Gospel Soundcheck

Gospel Soundcheck

Are you an average Christian radio listener?

christian-radio.jpgDunham+Company marketing company recently released results of a survey of Christian radio listeners and I thought the results were interesting.
Let me state for the record that I listen to very little Christian radio. We actually have three or four Christian radio stations here in Rochester, but when the radio is on I’m tuned into WHAM talk radio, for Glenn Beck and local host Bob Lonsberry. I’m a talk radio junkie. When I want music, I put in CDs.
Before we get to the results, first a little secret about Christian radio programming …


Most people don’t know that Christian radio stations base their music programming on a fictitious listener they call “Becky,” a woman in her 30s or 40s, married, with kids, typical soccer mom. Which explains why almost all Christian radio is jam packed with adult contemporary, pop or light rock from a handful of big name artists.
You don’t find much cutting edge music on Christian radio and it’s difficult for a band to break in, because there are so few spots open for new acts. Each week, a station may add one new song, but have a hundred to choose from. If they think “Becky” will like it, they’ll give it a shot. If it’s MercyMe, Third Day, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman or one of the big name, CCM standards, it gets airplay. If it’s Destination 7, MuteMath, Mat Kearney or one of the unknown, outside-the-box artists, chances are they’ll never get a spin.
The survey results support that – a little bit.
According to their results, the typical Christian (defined as “people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that by believing He died for their sins they have eternal life”) radio listener is:


  • A women 45-54 years of age
  • Pentecostal/Charismatic (with non-denominational and Baptists also highly represented)
  • Living in the South (inclusive of Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida)
  • Politically conservative
  • An activist
  • Attends church regularly (71% of listeners say they attend church frequently while 1 in 10 say they never attend church)

When they broke the stats down, they found that those who listen primarily for music (56%) are women 18-44 who attend church less frequently and listen to Christian radio less frequently. Listeners who tune in for teaching or sermons (40%) were split evenly between older men and women (55+) with a very high incidence of those who are older than 65; they also attend church frequently and were loyal, regular listeners of Christian radio.
Perhaps the first group isn’t listening regularly because there’s so few choices for music. Or maybe they’re getting music online or on web radio.
Either way, what this probably means is that while most listeners may want music, the chances that you’re going to be hearing more Christian rock on Christian radio are slim. Adult contemporary and teaching or sermons will continue to dominate Christian radio, because where the listeners are, the ad revenue dollars are.
So tell me: do you listen to Christian radio? If so, do you listen for music or teaching? If there were more Christian music stations with rock or pop music, would you listen more?

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posted July 18, 2008 at 5:02 pm

yes i do 24.7. on regular radio also on xm, i would and i need to hear sermons also, it would be nice to hear more of a selection,not the repeating they do now,, we need some new stuff, most christian music has a message of christ and it helps with my day,

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posted July 18, 2008 at 6:00 pm

This is a really interesting article. Thanks for posting it, talking through the results a bit, and fostering discussion. I listen to a modicum of Christian radio. I listen to less and less each day because I am not hearing anything new.. at all… pretty much ever. I have a vague feeling that if we were to look at the top 10 lists for 2007 and 2008 for mainstream Christian radio, they would be shockingly similar. Which is too bad. I think there is a desperate need for new, fresh, Christian music on the radio. If only programmers would look beyond the Becky’s!
Thanks again for the post. Good thinking material.

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Joanne Brokaw

posted July 18, 2008 at 8:44 pm

Jon, I can tell you that this week’s Radio and Records AC chart has Third Day at #1 and MercyMe at #2, with Jeremy Camp at #4. At #3 is Matt Maher, and #5-#10 are Fee, Natalie Grant, Francesca Battestelli, Needtobreathe, Chris Tomlin and Robbie Seay Band.
The list definitely includes a few new names, but likely a similar radio friendly pop, light rock, or worship sound.
You had a great idea. I’ll spend a little time next week and see what those charts look like from 2007 and 2008.

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posted July 22, 2008 at 2:11 pm

As a listener who falls firmly into the demographic that’s listening only for music, it doesn’t surprise me in the least to learn of “Becky,” the fictitious “typical” listener. Without knowing her name, “Becky” has haunted me on Christian radio stations across the South. I love the music, and I don’t mind the “teaching,” etc, but I get so tired of hearing about “family friendly.” As a young adult who has yet to find that special person and start a family, and yet who is too old to be with my family of origin, it’s honestly nothing short of discouraging and depressing to hear about family, family, family all the time. Not everyone out there is in a nuclear family with two parents and small children. I think that by focusing on that demographic, Christian radio stations are driving away pretty much any other potential listener.

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Joanne Brokaw

posted July 22, 2008 at 9:53 pm

Ann, that is excellent feedback! Thank you for proving that point. Just out of curiosity, what do you listen to? Do you switch to mainstream radio? Pop in a CD? Download music on an iPod? I also fall into that same demographic; I switch over to talk radio or pop in a CD.

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Jay Egenes

posted September 23, 2008 at 11:10 am

So I always knew I wasn’t “typical.” As a slightly left of political center male (who rejects both parties), living on the west coast, I’m not part of the demographic.
Air 1 is probably the only place there’s much truly interesting “Christian music”; even that seems increasingly narrowly programmed. I stopped supporting Air 1 recently, because of the frequency with which I heard Dr. Dobson, who is really more about right-wing politics than being “family friendly”, whatever exactly that means.

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Mark Weber

posted October 16, 2008 at 10:54 pm

I don’t listen to Christian music radio in general, but I can always tell when I flip thru stations in the car — without looking — which ones are the Christian music format– they all have that same Nashville guitar “sound” that drives me crazy. The people I’ve met tell me they either “only listen to Christian music” or “like one or two Christian artists but stick with adult contemporary music like Celine Dion and The Eagles.”

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Kevin Bussey

posted November 10, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Thanks for sending me your link. This explains my gripe. Is there not a market for males?

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Chris Barrett

posted May 27, 2010 at 10:19 am

As a Christian music promoter in the northeast where there are few Christian radio stations to start with, I honestly don’t listen to them. When I am in parts of the country where they are available, it takes next to no time for me to tire of the formulaic formats and small playlist of only AC music. As was stated previously, if you play the music that a certain demographic likes, are they choosing you or are you choosing them? Having met many radio decision makers, they are males in their 50’s and their biases show up in their preferences. Safety and “family-friendly” values trump creativity and depth of artistry. We trade in a bold and dynamic Gospel for one that is positive and uplifting. It amazes me that a band like Leeland, whose music resonates, ends up without significant radio play because they don’t fit cleanly into a style that a station may play. Good stuff gets through, thank God, because God is determined for it to. As one who listens a lot to music, ear candy tickles our ears immediately and is easy to promote, but there are artists whose depth of lyrical content and music require us to listen more intently, let the words and music do their work in our ears and hearts. They may never hit the charts, but they deserve to be heard.

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posted June 7, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I am in my late 20s, married, no kids, attend church regularly, and I used to love Christian radio. Now, I pretty much just listen to my CDs in the car, because Christian radio plays the same-sounding music all the time. It’s all MercyMe, Casting Crowns, and Kutless…or artists that sound like them. Boring.
I get really excited when my local CCM station in Cleveland, Ohio, plays TobyMac, because he’s really creative and up-to-date. I wish they’d play more Caedmon’s Call, Sara Groves, Nichole Nordeman, and Derek Webb, because I love the folk-rock music and their honest lyrics.
Also, I really wish they’d play more female artists, especially Natalie Grant, Rebecca St. James, Francesca Battistelli, and Jaci Velasquez. Why is Christian radio so dominated by guys???
I do have to say, though, that I love Steven Curtis Chapman, especially his new album, because of his honesty and vulnerability. I appreciate artists who are creative and honest.
A lot of Christian music is mediocre. Cleveland’s 95.5 the Fish occasionally plays Kris Allen, Natasha Bedingfield, Carrie Underwood, and The Fray, so I enjoy that. It’s nice that they can incorporate “mainstream” Christian artists into the mix.

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posted July 29, 2010 at 8:34 pm

I’m a Christian music enthusiast. I go looking for new Christian music, especially what my local radio station doesn’t play, so I know about a lot of less commonly known artists. I’ve also found that the Third Day/ MercyMe/ Kutless etc. bands are a little more on the boring side. There is so much of that ‘normal’ rock sound in Christian music with rock and male vocals dominating.
Luckily, the station I listen to (Life 100.3 in Barrie) is pretty diverse. During the day they play a lot of pop, adult contemporary, soft rock, and things from a few years ago. There are usually more (about 40%) female vocals during this time. There is also a retro show on Saturdays and a hard rock show every night, with worship music on Sundays.
It’s too bad that males dominate, though. There are some amazing female artists out there like Nichole Nordeman, Sara Groves, Rebecca St. James, Rachael Lampa, Jaci Velasquez, Stacie Orricco…. I could go on…that seem to get lost in the shuffle.
Strangely, I definitely don’t fit the demographic as a 17 year old male, but I grew up with Christian pop, folk, R&B, adult contemporary; and the classics like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Rich Mullins, so I appreciate a lot of Christian artists, regardless of whether they’re male or female. I just look for depth, creativity, authenticity, and quality. I’ve basically shifted to using iTunes and Grooveshark to find music, instead of relying on a radio station to introduce me to new music.

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Joshua Francis

posted February 7, 2011 at 7:51 am

Is it any wonder, then, that churches are struggling to get men in the door, to get them to engage in the church?
If our “art” targets people other than ourselves, why would we be interested?
My wife and I are 30 and she loves typical Christian radio, which is fine… but I prefer Christian stuff that doesn’t end up on the station here in St Louis.

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