Today, a growing number of stations are syndicating ‘religious radio’, or an emphasis where ‘day time’ radio focuses on Christianity, geared toward a conservative Christian audience.
Why is this? Are consumers more religious today? Is the base more proactive in its ability to listen and support this genre?
History of Religious Radio
If you listened to radio as a focal point of your entertainment growing up, many people did, you’d have heard at least one local radio hour based on the bible, the main book for Christianity. The life of religious radio and art of using the tool to draw more people to Christ began over 60 years ago.
Pastors like Billy Graham, who created “The Hour of Decision” show for the Los Angeles Area in 1949, set a precedent for other prominent pastors and clergy to follow suit; he saw the power of radio to develop his ministry.
Graham’s media promoted his ministry, a crusade that converted many to Christianity and reignited tent ministries, a term started in the 19th/C where traveling ministers visited small American towns to preach the Gospel.
While many in the community discouraged media use and rejected popular entertainment, Graham showed the benefits through his increasingly popular radio ministry. The program eventually syndicated, reaching ministries in New York and other places on the east coast. His wit and foresight, along with keen understanding that radio was a powerful too to communicate Christian values, launched and set the foundation for religious radio as we know today.
Radio as a Conversion Tool
Not only did Graham have the wit to see how radio could benefit his followers, but the formula could be copied in many different genres. No longer was religious radio simply a lecture from the pulpit, it could be used in news and day time talk developed as a result.
Organizations sprung up from other denominations, even other religions saw the potential, where directors understood the power for those who could listen from afar and hear the message.
Billy Graham played a major role in the early history of religious radio. But today’s leaders in the industry have found an even more powerful and succinct opportunity-through conservative news-to relay their message.
Religious Radio Today-Who’s Behind it?
There is a spectrum of religious organizations who have developed religious radio to an art form. Organizations that have been around for three or more decades, like Pat Robertson’s “The 700 Club”, even “Trinity Broadcasting” started in the late 1970’s primarily on small, local television and flourishing to include radio as part of its ministry. These producers understood the art of drama, offering those who listen human interest stories based in religious beliefs, missionary updates and talks on all subjects related to the ‘good book’, the Bible.
The movement took a dip in popularity, from Bill Graham’s time, when many leaders in the industry were caught in scandal, decreasing public trust and creating the perception that the industry was fanatical.
In the late 1980s especially, the movement and listener-ship took an all-time low dip, propagating many AM and FM religious stations off air or to a lower wattage amount. This large decrease, from its hey day of over 1,300 stations between 1980-1987, was a wake up call for the industry.
They needed a positive re-invention, fast.
Enter Talk Radio
The conservative base, as well as Catholic base, though smaller in recent years, was still vital and active. Producers knew this and conservative news was becoming an increasingly sought after medium, with the rising popularity of secular cable news, like CNN.
The art of talk was important. They needed good pundits, who relayed the conservative message, in a way that would compel their base.
Pundits, like Sean Hannity, who got his start early in life, starting in 1989 climbing the ladder rungs of conservative radio (and television), and eventually hitting national syndication by 2001, were the answer.
People like Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and on the more incendiary end, people like Michael Savage, bolstered the conservative community, giving voice to an underlying sense of disenfranchisement and conviction in increasingly ‘dangerous’ secular spin on conservative beliefs.
The formula’s taken off and it won’t be declining any time soon.
Future of Religious Radio in the U.S.
To date, there are again more than 1,600 Christian broadcast. stations in the U.S. alone. There are many reasons, too, that point to the growth and stability of this format:
The ideological divide is never more prominent in the U.S. today, giving credence to the fact that religious radio is part of that equation.
The Catholic base has been refortified, with greater secular popularity for Pope Francis.
The formula works, but online presence increases exposure, too
Pope Francis is the most popular Pope since Pope John Paul II, in 30 years. Catholic ministry, also included in religious radio, is a grown subset of evangelical radio. And again, religious radio now includes online radio, with an ever growing number of pod casts and daily shows.
Religious radio is on the rise, with more online radio options, and more religious station broadcasting than ever before. Its rising because influential conservative talk show hosts, the most popular Pope in years, and better access in key, target markets — all are converging to help it grow.