Todd Amlin Interview
Chief Creative Officer
WCVO – The River
Career Capsule: If you really want to know me, my career capsule won’t be short. My entry into Christian Radio was…nontraditional let’s say, lol. I started in the CCM Industry in 1995 as the front man of a band called Shaker. We recorded a couple studio albums with Producer Rick May, who was also playing drums at the time for this band called DC Talk. We were opening for some of the biggest bands in Christian Music, meeting with labels. Then inexplicably when things were seemingly going as right as they could…we broke up. I guess not everyone loved living on bologna and cereal and touring in a van with a leaky gas pipe.
At that point I thought any connection to music as a career was done. I floated around corporate America chasing money for a bit. To satisfy the music itch I fronted a cover band performing at bars and clubs. We’d do 40 “woo girl” songs a night. At the end of the day, it didn’t satisfy anything and after a few years I realized it wasn’t good for my life.
At a point where I was completely discontent just trading time for money, a door opened for me to return to Christian Music via concert promotion. For over a decade I promoted concerts either full or part-time for nearly all the bands we play on Christian Radio. I loved it. I felt alive; like I was doing something meaningful. You couldn’t put a value on seeing people’s faces as they would engage with the artist and the music they were playing. God was at work, and I was operating in my giftedness. Life was good. Sadly, due to life circumstances I had to move on. Once again, I was heartbroken, but this time I knew something else was coming. It didn’t take long before radio found me. I say that because oddly enough I wasn’t looking for radio, lol. The whole story there is full of providence and God’s gracious invitation to be part of something big. That’s another story for another day. It’s been a wild ride, but at the end of the day I feel like I’ve finally found a home.
Todd, tell us what’s new at The River … any news, changes etc… and what’s new with YOU?
TONS of things going on at The River. We’re four total stations now. WCVO Columbus (104.9), WFCO Lancaster (90.9), WZNP Newark (89.3), and WZCP Chillicothe (89.3). We brought Marty Daniels in for Community Relations and he’s been hard at work building up the smaller market stations, primarily our newest addition 90.9 The River. Chad Bradley joined the team and has been integral in helping us both on-air and in the world of content creation. He’s one of those guys who just makes everyone else better. One of the first things he did was to look at our assets, and propose a plan to re-purpose an old studio into a dedicated podcast studio. The look and feel is that of The Joe Rogan Experience (minus the whiskey and action figures). That was quickly green lit and nearly ready to operate. We turned over our entire promotion’s department bringing in three absolute SUPERSTARS who are taking over the world (or at least Central Ohio). I remember after I finished all the interviews thinking, “these three ladies (Alyx Vissing, Shannon Farmer, and Bailey Sherman) were born for this. This is going to be fun to watch.” After 20+ years of service the founder of THE RIVER felt it was time to hand the baton off, and our CSO Bill Montgomery will be taking the reins this Summer. God used Dan to take this ministry from bankrupt and broken, to a community and industry leader. The best part is (and I know Dan would agree) we’re just getting started. Soooo…yeah quite a lot happening at ye ole River, and it all starts with people!
How do you balance work & family, how important is it for someone in Christian Radio to ‘have a life”?
It’s an easy balance. Family comes first, period. I’ve seen people use the excuse of “well I’m in ministry so ___” to put their family second (or third, or fourth). I think our first responsibility without question is to lead at home. That doesn’t mean sometimes there aren’t sacrifices. Obviously, Radio is a lifestyle. The hours can be long and erratic. But if you let any job take over your life, it will not only hurt your life, but will up make you worse at your job. There’s a point where you can no longer read the label because you’re stuck inside the bottle.
Overall, what is the best programming advice you’ve been given?
Keith Stevens, (Jersey Accent) “Did you like radio growing up?” (Me) Yes I loved radio. (Keith) Then you’ve gotta make radio that you like.” Let that marinate. How many people don’t even like the radio they make, but they are doing it because they are convinced it’s what some demographic caricature wants? The worst? I would say an accumulation of rules that get passed on from a variety of places year after year. These rules aren’t challenged and are just universally accepted as gospel. Kind of the idea that, “well everyone knows ____”. I’m not sure many of them are actually what the people listening to our stations want or care about. I think our industry is ripe for change. The question is whether or not we’re bold enough to step outside of our comfort zones and usher it in.
What’s something you’ve learned due to the pandemic, about Christian Radio, that you didn’t know before?
I think as an industry we have a tremendous opportunity to make an even bigger impact, but it’s going to require us to step outside of our comfort zones, and rethink how we do what we do. Be innovative. Take risks. I think that will be met with some resistance, but if we don’t we may be sitting around one day telling war stories with the Kodak and Blockbuster peeps talking about the good ole days.
What is your opinion of podcasts for stations & air talent, are they necessary, must have one, etc?…
I love podcasts. I’m a huge consumer, and I think it’s an opportunity for radio to broaden their reach. I would say however ONLY do a podcast if it’s something you can’t NOT talk about. Forcing a podcast on someone just because they are your morning show host or someone people know at your radio station is a bad idea. It will be disingenuous and no one will care. Having said that, if your unknown promotion’s assistant has an insane idea about something he or she is ON FIRE about then you should probably listen.
Where will new up and coming air talent for Christian Radio come from?
That’s a great question. I hope stations across the country are building a deep bullpen and raising up young talent. I’m excited about what the CMB is doing with CMB University. There’s a ton of potential there. Mr. L at Cedarville University continues to crank out people that can plug in day 1 and make a radio station better.
I would add that I love hearing a station that incorporates young talent into their lineup. Young people don’t sound as churchy or Christianese. They say things that makes a GM go, “did she just say what I think she said”, or “are we ok with him saying that?” lol. Most of our listeners are just normal folks trying to figure things out. I think we are well served being real and honest with them. Gen Z in particular value authenticity probably more so than any other generation alive at this point. They aren’t going to gravitate towards careers that don’t place a premium on such things.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian air talent?
I’ll modify this to being the biggest obstacles in Christian Radio period. I think it’s fear and arrogance. So many decisions are made in a state or either or both. Songs don’t get added because “they might not test”. Content doesn’t make the break because, “it’s not what ‘she’ wants to hear”. We don’t set up a table at that event because “that’s not the target”. A podcast goes unmade because “it isn’t who we are”. These things are said in the name of strategy, but often are because we’re afraid to do something that might not work, or we’re so convinced that we know what we’re doing that we won’t even CONSIDER that times are changing and that we need to go back to the drawing board. There’s never been a time IMO to be more agile; to be willing to swing for the fences.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
Starting with heroes, the President of The River Dan Baughman is high on the list. I promise I’m not looking for brownie points because he’s retiring this year so it’s not about that, lol. Dan is one of the rare people who has consistently maintained a position of not allowing our radio station to be pulled off course in any direction. He doesn’t get caught up in culture wars or politics. We’re just a welcome mat for the communities we serve. He’s also the first person to tell you he knows he doesn’t have all the answers but he’s also not afraid to jump off a cliff and grow wings on the way down. He told me once that there is a fine line between courage and stupidity, and he doesn’t always know the difference. There’s something so refreshing about a person in a position like that being so transparent. Not only did he give me a shot to do what I’m doing now but also trusted me to blow up and rebuild our entire music strategy when I told him how broken it was. I wish more people at the very top had his attitude. I think we’d have a lot more risk taking, and worker bees would be much more empowered to believe that they can make a difference. He’s the real deal. It’s pretty cool when someone who is a hero like that also becomes a friend.
I love a guy called “The Common Man” (Mike Ricordati) who is a sports jock in Columbus. I wish all jocks in every format were just “who they are” as much as he is. Sometimes Christian Radio feels fake. I think it’s because we want so badly for people to know Jesus that we’re afraid to be honest. We’re afraid to admit we don’t have it all figured out.
There are several people who have been a wealth of knowledge to me. Troy West, Mike Couchman, Keith Stevens, Mike Prendergast, Melony McKaye, Steve Shore, the list is long actually. I’m a sponge. I love picking peoples’ brains. It’s probably super annoying now that I think about it, lol. I go to these CMB events or label junkets and I’m constantly peppering people with questions or challenging the status quo.
I love what Mandy and her team are doing at KLOVE. They have never sounded better. I think Matt Pelishek in Bakersfield is an absolute rock star. It’s a very strange paradox because I’m equal parts excited about where our format is going…and terrified that there are those who are doing everything in their power to keep us stuck where we are. If there’s one thing I’d like to walk away believing about myself when I ride off into the sunset of radio world, it’s that I was an agent of change. I want all those people out there who are like me, who believe that we can do better, to have the confidence to start moving forward boldly. If not now, then when?