By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
When Joe May hears children singing the Praise 88.7 FM jingle, he can’t help but smile. That smile just gets bigger when parents tell him how their kids sing along to the Contemporary Christian music playing on the radio.
“Our hope and our desire is to be more than just a music-playing station,” said May, president of Alabama Christian Radio, the nonprofit organization that operates Praise 88.7, a station whose audience includes the Auburn listening area and beyond. “We cover a large area with a small staff, but we want to be here for people, to be a part of whatever helps people.”
Alabama has some 400 radio stations broadcasting throughout the state. About 25 percent of those stations focus on some type of Christian programming, including urban gospel, southern gospel and Contemporary Christian music, as well as religious programs on everything from family to finances.
Despite the growing popularity of satellite radio, streaming music and podcasting, radio continues to be a market that reaches a great number of people. The 2017 Nielsen Music 360 survey reported that nearly half of Americans (49 percent) still discover new music “over the air” on AM/FM radio stations. Another quarter of respondents said they discover new music through online AM/FM radio. And 72 percent of online music streamers said they listen to some form of radio.
“Radio continues to be the primary way listeners discover music,” according to Erin Crawford, senior vice president of Nielsen Entertainment and general manager of Nielsen Music. “The raft of new technologies and devices are opening up new discovery methods but also providing new ways for radio stations to deliver content — most notably via streaming.”
And what keeps people listening to the radio? Though many factors are at play, Nielsen found that more than a third of listeners (37 percent) said the DJs.
That was definitely true of the late Don Shepherd, long-time host of “Sunday in the Country” and the “Wednesday Night Gospel” programs on WCKF 100.7, a country music-format station in Ashland.
“Don had a passion for people,” said WCKF general manager Teresa Goodman. “His ministry was showing God’s love through the music but also talking to the people, praying with them, helping them. That was Don’s legacy.”
Shepherd would take 50–60 calls each show, she said, and that’s one advantage smaller stations like WCKF have over satellite radio or music streaming services — personal connection.
“Radio ministry is where you can touch people who never leave their homes,” she said. “We reach people in nursing homes and those who are taking care of a sick parent.”
That’s not to say that the internet is not a valuable tool, however.
Many radio stations are available via an online stream as well, and that web presence means unlimited opportunities to reach listeners.
Goodman said Shepherd had listeners in more than 14 countries, a global ministry from a small town in Alabama.
May regularly hears from soldiers stationed in the Middle East who listen to Praise 88.7 and appreciate the Christian content in a country where it’s not easy to come by.
“I get excited about that,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”
May said many listeners tune in to the livestream from their computers during the workday, and listeners appreciate “music with a message,” as well as local features like obituaries and the community calendar.
Praise 88.7 also partners with local food banks, women’s shelters, churches and ministries like Tallapoosa Baptist Association.
The association hosts a daily devotional spot on the station.
Tallapoosa Association associational missionary/director of missions James Smith said the spot is generally 1–3 minutes and sponsored by a local auto parts store.
On Monday the topic is the Celebrate Recovery ministry. Other days the topics vary but the goal is always to be relational, Smith said.
Relating to listeners
“We try to relate to who (the listeners) are and to encourage them to walk with the Lord through prayer, Bible study and meditation,” Smith said. “At least once a week, we speak to those who aren’t believers and reach out to them.”
Reaching the lost has to be part of the mission of Christian radio, May believes.
He knows Christians will seek out stations like his because they already value the message and the music.
But he also knows that a nonbeliever who would never step foot in a church might turn the dial and hear the station.
“God’s able to speak to those folks even as they search for something on the radio,” May said. “It’s just God and them.”
And because of that, radio is a ministry that God still uses, he said.
“It’s a challenging market, but I’m excited about where we are and who we are,” May said.
Are you involved in programming at a Christian radio station in Alabama?