What's Up with Radio?
- Monday, January 15, 2007
Her name is Becky.
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• Part 4
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.
"Becky" is not one person, of course. She is the representative persona of the target audience of almost every Adult Contemporary (AC) Christian radio station in existence today. Station directors expend considerable effort identifying who she is and what she likes. Her tastes affect what's played on radio, and not just the music. She is the target of the ads, the promotions, even the morning show banter. Consequently, she is essential to understanding how Christian radio works.
The fact that Becky has a name is indicative of the dogged desire of stations to focus their efforts on a narrowly defined target, generally described in the industry as the 35-to-44-year-old female demographic. The focus has paid off. Many credit the decision of several stations, including and possibly led by Salem's "Fish" stations, to cater to this particular target audience as responsible for the unprecedented growth in Christian radio over the last decade.
Still, not everyone who listens to Christian radio is a Soccer Mom, and the ones who aren't tend to be the ones who question why Christian radio has lavished all its attention on Becky.
The choice of a target audience is the result of many factors, and in this particular industry, the typical economic factors are mixed with the ministerial and the evangelical. Becky is certainly a good audience from the perspective of dollars and cents. She is in the car a lot, which means she listens to the radio a lot, which means she hears a lot of commercials. She also has buying power, creating a pleasing combination for advertisers.
Non-commercial stations like her too, because she recognizes the ministry of the station in her family's life and is quick to support it financially. Mainstream data support the choice. For example, during an average week, radio reaches 96.9 percent of women in Atlanta, far exceeding the reach of newspaper and television.
Still, some are dismayed that this singular attention to one demographic limits radio's ability to reach others for Christ.
"The gospel has no target demographic," notes Derek Webb, who has admittedly given up efforts to get his songs played on Christian AC radio. He further suggests that because radio is targeting Becky, songwriters are too. "Anything Jesus is Lord of, our artists should be writing songs about it. We're only covering about 2 percent of it."
Shaun Groves, another artist who has experienced more radio airplay in the past than now, fears the approach of non-commercial stations in fundraising efforts might even be hypocritical. "The bulk of listeners are Christians," he says. "This is music by Christians for Christians, and that's great. It's a valuable ministry. The trouble is, Christian radio tells stories to make you feel they're evangelistic, but they're not. Say what you are. Don't lie to me and tell me I'm saving teenagers."
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