Bill Virgin's Radio Beat May 29, 2008

Includes archive of Bill Virgin's columns fromJ une 2006 - March 2009

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat May 29, 2008

Postby radiofan » Thu May 29, 2008 8:47 am

On Radio: Spirit 105 finds balance with Christian format
Technology helps add new songs to the mix


The artists' names and music may differ from rock, country and adult-contemporary stations, but radio stations with contemporary-Christian formats face the same big challenge as their counterparts in other genres:

How do you retain those listeners who are loyal to and comfortable with familiar artists and music while attracting younger listeners accustomed to finding new music on their own, through such Internet channels as MySpace?

However the balancing act is done, Crista Ministries' KCMS-FM/105.3 seems to be managing it. In the most recent quarterly ratings, Spirit 105.3 was the eighth-highest-ranked commercial station in the Seattle-Tacoma market.

The industry appears to appreciate the job KCMS is doing. KCMS' Sarah Taylor was named music director of the year for major-market stations at the Gospel Music Association's recent Radio Echo Awards.

Taylor, who is also the station's afternoon co-host with Tom Pettijohn, says technology is changing how both listeners and the station discover new artists and music, just as it has in other formats.

"Back in the day, we had a core of artists" such as Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael Smith, she says. "Now I'm getting e-mails every day" about music a listener has discovered on the Internet. Says Taylor, who is in her 20s: "My generation, they like to find things out first. When we hear artists on the radio, that's old news."

"It's more song-driven rather than artist-driven," she adds. "There's more to chose from. It makes my job harder and easier."

New artists are showing up in contemporary Christian music; Taylor cites names such as Jeremy Camp, Chris Tomlin and Casting Crowns. New approaches are showing up, too. "We're seeing a lot of artists remaking hymns -- the same words with a modern twist," she says. One such song on KCMS' playlist is Jadon Lavik's reworking of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing."

Although KCMS doesn't have competition in the form of another contemporary Christian station in the market, Taylor says it still has to worry about listeners wandering off to another station. "Our competitors are the other AC (adult-contemporary) stations," she says, adding that Spirit 105.3 finds its greatest crossover listenership with KRWM-FM/106.9 and the country stations.

What will keep listeners tuned in is not just the music mix, but also the connection between hosts and listeners. Although plenty of local radio stations strive for that, Spirit 105.3 does have the added tie to its listeners of religious faith. "We share stories about our lives," Taylor says. She'll talk about becoming a mother, and when she's out on public appearances, listeners will ask to see pictures of her daughter. "I enjoy it when people call in and tell me where they're at in their lives," or ask off-air for prayers.

"They come for the music, but they stay for the relationship," she says.

In other radio notes:

DeSol performs in the "Mountain Music Lounge" at 3:15 p.m. Thursday on KMTT-FM/103.7.

Jazz organ master Lonnie Smith performs with saxophonist Donald Harrison and guitarist Peter Bernstein in the KPLU-FM/88.5 studios at 3:15 p.m. Friday.

Jim Wilke's "Jazz Northwest" at 1 p.m. Sunday on KPLU-FM features a recent tribute by Bebop Revisited, Joe Baque, Pete Christlieb and Bill Ramsay to the late Olympia pianist Jack Perciful.

P-I reporter Bill Virgin can be reached at 206-448-8319 or

Bill Virgin's Radio Beat, Thursdays in the Seattle P-I
Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who couldn't hear the music.
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