By Darren Marlar
Religious radio. The two words may sound like an oxymoron to some, but to others it’s the best thing since the Resurrection itself. For seven years I have spent my radio career there. I am now employed with the number one Country station in town as well as an incredible Christian station at the same time, so I feel I have a unique perspective on the differences between these two worlds.
They say that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and coming from someone who is currently riding it, I don’t see anything but brown on the Christian side when it comes to production. Whether it’s Christian music, talk, or teachings, the audience of Christian radio is extremely loyal. It is this loyalty that Christian radio station owners, Program Directors, and managers are so proud of. It is also this loyalty that has made some of them lazy. I’ve also noticed that the apathy is spreading throughout the production departments.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Christian radio. It gave me my start. It not only pays the bills, it helps me grow as an individual. However, if you flip the dial between a local top-ten music station and then your local Christian station, you can’t help but notice a difference. Forget the musical style, format, and even the words and content of the message the personalities are spewing, just listen to the spot breaks.
Do you hear it? Try it again. Now do you hear it? Have you noticed that almost all of the spots in the commercial break sound, well, BORING on the Christian station? Is there anything to grab your attention? Is there anything to keep it? Is there ANYTHING?
The problem is sometimes the Production Director, sometimes the producers themselves, and sometimes the owners or station managers. We’re all so afraid to have a personality that there is a complete lack of it in our spot breaks. I’ve heard of Christian radio station owners who refuse to have any humorous commercials on their stations because they are afraid they’ll offend the audience. Offend them? Wasn’t it God Himself who made the platypus? Wasn’t it God who made man with hair on his head, only to grow older and lose it up top and grow it on his back? Is there anyone out there who doesn’t believe God has a sense of humor?
And what about professionalism? As Christian broadcasters, should we not strive to do our best? (Colossians 3:23)
Is there a manual somewhere for Christian radio that says that all commercial spots must have only an announcer and generic music underneath? Is there a law that I don’t know about that suggests that all actors in a spot must not be able to read at more than three words per minute? Where is it written that commercial copy must be written by sales reps with absolutely no idea of how to write copy for the ear? Why do we do these things? Why do we settle for so much less than we are capable of? Simple...we’re lazy, and no one has called us on it.
I have worked with some fantastic voices and producers. I have contacts here in town who can keep you in stitches while talking to them, or make your hair hurt with all of the information they have stored in their heads. I know producers and air personalities who can put together a spot that draws you into it and before you realize it, you feel like one of the characters in the spot. Is it taboo to use these skills in Christian radio?
With such a loyal audience, it’s sometimes easy to think to yourself (consciously or not), “Sure, the copy isn’t that great, and the actors on the spot are terrible, but it’s okay because our audience is loyal and will continue listening anyway.” Or worse yet, “It’s okay because nobody is listening anyway.” OUCH!!! More than once, I myself have uttered those sinful words, and now I (at the risk of sounding like a Jesus freak) repent of that attitude and ask your forgiveness!
Okay, now that I’m back on track, maybe we can get a few more of you into this little “revival” of mine. Forget Arbitron. Forget what the other Christian stations (or secular stations for that matter) in town are doing. You may even (as I do here in my hometown) have a competitor with a similar format to yours. The only thing you may have at your station that is different and unique is your spot breaks. That is your time to shine...use it! If for no other reason, make YOURSELF proud! Don’t just produce a spot to get it done. Produce a spot to fulfill a need!
Is the copy that you’ve been given more suitable for the birdcage than for the air? Rewrite it! It may just be a PSA, but do you want to keep your listeners’ attention? Have fun with it! I recently was given information on an organization that was collecting money to buy new shoes for under-privileged school children. I could have made it a “rip-’n-read,” but my mind went flying, and I came up with different scenarios of what life would be like without shoes at all! Imagine going to a movie with popcorn and Coke all over the floor in your bare feet! Nacho cheese between your toes...yummy, yummy! We made a potentially boring spot into a fun one, and hopefully our listeners stuck around! The organization appreciated it, our listeners got a laugh (as well as the message), and I had a sense of accomplishment.
Who knows, maybe next year they’ll actually buy some time! Nah, I doubt it. Nobody is listening to our station anyway, right?