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Ron Diaz Interview

Ron Diaz
General Manager/Program Director
ReZurrection Radio

 

Career Capsule: I started in the late 80’s as a Media Communications Major in Baton Rouge, LA.  I enjoyed 2 years of hands on training in broadcast radio and television. Hands on practicum taught me the value of team work and that we all have a role to play to document what the Holy Spirit is doing in the church.  I was a fan of Christian music from an early age and loved what God was doing through that genre. I began promoting Christian Concerts in the early 90’s. I was blessed to work with many CCM artists and tours including Kim Boyce, Newsboys and Nicole C. Mullen.  I relocated from Utah to the Dallas Fort Worth area in 1996. My first job in Dallas was helping launch a new digital phone company called PrimeCo which later became Verizon. I continued to work in telecommunications with Sprint LTD for 10 years and was later contracted to Verizon for the next 2 years in the network technical field. I moved back into the entertainment industry working for Anderson Merchandising managing media rollout for Music, Video and Publishing for a Fort Worth Territory in Best Buy and Walmart. About the same time that I came to ReZurrection Radio to work with Jim Epperlein, I also began working with the largest video entertainment rental company in the U.S. as a Field Service Rep for a Dallas/North Texas area. I assumed the General Manager/ Program Director position at ReZurrection Radio when our founder Jim Epperlein passed away after a courageous battle with cancer.

 

Ron, tell us what’s new at ReZurrection Radio … any news, changes etc, plus what’s new with YOU?’

Since our founder Jim Epperlein’s passing I have been managing the growth and buildout of ReZurrecton Radio. It has been a challenge and I have taken much time to reflect the hours and sessions that Jim and I had together.  We have two other programmers as well that have been working on our channel buildouts.  Thomas Augustus who came from XM and Prazor handles Rock, Rap and Worship Channels.  Gino Espinoza handles our Dance and EDM formats, I handle the remainder.  We will have 23 music channels total this November.  When people think of Christian Music, the first thought is much narrower than what is really available.   Our playlists are very discrete but it’s done for a reason.   Music tastes are as varied as people choice in breakfast cereal or ice cream.   Jim wanted us to be a ministry designed to minister to the body of Christ as well as share the gospel with the lost in a music format they can relate to.   In addition to the standard Worship, Pop, Country, Rock formats, we have even specialized channels such as comedy, classic worship, EDM, electronic oriented worship on “SonicPraiZe,” and more.

The biggest change here is our flagship channel has a new and exciting sound.  The playlist was relaunched simply as “ReZurrection Radio”.  It still has the great sound that Jim developed but you will hear the top charting Christian songs more frequently.  The previous playlist was great but became too large to maintain and really became a library of CCM history’s greatest songs.

Those who loved the original flagship playlist (over 200 hours plus) now, will find it listed as “ReZ Forever” and it still has all the classic to current music Jim and I selected originally.

Something new that is unheard of in today’s radio landscape is we will have a “Featured Artist” each month on or Flagship Channel.  Sharing those great hits from long term artists with a rich history in CCM.    We thought October was fitting to have Carman who passed away earlier this year.  We gained nearly double the amount of people who followed our playlist and many also joined our Facebook group.  We want to capture the hearts of fans of the greats in CCM and invite them to become ReZ Fans.   It’s been great for us so far.  We will break for the Holidays and be back with a new “Feature Artist” in January.  This is the first announcement, Russ Taff will be our first feature artist of 2022.

We now have Latin International Channels.   2 Spanish channels are completed and 1 Portuguese is in “build” right now to reach the Brazilian audiences.  We are looking at a 2022 release.  

The 2 new Spanish channels are:

“ReZ en Espanol” Spanish Christian Pop y Adoracion (Worship)

“ReZ Christian” Tejano, Cumbia and Mariachi

In addition to our existing 23 total channels (including 2 talk), we will be launching 2 new Christmas Channels in November 2021.  The first is “ReZ Christmas Traditions”.  It will feature all time holiday classics with Bing, Sinatra, and more.  The second is “A ReZurrection Christmas.”  I know, it’s a very interesting title.   It will be current Christian artist, along with very light notable CCM classics. We made sure these two channels have the heart and sounds of Christmas that our listeners love. 

 

What does it mean to you personally to follow in the footsteps of what the late Jim Epperlein started at Rez Radio?

It was great to spend some time with Jim’s family a few months ago and to have their blessing to continue on with Jim’s vision.   Jim was such a pro and knew what it took to create something an audience would love, and become what he called “fans”.   He always had the listener in mind.   The day he told me he wanted me continue with ReZ when he no longer could was humbling.  It felt like very big shoes to fill but he had faith that was what the Lord wanted him to do.  It has been a joy to keep the great music coming to our listeners.

 

Overall, what are the biggest challenges of programming Rez Radio?

All of us here also work full time jobs.   It is truly a labor of love.   We look for opportunities to work on programming but we make sure to make plenty of time for the Lord and our families first.  Being on Spotify has its perks and disadvantages.   It makes our overhead very low because the platform covers the royalty cost and we have access to the full digital library of music.   The downside is we don’t have automation software to be specific in our approach to the listener.  We have no control over Spotify’s algorithm, so we have had to learn some ways to work around it.  Technically, we have to try to avoid songs replaying too soon but we want the most currently loved songs playing often enough to keep listeners.  There is no ability to edit songs or trim to fit the music better together.  When the labels release “Radio” or “Single” versions of a song really helps.   Spotify puts the experience in the users hands.  The great feature of crossfade give users that seamless radio experience.   The age of the music really determines the right crossfade for the listeners.  6 seconds for modern music and as much as 10 seconds for music before 2000’s because of the dreaded slow fade out many producers used in CCM in the early days.   Unlike a live streaming radio feed, Spotify has the ability to shuffle the music and users can skip a track.  We strive to be the best at what we do so people are less likely to skip tracks.  When listening to ReZurrection radio, what you hear is not much different than when Jim was at XM’s “The Message” or Prazor.  Our music is continuous as long as people are playing it on the Spotify App or their website.   Another challenge for us is funding.  Other than our countless hours we spend and invest, our overhead is very low.   I’m considering options right now.  Funding is mostly needed for promotional purposes and getting the word out more about our music radio service.  Our highest priority for now is a website.  To help inform and engage with our listeners in conjunction with our social media.

 

What does the future of Rez Radio look like to you?  

We will continue to add and build more channels.   In 2022 we hope to recruit volunteers for areas that are much needed like Web Design, Social Media, Public Relations, Digital Content creators, and more professional programmers.  Jim called us a labor of love so we hope to find people who have the same passion for Christian Music and want to be a part of something special like ReZurrection Radio.  At some point, if it’s the Lords will, we may offer a live version of our flagship channel for ReZurrection Radio.  This would allow for light interaction, the ability to play music not on digital streaming libraries, and it makes it easier to do things like fundraising.  Right now, we are remaining on Spotify and building that fan base first. 

 

How has the pandemic affected Rez Radio? What’s been the biggest issue for you, What have you learned about Christian Radio in the pandemic that you didn’t know prior? 

The Pandemic in many ways helped us.   Since all of us here work full time jobs, having reduced hours during the pandemic allowed us more time to work on our channels and have social media interaction.  With so many people stuck at home and no concert events happening, people missed seeing their favorite artist and that live event feeling.   One of the great ideas we had was to create “ReZ Live HitZ”.  It is comprised of over 27 hours of live recorded CCM from artist from past to present. The great thing is that it sounds like one great big Christian Music Festival.   Even now people are still being cautious. Concert attendance still hasn’t fully bounced back, so we offer a great alternative to those who want to relive those pre pandemic days without being in a crowd. 

I learned that God can utilize Christian Radio to meet a need even in a national crisis.   So many local terrestrial stations provided information and at the same time played music that counteracted the fear.   For many, Christian Radio was a calm in the midst of the storm.   

 

From the programming perspective, what makes Rez Radio a unique format??

 ReZ is unique for many reasons.  The biggest reason is that Jim Epperlein’s programming philosophy is still at our heart.  I first met Jim when he was at XM’s “The Message.”   Jim had vast experience in radio from talk, mainstream, and Christian Music.   He loved being at XM and Prazor so much because he was able to apply his long held belief to “get out of the way and let the music be the star!”  He felt that “over talk” could stop the great momentum of a great playlist.  Jim would always tell me after our numerous conference calls,  “Let the music shine!” The other philosophy he had was avoiding a tight playlist.   We have all the chart toppers but Jim always had myself seek out beyond the charts to find those songs with a great hook.  To find music that would have the possibility of being remembered in 10 years.   All of that being said, I have great respect for those who are the ”on air” talent.  It is not an easy job.   I have done scripted voice overs in the past, but to be quick enough and prepared enough to do live radio and speak between songs is a gift.   I think through his days at XM, Jim discovered that he didn’t need that for the format.  He didn’t really need much “talk” for Prazor, and now ReZ.   He loved the fact that the music could speak for itself.   I do see it necessary however for terrestrial stations to have “on air” talent as they are community based and are working to build something special.  As for music programming I have found that the terrestrial radio charts don’t always match the most streamed tracks.  Perhaps it’s because they are two different type’s music listeners.  I try hard to find blend the 2 formats.  Listeners want what is memorable.  Worship is a huge part of that.  We want to be different but not so different that listeners don’t relate.    We still play some songs that we think are great but have not charted.   Again, our standard that Jim set was “is it possible for the song be remembered in 10 years?”

 

Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?

Well, speaking for terrestrial radio is tough since we are a streaming only service. I think terrestrial radio in general has some challenges including streaming platforms.   I don’t see us as competition, but the streaming formats such as  Spotify, Apple, and Amazon can take away listeners.  That’s where the right “on air” talent can really shine.

Stations have the advantage in curation along with their imaging.   One of the biggest complaints I hear from people about Christian Music is that all the songs sound the same.   It’s simply not true.   Christian music is more dynamic and diverse as ever.  Christian radio programmers do a great job and I think most try to be creative with song selections.    Jim felt the biggest obstacle was “Tight Playlists…no variety… too much chatter.”   I would have to agree.  Christian Radio in any format needs to be attractive to the listener.   Jim understood this and drilled that into me.   The second thing was engaging with their audience and community.   The most effective stations are those making their listeners devoted fans or accepting the audience as part of their station family.  Since we don’t have “on air” talent and the capability to speak directly to our listeners, we rely on social media for that engagement.

 

Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?

I have several.   The first would definitely have to be Jim Epperlein because he gave me the opportunity to work with him.  I was never seeking to work in radio or streaming but Jim saw something and called me when he was at Prazor.  He wanted me to be his assistant and learn programming from him.   His genius at XM is where I first discovered what radio could be and I have been a fan and friend ever since.  I would have never imagined he would become a great and caring mentor.  He was so positive even in the midst of his illness, and continued to want ReZ to be great.  I felt our time was short but he definitely was my biggest influence.

Brad Staley at SOS Radio.   He is the first person I heard that used CCM to minister on the radio.  It changed my life.    SOS then KILA out of Las Vegas reached our sleepy little Southern Utah town and brought the sounds of hope, grace and salvation to me.   I would later get to work with Brad when I was concert promoter.   He always has a servant’s heart and a willingness to further the kingdom in every way possible.  He and his wife, Chris, were instrumental to me in shaping the way radio ministry should be approached.

Another radio influence is talk show host Mark Davis, who is now part of Salem Media Group  here on AM 660 “The Answer” in the Dallas/Ft. Worth market.   Mark is one of the first people I discovered when moving to this area.  I found that he was able to make talk radio interesting and fun. He even was a regular fill in host on the Rush Limbaugh show at one time.   I had the opportunity to hang out with Mark on a few occasions at events.   One time he found out we had never been to a Dallas Mavericks game.   He treated my wife and I with tickets to a game because he told us, “everybody needs to go to a Mavs game at least once.”   He is definitely true professional that I admire.   We even carry his podcast on ReZurrection Radio on his own dedicated channel thanks to Spotify.

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