for support, coupled with reinforcing the stronger than normal financial need as a result of COVID, listeners responded generously because they liked what they were getting from the station. A pandemic also likely causes us to reflect on what’s truly important – and helping to support Christ’s work is something we’re called to as believers. Finally, I think during 2020 so much felt out of our control (COVID, riots, a contentious election) BUT we could still control our giving.
Where will new up and coming air talent for Christian Radio come from?
Most anybody can be taught the fundamentals of good broadcasting but they can’t be taught to have an engaging personality. New talent can come from anywhere compelling personalities can be found. I’d specifically look inside local churches to find authentic Christians who are particularly engaging when placed in a group setting (BSF, praise team, youth ministry, college ministry, etc.) One of the best talents I ever discovered interviewed at WAYK for a receptionist position. Part way through the interview I made a comment that I didn’t know why I was interviewing her for a receptionist position when she would likely make a great radio personality. She said, “I’d be okay with that.” And a short time later Heather Erbe was my co-host in the morning.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian air talent?
It’s difficult to gain skills as a new air talent since so many independent local Christian stations have either been eaten up by EMF and other big players – or they use varying amounts of syndication and voice-tracking. When I was first exploring radio pretty much any go-getter could get an overnight or weekend gig on a local station – because almost everything was live and local. This required a huge amount of talent to keep stations rolling – and made holidays particularly unpleasant since you were live even on Christmas. Try to find a stand-alone station these days that has a live overnight host on weekends. That was my first gig on WCFL – which covered 27 states and 4 Canadian provinces overnight. Talk about a fun place to cut your teeth!
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
To this day I remember Jim Channell’s daily sign-off, “If God be for us, who could possibly be against us.” Jim was the first air talent that caught my attention as a general radio listener. Jim Marshall taught me more about programming on a Saturday before a PD interview than I learned in four years of college. The late Lee Geysbeek was the best boss I ever had as he let me “go and blow” (his words). I knew Lee respected me and he had my back. Ed Czelada is an amazing engineer who launches new stations nobody else would even know where or how to find. With very little money he has grown Smile FM from one station in Michigan to 27! I’m super proud of my friend Scott Jackson, who after being successful in US Christian radio went back to his home in Canada to birth Life 100.3 in Barrie, Ontario. Over the past 20+ years I’ve enjoyed watching Mike Couchman transition from a young kid in his first radio gig into one of the best PDs in the industry. And I greatly respect my friend Peter Brooks who recently retired after 48-years on-the-air. Peter had opportunities to take off-air VP type roles but he felt his calling was being a faithful friend to his daily listeners.