Thinking Out Loud

March 20, 2018

What’s Wrong With Christian Radio is Purely Intentional

For those of you who don’t know her, meet Becky. Becky is the fictional target audience for Christian radio stations. Christianity Today helped define her back in 2007:

Her name is Becky.

You probably know her. She’s recently turned 40, but is not quick to admit it. She’s a Christian and a devoted wife and mother. She drives a mini-van. Half-melted crayons roll around on the floor as she stops at a light en route to her daughter’s Tuesday night soccer practice. She laughs sometimes, chagrined that she is the very “Soccer Mom” they talk about come election time. Becky lives in the suburbs, likes to read, enjoys the women’s retreats at church, is struggling to remember algebra so she can help her son with his homework, and is a regular volunteer at the food pantry.

One more thing about Becky, a very important fact for this discussion: she listens to the local Christian music station almost exclusively…

We’ll get back to her in a moment.

On the weekend my wife pointed out something that the more I thought about it, the more profound it seems. She said something like, “There’s more variety on any given contemporary Christian music album than what is played on Christian radio.” In other words, the songs chosen to be the single off the albums tend to get chosen because they all match the station sound and therefore they all sound alike.

In my mind, I envisioned the following diagram where each line represents the range of the songs on any given artist’s album — some exploring a greater number of musical genres — and the dots representing the songs selected to be featured on the radio.

Wouldn’t you like to hear some of the songs from the edge of each artist’s collection?

I owe a lot of my spiritual nurture to Contemporary Christian Music, but I’m not a fan of what it has become. A year ago 20 The Countdown Magazine did a special show on the Best of Christian Worship. It could have been called Chris Tomlin’s Greatest Hits. There was a song which we knew by Robin Mark where they chose to play a Chris Tomlin version, again either because it matched the sound of that show, or because… well we won’t go there. Any possibility for musical diversity was eliminated. (Listening to how many times the host said “Chris Tomlin” during that two hour show became a bit of a drinking game.)

Not everybody likes Becky. In a January, 2012 article in CCM Magazine, Matt Papa, not sparing the use of Caps Lock, wrote:

I love Becky. I really do. That’s part of the reason I’m writing this. Becky needs to be ministered to just like I do and just like everyone else does. But Christian radio/industry people: please MINISTER TO HER!! Stop giving her what she WANTS….GIVE HER WHAT SHE NEEDS and that is the GOSPEL….or stop calling yourself “christian”. There is NOTHING “christian” about telling someone who has cancer that they are OK. Stop tickling her ears. Becky is a human being who needs to hear the truth of Christ, not an object to use for your financial gain. Woe to you. And here’s a novel idea: Why not target other people besides Becky?!?! The gospel has no demographics! Christ shed His blood for all people everywhere and you have misrepresented Him. I pray with all my heart that the money tables in your temple would soon be overturned.

Pastor Gabe Hughes, who apparently has some insider knowledge wrote this in the summer of 2016:

Like most radio and television programming, Christian radio caters to a specific demographic, and that demographic is women between the ages of 20 and 50 (give or take). Whether or not Christian radio is doing it on purpose, that demographic is also mostly white.

It gets way more specific than that: this target woman lives in suburbia in a house with a mortgage, drives a mini-van, has three kids, a dog and a cat, a husband who works full-time, she also works but it’s probably part-time, has a household income between $55 and $70K, vacations in July, doesn’t have enough time to read her Bible but she has enough time to journal, loves Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer, and goes to church about 3 times a month. This woman even has a name — Becky.

Some radio stations will put up a mock picture of this woman in the studio, and the DJs are told to look at it and know that’s who they’re talking to. I’ve attended seminars where this was the whole focus of each session: Becky, Becky, Becky. The entire radio station is programmed for her — not her husband and not her kids. Giving glory to God is incidental, or it’s presented like this: “By reaching Becky, you’re giving glory to God.” Becky’s name is mentioned more often at these conferences than God’s name is.

This is unofficially referred to as Becky Programming or the Becky Mentality. The gospel-minded might recognize this as exactly how not to evangelize. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for we are all one in Christ, right (Galatians 3:28)? But rather than giving an audience what they need to hear, Christian radio sections out a particular audience and gives her what the research says she wants to hear…

Why do so many of the songs sound alike?
Because radio is about producing the least number of negatives. Technically a radio station is not actually trying to give you something that you like. They’re trying to give you something you don’t dislike. As long as they can remain as even as possible without too much variation or fluctuation, they’re more likely to keep you on their radio station and not flipping to something else.

When the radio station maintains a continuous blend of sound, it just kind of melts into the background and you become oblivious that you’re still listening to it. You know how when you drive the same route to work every day, sometimes entire stretches of the trip will go by, and you’ll wonder where those miles went? Listening to the radio is kind of like that…

Even when it comes to production quality, songs have been equalized to be at the exact same volume level. Put on your headphones, find a song from the late 80s or early 90s, and give it a listen. Then pick a song from within the past decade and listen at the same volume. Notice the difference? The older song has more dynamics, highs and lows, crescendo and decrescendo, and the more current song is a lot louder and dynamically consistent throughout.

The reason why every single Christian recording artist sounds like they’re recording the exact same song is because they know K-Love won’t play it unless it sounds like every other song. Yes, Christian radio is the very reason every Christian artist sounds the same. It’s not necessarily the artist’s fault. They just have to play along (pun implied).

(There’s a lot more; I’ll be honest, I just wanted to copy and paste Gabe’s entire article, so click here to read more.

The early Christian music radio hosts were typical of FM radio guys in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There was no single off the album, they just picked a song they liked. They exposed and celebrated the things creative Christian songwriters and performers were doing across North America, and if you got lucky, some of the things from the UK (which even today we rarely get to hear, everything being so Nashville-centric.)

There are still some great songs being written and great albums being recorded, but I must say I feel sorry for the kids today who only know Christian music’s after and missed out on Christian music’s before. Fortunately for them, broadcasting is not the primary means of transmission in their generation. Indie artists survive and even flourish on alternative media, such as Fresh Life Radio which itself provides balance by playing some of the CCM fare, or the notable broadcast exception, Project 88.7 in Boise and Twin Falls, Idaho. 

Full disclosure: The business I own also sells Christian music. Sales are down. I am increasingly convinced that downloading or online sales of physical product are not blame. Many in the next generation are not hearing anything that captivates them. Groups are recognizable, but it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate one male solo artist from another.

The push for homogeneity is killing Christian radio.

Blogger and Pastor Gabriel Hughes posted this Becky collage in the article linked above. Maybe you know her.


Related? This was posted yesterday in conjunction with a new book release. The headline says it all: The founder of Christian rock music would’ve hated what it’s become.


December 30, 2017

The Mind is a Battlefield

The Mind is a Battlefield. It truly is. I’m surprised there’s never been a successful Christian book with that title. Here’s a summary of some things that have appeared here at Thinking Out Loud with the blog tag “thought life.”  Each one of the titles below is a link to a larger article.

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

(this ran in March of this year; you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Self Control
  • Mind, Thoughts and Heart
  • Shifting Values
  • The Stewardship of Our Time
  • Misdirected Worship

Media to Fill Your Home

(you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Bible teaching
  • Christian books
  • Christian movies
  • Christian music
  • Hearing God’s voice

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

A Day Lived Entirely for God

Several years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8… 

[the link takes you to an overview of David’s media diet and ministry diet.]

The Fruit of Your Thoughts

…If your mind is saturated with unhealthy thoughts and ideas, it will manifest itself in several ways:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

What Goes into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

click image to orderRelationships and the Internet’s Dark Side

(the article contains two stories of the manifestation of over-consumption of the worst the net has to offer)

…Someone once compared the things that enter our thought life to what happens when farmers sow seeds and later reap the harvest. The little verse goes:

Sow a thought, reap an action;

Sow an action, reap a habit;

Sow a habit; reap a lifestyle.

One thing is certain, whether there’s aversion or attraction, interpersonal dynamics are changed. Someone has said, “You are what you eat.” You certainly are what you read or view on television or your computer screen…

November 20, 2017

We Have Met the Misfits and They is Us

I could probably give you a number of reasons why Brant Hansen shouldn’t have a book with W Publishing, an imprint of Thomas Nelson, let alone two books.1 He’s not a pastor. Not a professor. Not someone who’s made it in the field of sports or business or entertainment and coincidentally happens to be a Christian.

He’s a radio announcer.

That’s it. But Blessed are the Misfits, his second major book release confirms what listeners to The Brant Hansen Show2 and The Brant and Sherri Oddcast podcast3 have known all along: There’s a heck a lot of us out there who feel we just don’t fit in.

The subtitle of the book — which appears above the title, meaning it’s actually a surtitle4 — is Great News for Believers Who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They’re Missing Something.5 Insert deep breath here.

Brant not only sees himself as a misfit, but he’s even been diagnosed with a few things just to make it official. The radio show and podcast contain frequent announcements to new listeners that the show may take some time to figure out.6

Brant’s life story would make a book like this interesting enough; but the fact he also does the requisite research, includes Bible quotations and writes well simply adds to the appeal.

I see myself and others I know quite well in the pages of this book. People

• who are introverts
• who deal with social anxiety; mental health issues
• who are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (or something similar)
• who feel they are failures
• who are lonely
• whose personality type is melancholy
• who feel they are just different; they don’t see the world like everyone else does

As I wrapped up the final pages of the book, I thought of a song recorded eons ago by The Altar Boys, a Christian band.

To all the hearts who have been broken;
To all the dreamers with abandoned dreams;
To everyone in need of a friend;
You are loved, You are loved.
To all the rebels wounded in battle;
To all the rockers that have lost that beat;
To all the users all used up now;
You are loved, You are loved.7

Henri Nouwen has called the capital-C Church “the community of the broken.”8 When you think of the misfits at your local church, take some time to also look in the mirror. I see myself repeatedly in these pages.9

Have you ever been to a concert only to find out that the performer is also an official representative of Compassion, Inc., or some other similar charity and you feel like you’ve been ambushed somehow?10 Brant is actually a spokesperson for CURE International; which means there are frequent references to CURE hospitals doing amazing things for kids whose situations looked hopeless.

Personally, I like my books to be books and my charity appeals to be charity appeals; but trust me, you wouldn’t want this book without the CURE stories.11 They are a part of who Brant is, and therefore they deserve the space they get to act as mind-stretching illustrations of the points made in various chapters.

The solution to the problem? This is important because Brant is not speaking to solutions here so much as he’s saying to his fellow-misfits, “You’re not alone.” His personal revelations of classic awkwardness aren’t enumerated here as self-deprecation, but rather I see Brant in the pages of this book as a positive role model for people who feel they just don’t fit. There is very wide swath of people covered in this book. He comes alongside people who are hurting.

That we are also Christians makes the struggle all the more complex in one way, but our identification with Jesus also means that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses.”12

We need to remember that Jesus was a misfit, too.

1 Click here for my review of Unoffendable, click here for a sample segment.
2 Link to Brant’s website. The show may have a different music mix in different markets.
3 Specific link to the podcast. Warning: Sherri’s laughter is infectious.
4 This is the type of distraction Brant lives for.
5 Spellcheck wants to change Strugglers to Stragglers which might work as well.
6 As true as this is, the part about “listener uniforms” should be taken with a grain of salt.
7 Listen to the song at this link.
8 I can’t prove this is an actual quotation, but Nouwen did say that we are all “wounded healers.”
9 The title of this review, We Have Met the Misfits and They is Us is a reference to the Pogo comic strip.
10 Like that time you’re friend invited you over for the evening, and it was actually an Amway meeting.
11 Learn more at
12 Hebrews 4:15 NIV
13 There is no corresponding sentence to this footnote. Brant actually only uses one footnote in the book and then in typical ADD fashion, abandons the form.

Thanks to Kimberley at HarperCollins Christian Publishing for an advance copy of Brant Hansen’s book.

Review bonus: The Misfits Tour! (They should pay us for including this.)

Date City Info
11/27/17 West Palm Beach, FL Journey Church
11/28/17 Vero Beach, FL Christian FM
12/2/17 Hagerstown, MD Word FM
1/4/18 Lynchburg, VA The Journey
1/5/18 Louisville, KY WAY FM
1/6/18 Cincinnati, OH Star 93.3
1/11/18 Hazel Green, AL WAY FM
1/12/18 Tallahassee, FL WAY FM
1/13/18 Panama City, FL WAY FM
1/18/18 Indianapolis, IN Shine FM
1/19/18 Chicago, IL Shine FM
1/20/18 Ft. Wayne, IN Star
1/25/18 Riverside, CA KSGN
1/26/18 Bakersfield, CA KDUV
1/27/18 Visalia, CA KDUV

By the way, does anyone else think it strange that an introvert wants to go on tour where everybody will be looking at him?

April 30, 2017

A Cynic Looks at Modern Church Music

The first time I heard a bridge added to a traditional hymn was the addition of Wonderful Cross to When I Survey. I don’t know if I took to it the very first day, but I certainly grew to like it quickly, and as a worship leader, I’ve since used the Wonderful Cross section with the hymn Lead Me To Calvary, where it also works well.

Modern worship music has been greatly influenced by popular songs. Whereas a hymn generally just has either stanzas, or follows a verse-and-chorus format; modern worship will use introductions, bridges, codas, etc., and is often more prone to key changes.

Amazing Grace is another example. My Chains are Gone is certainly a suitable addition, I don’t challenge the musical or lyrical integrity of it by itself, or its fit with the time-honored verses that precede it.

To make the bridge stand out — or I prefer to say break out — musically, some of the chord changes in When I Survey or Amazing Grace are made more minimalist so that the declaration in the bridge introduces a powerful, triumphant transition. “Oh, the Wonderful Cross!” “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free!”

If I had a similar idea a few years ago, I would have positioned my finished work as a medley, not a new arrangement, but the chord changes necessitate the piece to be considered a re-write. And the original composers aren’t around to protest.

So it was only a couple years back when someone more cynical than me — yes, it’s possible — suggested that perhaps the motivation for doing this was financial. Then it was more than one person. Freshly re-minted songs that were formerly public domain can be performed with mechanical royalties (album and print music sales) and performance royalties (concerts, radio, television and even CCLI playlists your church submits) flowing to the composer. Nice work if you can get it.

I remembered something from years ago when I was working in Christian television. Unlike radio which used random station logs as representative samples, TV royalties were based on all logs from all stations all the time. When the ministry organization in question received some rather meager royalty checks for some tunes they had written, a situation emerged where (and this is a fairly direct quote from someone close to the process), “People who had never written a song in their entire lives suddenly found songs pouring out of them on a regular basis.” He was highly skeptical.

So economics can indeed be a wonderful motivator. I’m sure that the person who decides to modify an existing hymn or do a fresh arrangement takes time to study the lyrics and I’m not saying that some of these people don’t do this prayerfully, both before and after the process. 

Yes, I’m a cynic when it comes to such things. But you have to admire the ingenuity of finding a way to get royalties from songs heretofore part of Public Domain. A combination of total disdain and ‘Why didn’t I think of it?’

Occasionally these improvements to existing hymns simply don’t work. They involve a change in lyrical theme or rhythm or melody so as to constitute an unwelcome intruder. Like the guy who brings his accordion to worship team practice. Or the guy who wears a Hawaiian shirt to a funeral. 

Other times I fear that a generation of church musicians is being raised up to assume that this is how it’s done, and that adding bridges to existing hymn literature is the modus operandi of worship song composition.

But honestly, sometimes these new hymn versions can be the gift that keeps on giving. If the revenue is being plowed back into ministry, that’s great. Scripture tells us that we shouldn’t “judge the servant of another,” though honestly, I now find the cynicism was, in my case, somewhat contagious. But I’ll continue to “believe the best” that the starting place for adding a bridge or changing the chord structure of a song isn’t motivated by economics.

I hope you’ll do the same.

HCSB Prov 16:2 All a man’s ways seem right to him,
but the Lord evaluates the motives.

April 20, 2017

How Do You Spell Determination?

There’s an audio clip at the end of this post which may or may not interest some of you. What I want to focus on is not only what’s on that 16-minute audio but also how it came to be there.

The bookstore my wife and I own inadvertently sponsored a YouTube channel. I mean that in the sense that we wanted to call it “The Lost Song Collection” and post songs from the Jesus Music era, a term referencing the days before CCM was called Contemporary Christian Music. Things nobody else had posted. Things sourced from vinyl records. But before we knew what we were doing, the channel had been named after the bookstore and it was too much of a hassle to change it.

One of the things we posted there was a demo of a Christian radio show from that time period, “A Joyful Noise” by Frank Edmondson under the on-air name Paul Baker. But I also wanted to include another I owned, “The Rock That Never Rolls” with Dale Yancy aka Brother Dale.

This was a demo of a Christian radio show from the ’70s that would be scheduled on non-Christian radio stations which at the time had obligations to include public service or religious content, but didn’t want to lose their regular listeners with programming that was uncool. Program demos like this did not include songs, or if they did, the songs were “telescoped” to allow station Program Directors to hear a variety of content in a short time. The show originated in Burlington, VT.

At the time this was produced, the show was airing in Chicago, Montreal, San Diego, Raleigh, Tulsa, Cincinnati, Dallas, Nashville and Honolulu. The show included interviews, comedy, music and mock commercials. It was sent to me back in the day because we were hoping to find a way to bring the show to Ontario. I really wish there were more shows like this today, though Brant Hansen’s work comes to mind.

I looked high and low for my copy of this. It had been sent to me on a five-inch reel-to-reel in a box with a bright green sticker, but I couldn’t locate it, and wasn’t sure what I would do anyway, since the R2R machine has been sitting under my desk unused for 25+ years.

But I knew I had a cassette of it, which, thanks to a flooded basement, we found last week. The problem was, the cassette was jammed and then broke. Fortunately, my wife is very determined.

First, she tried to loosen up the tape in the cassette housing, and when that didn’t work she broke the tape free of the plastic case. At that point I thought the project was doomed. Then she tried to spool the tape off so she could load it into another case, but it kept sticking. So she soaked the tape in water to loosen it up and then spooled the cassette tape on to an empty film canister, and then reloaded into the other housing, sealed the case and placed it in a cassette player and converted it to digital. There are some skips where part of the new cassette continued to jam, but the overall sound quality is surprisingly good for something which survived a flood.

There are probably archaeologists who haven’t gone to as much trouble to reconstruct a relic as Ruth did to restore this. Or crime scene investigators. (Please do not start mailing us your problem cassettes.) I wish we’d taken some pictures.

My wife hates to back down from a fight. And she knew it meant a lot to me. That’s the main thing; she knew it would make me happy. So she took a half day to attempt what I considered impossible. And she knew that if I thought the radio show was all that interesting, someone else might as well. 

I guess radio shows like this really mattered to me back then. While radio isn’t a force in either evangelism or introducing new music as it once was, this represented a golden age for what was then Jesus Music. You never knew who was listening and stories abounded of people who credit their life turnaround to randomly tuning the AM or FM dial.

So how do I spell determination? R-u-t-h. She pulled it off after all. I should never have doubted!

Sit back and travel back in time and enjoy, The Rock That Never Rolls: The Sound of Eternity…

The video ends with some classic KYMS radio jingles which were on the end of the cassette.

August 4, 2016

C201 Songs

Filed under: Christianity, music, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:53 am

In the sidebar at Christianity 201, there are a number of worship songs linked with devotional articles we’ve done there. Many of these would be recognizable to those of you who feature modern worship in your church or listen to Christian radio, but I thought today we would include some which are a good fit here at Thinking Out Loud which may be know to some of you, but not others.

July 9, 2016

Media to Fill Your Home

It’s been awhile, but this is the third time for this article here, this time with revisions…

I’ve previously written here about how we’re big fans of sermon audio when we travel, and as someone who works in a Christian bookstore environment, it’s a given that I’m a huge booster of Christian books and music.

But today I want to approach this from a slightly different perspective. Many times I’ve written about the battle that goes on for our thought life, and how this takes place on a moment by moment basis. Back in June, I posted a great analysis of the types of thoughts, that are going on in our heads at any given point in time.

I don’t spend a lot of time commuting, but I am increasingly aware of the contrast that exists between the mental processes that take place when I omit to turn on the radio — which is mostly presets for Christian stations — and drive in silence, versus the times I have worship songs playing. This is a giant contrast in my thoughts and attitude, not a mild difference.

Listening to Bible Teaching

I frequently listen to sermons from Willow Creek, The Meeting House, Woodland Hills and North Point, in addition to live sermons at church, and the occasional streaming of conferences.

Life was not always so.

I can remember asking my parents why they had to constantly listen to more preacher programs. Their media of choice was WDCX, an FM station in Buffalo, and WHLD, a Buffalo AM outlet. Of course, my choice would have been Top 40 rock station 1050 CHUM in Toronto. I think that was the real issue.

But today, although I hunger to learn and grow and discover more about Christ through what others have learned, I also am acutely aware of what happens in the absence of Christian media in the home.

Bible teaching can come in other forms besides radio and television. There are the aforementioned sermons-on-demand and live-streaming church services on the internet, plus many pastors often do a separate podcast. But there are still audio CDs of sermons kicking around, and of course books.

Reading Christian Books

One of my latest rants is that, in the average 21st Century family, I’m not sure the kids have ever seen dad sitting in a chair reading, and here I’m speaking of reading anything, a newspaper or magazine would suffice. How much more is it important to take time out and immerse yourself in the Bible, devotional material and study resources. If you missed it, I encourage you to read an article we did on Bill Hybels’ “Chair Time” concept.

Listening to Christian Music

For some Christ-followers, the dominant form of uplifting, inspirational and wholesome media is Christian music; which may consist of hymns, mass choirs, southern gospel, adult contemporary, Christian rock in all its various genres, and the current favorite, modern worship.

Again, these can be accessed in various forms. Some choose mp3 files which can be played back in the car and in the home. Many people are still buying music CDs. Christian music song videos abound on video sharing sites like YouTube. There is an abundance of Christian radio available online, and here in North America, most people live within range of a broadcast station that plays music, teaching or a mix of both.

But I have to say that as a worship leader, nothing compares to the songs what you experience in a worship environment with your faith family. Even today, I hear a song and I’ll remember which church I was in when I heard it and who was leading worship that day. Or I’ll be reading a scripture and I’ll recognize the verse as a line from a worship lyric. If you happen to be blessed with a gift that allows you to play in the worship band, a particular song can get stuck in your head for hours, and in a good way.

For a listing of some of my favorite songs with video, visit the sidebar in the right margin at Christianity 201.

Christian Movies

Our family was never a movie-culture family. We’ve been to the cineplex less than a dozen times, ever. But the production of Christian cinema has exploded over the last few years, and if you’re the type who enjoys gathering everyone around the home theater there are now some really decent films from which to choose, plus you’re supporting a genre that has tremendous outreach potential. You can purchase DVDs — great for loaning out after you’re done — or stream movies live.

Listening to God

These varied media I find to be a positive alternative to anything else, and in fact fulfill a direct instruction from scripture:

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

May 7, 2016

The K-LOVE Pledge Drive


When Grove City College Psychology Professor Warren Throckmorton reports on Mark Driscoll’s troubles or Gospel for Asia’s financial situation we link to it. But when he talks about K-LOVE it gets personal; we listen to that station in our car on a regular basis. So I was surprised on Thursday night to discover I was arriving to this nearly a week late, though I got the payoff of being able to also read the 50+ comments that followed. (Click the title below to read at source.) What follows are the highlights. If you’ve heard the station but don’t know much about the parent organization, you might want to pause to check out this Wikipedia article on the Educational Media Foundation.

Warren ThrockmortonK-LOVE’s Pledge Drive: Money Behind the Music

The Christian radio empire K-LOVE (complete list of stations) is in the middle of their Spring Pledge Drive. To be blunt, the constant solicitations are annoying.

After hearing a claim recently that K-LOVE’s CEO Mike Novak’s salary is over half a million dollars, I decided to do some exploration of K-LOVE’s finances. K-LOVE is one of two radio enterprises run by Educational Media Foundation (Air One is the other). Because EMF is a non-profit, their finances are available via their 990 form. The organization is quite large and took in just over $152-million during 2014.

Concerning the salary claim, it is true that CEO Mike Novak got a hefty sum of $531,256 in 2014. Numerous employees, including one of the DJs got over $200k in compensation. K-LOVE pushes an “easy” giving level of $40/month on the air and their website. It takes 1,107 people making that monthly pledge just to pay Novak’s salary. By comparison, the executive director of Doctors Without Borders, Sophie Delaunay, got just over $160k for running an organization that took in twice what K-LOVE received in donations.

K-LOVE also spent $267,463 on “pledge drive coaching.” The return on investment was phenomenal in 2014 in that they raised over $32-million attributed to the effort.   [emphasis added]

Then follows some screenshots and a discussion of compensation of board members. On the subject of compensation he added in the comments:

Having said that, I am sure you can find non-profits CEOs who get more. My point in posting the info was to alert donors that K-LOVE won’t close down if some widow on a fixed income fails to give $40/month.

More transparency in the actual appeals would be refreshing. “We need your easy monthly $40 gift because we have a heap of debt and we are wanting to aggressively expand into areas which already have Christian radio stations. We need your contribution to help push local Christian stations out of the market.”

But it was this conclusion that really got to me:

K-LOVE’s net revenue over expenses for 2014 was over $64-million. At $40/month, that means 133,761 donors could have given their money elsewhere and K-LOVE would have covered operational expenses. While it clearly takes lots of money to run a high quality media operation, it may come as a surprise to donors who sacrificially give $40/month that K-LOVE is doing quite well financially.

I am not saying that K-LOVE is doing anything wrong (although I think they could make it more clear that staff board members are handsomely paid). My intent is simply to provide potential donors with information that is not provided by K-LOVE. It may be that your local church or food pantry needs that money more than this mega-station.  [emphasis added]

Again, in the comments he repeated:

…I just want people to know that if they are considering their local church or KLOVE, the church probably needs it more.

While I don’t want to get into the reader comments, this one from FormerCCMRadioPerson gets back to the heart of what Christian radio is all about.

The huge difference between EMF (KLOVE’s Parent Network) and other networks is that they [KLOVE] own tons of signals, but only have 3 different Formats.

EMF runs the nearly-same feed of KLOVE, Air1, and Radio Nueva Nida on their vast network of signals. So if you hear that a local long-time Christian radio station is selling their station [to] KLOVE, that means the local DJs (and other local workers) just dropped to zero. No local presence. No local weather, ads, connections with churches, outreaches, whatever. It costs precious little to keep those EMF stations on the air. If KLOVE starts up a signal in rural Montana it’s the exact same thing that they’re listening to in Chicago, Miami, and Fairbanks.

Also inflating EMF’s claims is the vast amounts of “translator” stations they run. These are tiny FM repeaters with a 5-15 mile radius that are far easier to license, and they take virtually nothing to maintain compared to their full-powered signals. Many of those KLOVE signals (and Air1) are translators — some of which are owned by IHeartRadio (aka “Clear Channel”) through an arrangement.

None of this is to say that a CEO deserves more or less, but it does mean that EMF/KLOVE’s uniformity makes it far different from comparable companies like Clear Channel or CBS.  [emphasis added]

Again, click the article’s title next to Warren’s picture to read this at source with all the comments.


April 1, 2016

A Radio Music Programmer Responds to Modern Worship

After my wife opened up a worship music can of worms yesterday, our good friend, veteran Canadian Christian broadcaster, and satellite music channel programmer Lorne Anderson wrote to weigh in with an article previously composed for MoreRadio, a radio trade journal. You can read more of his writing each and every day at Random Thoughts from Lorne.

Lorne Anderson headshotMORE OR LESS WORSHIP MUSIC?

The first Christian song I played on the radio, in 1979, was a worship tune. I didn’t think of it as a worship song, it just laid out what I wanted to do with this new radio show. The performer was Steve Camp, the song a cover version of Larry Norman’s “If I Were A Singer.”

The last song I announced when I left CHRI-FM in 2006 was also a worship song – Steve Taylor, “I Just Wanna Know.”

By strict definition both those songs could be classified as worship, in that they are prayers directed towards God. However they aren’t suited for congregational singing. They are worship, but from a personal perspective.

When MoreRadio Magazine asked Canadian radio programmers if we were still in the worship music trend, I got to thinking about worship music and radio. I had just finished leading an 18 week seminar on worship at my church, so the topic has been somewhat on my mind lately. I asked the publisher if there was room for more than the usual couple of lines, and he suggested I share these thoughts.

I am a fan of worship music. It can life up the spirits when you’re feeling down, it draws you closer to God and to his people when you group together to sing His praises.

But I’m not a big fan of worship music on the radio, even though I play a lot of it myself. These days we all do. It has been the trend in recent years. Take a look at a recent radio chart, whether it is CCRC, Billboard or whatever, worship artists and worship songs are a much larger percentage than even five years ago – up to 50% depending on the week. Some of it is very good. Some is quite mediocre (though we don’t like to admit that). But does any of it belong on the radio?

What is the purpose of Christian radio, especially in Canada? Back in the 1970s there were no Christian radio stations here (history lesson another time maybe). The very few contemporary Christian music programs were in hard fought for slots (usually Sunday mornings) on secular stations, which is how I started. The CRTC [our equivalent of the FCC] held hearings into religious broadcasting in 1982 and kept the status quo. It was another decade before they changed their policy, and it took longer for stations to appear.

Worship music on Christian radioThose of us who were around before the policy change were excited about Christian musicians who were expressing their faith in an accessible, contemporary form. As a radio disc jockey, my all-time favourite listener call came from someone looking for some Led Zeppelin to spice up his Sunday morning. I explained I couldn’t play them because they didn’t fit the format, I was only playing Christian music. The response (edited for obvious reasons): “Holy bleep, you mean this bleeping bleep is bleeping Jesus music? It’s bleeping fantastic.” You don’t get phone calls like that when you’re playing worship music. You just don’t reach that audience.

Christian music programming in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, and when Christian stations first began being licensed, was aimed at much at non-believers as believers. When Bob Du Broy started CHRI-FM in Ottawa in 1997 he wanted at least one song an hour to be something recognizable, accessible to the non-Christian that would draw them in. (That was a nice idea in theory, in practice it meant a lot of bad cover songs and the practice was discontinued.)

The shift in musical emphasis to programming worship music says to me that we have abandoned our early desire to reach our communities with the gospel in musical form and instead are opting to feed the sheep. Admittedly the sheep do need to be fed, but are they the ones with the greatest need? What happened to our original calling?

And I won’t even go into the quality issue. In an interview with me more than 35 years ago, Bruce Cockburn, talking about what he liked and disliked about Christian music, said “most Christian music is crap, and crap for Christ’s sake is still crap.” Sadly little has changed.

To the non-Christian who accidentally finds a Christian radio station, worship music is a stumbling block. It’s not something they can relate to, not yet anyway. It’s a reason to change the channel, it just sounds too different. When radio programmers play a lot of worship music we’re narrowcasting. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what we’ve decided to do. But I don’t think we made a conscious decision to narrow our focus, it happened slowly, almost imperceptibly and many of us haven’t realized that we have abandoned our original vision to take Christ into our communities through radio.

So who do we want to reach, and how do we best reach them? What is the purpose and the vision for Christian radio in Canada (and the USA)? Is it worship music for the Church, or accessible artistic expressions of Christian faith and life?

Lorne Anderson is a veteran broadcaster and musicologist who programs “The Light” for Stingray Music. The channel is heard on cable television systems and satellite broadcast in Canada and the US.


May 1, 2015

Connecting People and Resources

I’ve written before about the common thread in all the different ministry ventures I’ve worked with. With radio, I got to introduce people to new songs and new artists. With worship leading, I got to connect people to vehicles that could be part of their personal expression of praise to God. As a book and music reviewer, the motivation was more obvious. As a blogger, I get to share information about other voices online. As a link list curator for Leadership Journal, I was able, by the news and opinion pieces I noted, to be influential in the lives of Christian leaders.

radio-towerI guess I like facilitating a whole load of networking.

But let’s return to radio for a minute. If I were to return to it — and I did look into various avenues — I would no longer get to choose the songs being played unless I brokered the airtime and picked the playlist myself. Radio stations either use consultants or have their own formula for choosing what goes into the rotation. Even the morning show guys, when they’re done with their banter, simply play the next song on the list.

You could solve this, I suppose by being the consultant or music director, but there are only so many openings, and even in small-to-medium markets, it’s often just one guy who controls a number of regional stations.

With worship leading, similar formulas apply. There’s often a tacit understanding that if a new song was introduced by last week’s team, you’re expected to continue with that song over the next three weeks. In demographically wide churches, you draw from different sources representing different ages and tastes to create an eclectic music set.

Music reviews largely don’t exist. Unless you write for Relevant Magazine, you’re about 500 times more likely to receive books in the mail to review than a CD. (We’ve reviewed several here, but it’s the exception, not the rule.) Bloggers tend not to be excited about specific books as they were five years ago; as Christian publishing faces challenges there are fewer and fewer new writers stepping onto the scene; and there appears not to be the push by publishers to utilize social media.

With my role at PARSE now ended, I look for new ways to share the passion of sharing. The one role that never ends is my two days a week at the Christian bookstore. There, I still have some influence, though there is always the suspicion on the part of some that I’m wearing my shopkeeper hat, and not my role as friend, counselor, or helper. Where ministry and retail converge, it’s not always an ideal fit.

My observation there is always the same: The greatest connector for people and products is the local church pastor, but for that to work, the pastors first need to know about the book in question, and most don’t have the interest, the time, or both.

But trust me, from YouTube to the Christian blogosphere to the world of Christian music and publishing, there are a ton of resources out there.

Finding and utilize them will enrich your life, and the lives of family members, extended family, neighbors, co-workers and others in your circle.

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