Steve Swanson Interview 3-12-18
Career Capsule: I started on air when a friend of mine and I purchased air time for a weekly show in a Minneapolis suburb (1978). While on the staff at a large church in a southern Minneapolis suburb (from 1978-1989), I helped developed their weekly TV and radio broadcasts. I began as PD and full time on air host mornings at a Christian FM in Davenport IA (1989). I was there all six years the station was on the air. When the station was sold, I worked for a three station cluster in Davenport- on air at a “Mix” station until I began working for Radio Training Network (RTN) at The Joy FM Sarasota, FL in the fall of 1995. I served as PD and afternoon host until 2006 when I accepted the position of General Manager at WAFJ in Augusta, GA (also part of the RTN family). I currently also serve as the station’s PD and Music Director while hosting middays. I’ve been on the air somewhere part time since 1978 and full time since 1989. (That makes me a legend I’m told. Legend=old guy)
Steve, Tell us what’s new with WAFJ… news, changes, & with YOU… etc.?
We’re off to a great start in 2018. We recently hosted a “Marriage & Money” event with Chuck Bentley of Crown Financial Ministries. Our 4th annual “Love & Laughter Date Night” in February sold out and we have a couple of concerts we’re gearing up for. Our biggest change inside the building has been adding April Sather to our morning show (last October). She’s a talented, God-loving, team oriented individual who wants to connect and grow with our community. She’s been a great addition to an already solid and committed team. We are celebrating 24 years in our community, and are working on plans to celebrate our 25th. On a personal note, my wife and I (who work together at the station) are preparing to celebrate our 40th anniversary in March. We are incredibly blessed with two amazing kids, and 5 grandkids. I am grateful daily for the countless ways God leads, guides, and provides for us. (Psalm 126:3)
Christian Radio has become very competitive… what do you do to stand out from the crowd?
I have been around long enough to have seen many stations come and go; formats start with a bang- and disappear just as quickly. Definitions of “success” frequently defined and re-defined. While I am certainly aware of all of the stations in our market- including Southern Gospel, Urban Gospel, Christian Talk, and nationally syndicated music outlets, our focus and goal is to strive for excellence and be the station that embraces a goal of being “More than Music”. We strive to serve the community in ways that extend far beyond music. It has to do with a heart’s desire to serve through the leading of the Holy Spirit. We set ourselves apart daily by the ways we touch the community (Relationships!). We are very intentional about our promotions and community interactions. We aren’t satisfied with just being here. Our goal is to impact the lives of those we become connected with. Other “More than Music” elements of our ministry include an online Job Board, 24 hour prayer line, offering online money resources, a free Family (Community) Calendar, and a place for folks to find a place to worship. To some it’s an outdated idea, but we continue to offer air time free to area churches and non-profit organizations so that we can “Give a voice to the vision of others”. Typically we will serve around 200 organizations over the course of a year. We also program a sister station providing full time praise and worship music. In all we do, we aim to LOL (Love our Listeners!)
What is the best programming advice you’ve been given? The worst?
Be yourself – since there is only one “you” that space is reserved for you and only you. On the air, Paint a picture or tell a story. Let God use you! Oh yes, and be a “lifelong learner. Choose to learn and grow- in your faith- and your craft. (It’s more important to be authentic that to have a “perfect” presentation).
The worst? Get in and out of your break in 20 seconds or less. (The length is NOT more important than the content of your break).
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not?
I love to see new stations open up in in markets that currently have NO Christian voice. However, I do NOT believe oversaturating a market that is already well served is helpful from a Kingdom perspective. There are so many communities still lacking a Christian music station. From my perspective, that should be the target we aim for.
What is the ONE thing you must have every day to do your job?
The Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit we quickly run out of energy, focus, perspective, and vision. Our staff meets every work day for a few minutes to PRAY, and encourage one another. We need to be unified. We need to support one another. We need to remind one another of our calling and dependence on the Lord to be a part of his work in the communities we serve. I’d like to challenge every radio station staff to carve out time- and make prayer a priority- together. Be humble. Be available. Be willing to let the Lord lead and empower you with new thoughts and greater faith. Choose to serve one another. PLEASE don’t try to make it all work on your own. I can tell you from personal experience, it will NOT work.
Where will future Christian radio air talent come from?
That is a great question. I believe the talent we’re looking for is already around us – building playlists, and actively making an impact through Social media. Instead of talent coming to knock on our doors, more than ever we must be talent scouts and prospectors- always on the look out to finding talented communicators that may not “fit the mold” we have formed over time. What kind of personality/skill set are you looking for? Once you have identified WHAT you’re looking for, be open to the Lord’s leading. Our company (RTN) is known for “hiring slow”. Our hiring process is deliberately slow, but that has helped us find amazing people over the years that stay (continuity is awesome!) and grow with the ministry. I believe that helps us deepen our impact.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest challenges facing Christian radio?
We need to know who we are and what we’re called to accomplish. It’s far too easy to get caught up in the latest fad, trend, or tech tools that shout for our attention. We DO need to change where change is warranted, but we also need to have a solid ministry foundation and a unified purpose to make a difference in the communities we serve. We need to be great at telling our story- to HIS glory. We need to continue to grow revenues to fund our calling. May God help us not to get caught in the shifting winds and the many things that can distract us from proclaiming the truth- Jesus- the rescuer- the GOOD News! Tech is a TOOL, not the “end all/be all”. Social media is NOT enough- we should not settle for less that being authentic people who are intentionally developing real relationships.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? And why?
I could easily create a list of names here because I truly look up to and love many who serve as broadcasters, (because there are MANY) but invariably I’d leave out someone I truly look up to. So, I’ll say this- My radio heroes are all of the folks who labor faithfully where they’re called. Those who work tirelessly doing all they can to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 3:14) Hear me when I say God knows your heart. He knows your motivation. He knows why you do what you do. God, help us NOT to settle for anything less than YOUR highest and best- personally and professionally.
One of the record labels recently provided an opportunity for many of us to send a note of encouragement to another broadcaster. I’ve observed that many of us get discouraged in the course of our “daily days”. (More often than we’d like to admit). I see a HUGE need to continually encourage one another. Look for ways inside your building and inside the Christian broadcasting community at large to ENCOURAGE. “The days are long, but the years are short.” Make the most of the time and tools that have been given to you. Chris Rice released a song some years ago called “Life Means So Much”. In it he says “Teach us to count the days, teach us to make the days count.” Live today with the expectation that GOD can!