Career Capsule: Like so many others, I pretty much stumbled into radio, and for me that happened the month I turned 16, which was 30 years ago this January (2018). My first station was KOKF 91FM in Oklahoma City, working with Ken Farley, who was the PD. I volunteered through most of high school, eventually was put on paid staff, and went on to work at several mainstream and Christian stations in the Oklahoma City market, including KYIS/Kiss FM, KMGL/Magic 104.1, and with Bob Thornton at KNTL The Light 105. I later followed him to KTLI Light 99FM in Wichita, KS, then moved out to Western Oklahoma to host a Christian AC morning show, before heading southwest to Texas to work with Bob once again on the launch of KOFR Free 107FM in Lubbock, TX, owned by KXOJ/Tulsa. There I was PD/mornings and eventually GM as well. In 2004, nearly six years after we launched the station, it was sold to K-LOVE. I was fortunate then to have offers in NY, OK, and IL, and chose to work with the amazing team at WBGL (New Life Media) in Illinois. I was hired as production director, not long after became PD, and I’ve now been at WBGL for 14 years. It’s a blessing after 30 years to love radio and what I do now even more than when I started! WBGL is an incredible place to be.
Ryan, tell us what’s new at WBGL… news, changes, & with YOU… etc?
Personally, I just celebrated my 30th year in radio in January. I’ve been at WBGL for 14 years now, and I’m grateful to be able to say I love being in radio more today than I did at 16 when it was the coolest thing in the world to be able to tell my friends they can hear me on the radio.
I’m in a rather interesting season of continually experiencing and embracing God’s peace, be it during the typical day to day stresses and anxieties we all deal with in life, or in the more difficult times like losing a parent. Last summer, my father was diagnosed with stage 3 neck and throat cancer and was aggressively treated. On Tuesday, January 30th, a scan revealed it was mostly gone from his neck and throat but had, in the doctor’s words, “exploded down into his lungs” and may only have a few days to live. I drove 12 hours to get to him in an amazing hospice house and was able to spend a few hours talking to him and praying with and for him in person, (the only time in my life that ever happened), which made for a pretty emotional experience. Four days later, as his wife and I held his hands, he took his last breath on earth and opened his eyes to see Jesus face to face. The peace and even indescribable joy I experienced in that holy moment of losing my dad on this earth was nothing short of God showing up, which He did over and over again that entire week, including his funeral. I didn’t think about it much at the time, but looking back on it, I experienced exactly what Jesus talked about in John 14:27, when He said, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.”
With WBGL? I absolutely love this place. It hit me the other day we are so blessed to have the large staff we do (which operates so much like a real family) when so many radio stations these days are so short staffed. 25+ people who are here at some point on a weekly basis, with at least a dozen of those in the building every day. It’s an incredible team that has a lot of fun working together. And we have an entirely in-house team of extremely talented on-air personalities. I’m thrilled that in recent months, God brought us Eric Nichols and Danielle Perez to host the afternoon show together. We can see God’s fingerprints all over His leading them to us, and it’s a team built from the ground up, as they had never even met each other prior to December. Their first day on-air was January 2nd of this year, and they are just a joy to listen to.
We look forward to sharing even more news hopefully soon, as we’re currently accepting applications for and conducting interviews to hire a replacement for Emma Villanueva, our Community Engagement Director. (You can find the opening at https://hisair.net/job/wbgl-community-engagement-manager/). Emma has felt God calling her to help people with mental health needs, so she’ll be leaving us as she heads back to Ohio to obtain an M.S.E in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
From a programming standpoint, I’ve never felt WBGL has been more deeply connected to our listeners than I do today. That doesn’t happen by chance. I’m so proud of our team for the focus and hard work it takes to make this happen. It’s so worth it, and it’s all about continually offering the hope that only Jesus gives. It’s about being an oasis for people. That’s something we heard last spring at the CMB Chicago Summit. People are exhausted. Let’s ease their burden, not add to it. Let’s not give them more to do or more to keep up with – culture throws more than enough of that our way as it is. Love is the key – Everything we do has to be rooted in love. To paraphrase something John Frost said in his weekly ‘Frost Advisory’, “What if every person who hears your voice on air today said, “Your station (or more specifically, you, the personality), made my life better today.” And then what if that continued to happen. Every day. That’s starts by talent asking themselves each day, “What can I say or do to make your life better today?” There has to be intentionality to it. And what if every person on-air took 30 seconds to pray before every show. And what if part of that prayer was something like, “God, help me say something that makes my listeners lives better today.” It’s not that you’re not already saying things that make their lives better, easier, lightens the load, etc., but what would happen if you were this intentional about it? Think about the emotional bonds created with listeners when that happens. Those are the kinds of things we’re focused on at WBGL.
Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?
In a few words, the most important things are remembering why people come to your station in the first place. In Finney Media’s “Why Listen?” survey, the #1 reason CCM listeners turn to Christian radio is for the worshipful Christian music. #2 is they want to be encouraged. The 3rd and 4th reasons are tied and are significant. They want to grow spiritually, and they want to get away from the negativity, both in music and messages, on other stations. In all these things, Christian music radio has a huge opportunity, and we should be doing all we can to take advantage of that. That starts with being topical, relevant, and compelling. It’s difficult and a whole lot of work for every single break to have every one of those elements, but as the saying goes, two out of three ain’t bad and is a good thing to shoot for. And if you get them all in, that’s pure gold! There’s also nothing wrong with only hitting one of those things, but the more of that we can do each break, the more we’ll stand out.
What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Identify the ‘heart’ in a break, and lead with that. It goes right along with putting the ‘hook’ up front in a break. When you listen back to your breaks, or listen to others, what moves you or makes you want to lean in to listen? What is it that hooks you in? Whatever that is, find a creative way to lead with that. Then as your break unfolds, tell the story with flair – the stylishness and originality that’s all your own, and then try to tie it all together in a payoff. The worst programming advice I’ve been given? Lie.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
Well, some also say the fewer in a market the better, but it’s not something I think much about either way. I know it can be a challenge in certain markets/situations, and I don’t know of any station looking to gain a ‘competitor’ in their market, but if it happens, I know that multiple stations can serve different purposes, just as we as individuals all serve different purposes in the body of Christ. Seek God and focus on what He’s called you and your station to do.
What is the ONE thing you must have every day to do your show?
In one word that’s both utterly simple and completely profound… Jesus. And because Jesus is love… love. Without love we’re just noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
Where won’t they come from might be the better question. Because Christian radio is doing a better job than ever at storytelling, sharing hope, living authentically on the air, etc., it opens the door so much wider than the days of simply having a great voice and being a likable person making you a good fit for radio. And because that’s the world podcasters and YouTubers and bloggers (and those that are consuming them) are already living in, talent could literally come from about anywhere these days.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian radio?
While there are some obstacles, I really think there are a lot of opportunities for Christian radio specifically. As for obstacles, certainly the never-ending constantly-changing shape of technology will always be something to contend with. I think smart stations should be continually devoting attention and resources to where technology and radio/audio is leading. This is something WBGL and our sister station WCIC (collectively New Life Media) have been intensely focused on for the last year or so. It can get really foggy trying to figure out where radio and technology is headed and where we fit into all of that, but we’re doing our best, meeting regularly to further the discussions and be prepared to make adjustments when needed. One of the biggest opportunities we have is people will never stop wanting/needing/looking for hope. Christian radio has REAL hope to share, and we’re doing it better than we ever have.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Lisa Williams. She’s me in right brain form. We think a lot alike but come at things from different angles and it makes for a really solid coaching team. She’s so good at it, too. Years ago, God somehow led me to helping her discover this hidden talent she has for coaching, and it’s been nothing short of completely awesome working with her and our talent at WBGL, who not only love her, but always look forward to coaching. She invests in people. It’s real, it’s palpable, and talent knows and appreciates it. Then there’s Zayne Rose who let a 16 year old kid in the door one Sunday night in 1988 at KOKF 91FM in Oklahoma City. I’ll always be grateful to him for that, and Ken Farley helped me get my start on the air there as my very first PD. Later, Bob Thornton gave me my first full-time job in radio in 1992 and has taught me a lot of great things about programming over the years. Grateful for them both. Consultants like John Frost, Alan Mason, and Tracy Johnson have been big programming influencers over the years, and ever since he spoke at the Nashville CMB Summit a year ago, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Doug Erickson. He’s a genuinely wonderful soul who consults top stations on multiple continents and takes the time to share thought provoking and inspirational things daily on his blog. He’s all about creating emotional bonds with listeners, and that right there is where I believe radio wins.