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Christian Radio Is Booming (If You Live 3.5 Miles Away)

Four out of five listeners are tuning in for the same reason.
Christian Radio Is Booming (If You Live 3.5 Miles Away)

Local Christian radio is booming in America—with emphasis on the local.

More than a third of low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations—whose non-commercial radio signals don’t reach farther than about 3.5 miles—are religious in nature, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center released today.

The count was taken after the number of stations nearly doubled since 2014, with more than 750 new stations joining the market, according to Pew.

More than two-thirds of the stations (69%) classified themselves into one of five categories. Of those, half indicated a religious or Christian focus.

Congress opened up the LPFM market in 2010 after determining that the signals didn’t interfere with the larger FM signals broadcast in the area. But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ran into a double-booking snag: More than 6,000 pending FM translator applications were already asking for the same radio signals that the new LPFM transmitters wanted to request. (Translators are stations that rebroadcast other stations in order to help them expand or strengthen their signal.)

In March 2012, the FCC handled the problem by tossing out translator applications in markets where there wasn’t enough room for LPFM stations.

Then for one month, from October 15 to November 14, 2013, the FCC opened a window for LPFM applications. More than 2,800 LPFM stations—which must be run by nonprofits, public safety notice providers, or tribes and tribal associations—applied.

Image: FCC

Before the flood of LPFM stations, about two out of five noncommercial radio stations were religious, according to a 2011 FCC report.

“Religious broadcasters have a significant and valuable presence on the airwaves,” the report said. “Approximately 42 percent of noncommercial radio stations have a religious format, though that may understate the number since some religious broadcasters operate mixed format stations, which count in a different category. Eighty percent of the 2,400 Christian radio stations and 100 full-power Christian TV stations are nonprofits.”

Five months ago, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that a nonprofit radio station playing Christian music is a place of public worship and doesn’t need to pay property taxes.

One quarter of Americans frequently (10%) or sometimes (17%) listen to Christian radio, according to a LifeWay Research survey of more than 2,000 Americans in 2014. Those who attend church once a week are more likely to listen frequently (27%), though not as many as self-identified evangelicals, who were more likely to listen both frequently (33%) and sometimes (34%).

Surprisingly, more than a quarter of those who are unchurched also frequently or sometimes listen to Christian programs on the radio (26%).

Four out of five Christian radio listeners said spiritual growth is the main reason they tune in (80%), according to a 2016 survey by Finney Media of more than 23,000 listeners in the United States and Canada.

They’re also flipping on the radio in order to hear worship music (79%) and to be encouraged (77%). Close to half said they were likely to leave if a radio host had an angry or negative tone (46%).

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