There are two very different populations in the Christian music listening world. The first is represented by "Becky," the late 30s/early 40s "soccer mom" whom Christian AC radio targets.

Let's call the second "Bucky." He's much younger than Becky, but he also listens to music much of the day. Sometimes Becky and Bucky listen to the same music, maybe even for the same reasons. But there's a key difference between the two: Becky's music is delivered to her across the airwaves and through the speakers of her minivan. Bucky's music is downloaded and delivered through the white earbuds of his iPod.

The contrast between these two listeners, and the music they represent, is on the minds of many program directors at Christian radio these days. While Christian radio works from a finite playlist of a couple of hundred songs, the iPod and mp3 universes invite listeners to create their own personal playlists from among millions of songs.

Bucky has even set up his own virtual online radio station, where a "music engine" records the artists and songs he likes and then streams songs that match his profile, some he's never heard of. It is no wonder that Bucky complains that Christian radio plays the same songs over and over. He might even use the word that a prominent Christian artist recently used to describe Christian radio: "boring."

A trend toward sameness

Just as media, formats, and options in music have exploded over the past few years, Christian radio has changed the way it operates.

For some stations, decisions about which songs to play used to be made based on the gut feeling of a music director, but are now based on opinion data from advanced research services. Many in the industry applaud this evolution, and believe that a tight focus ...

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