Tuesday, June 14, 2016


I occasionally report about Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) because it is an important part of noncommercial media.  When correctly done , CCM stations have a lot of listeners. The leading CCM stations reach as many, if not more, listeners than the top public radio stations: KSBJ in Houston (803,600 weekly cumulative listeners), KTIS in the Twin Cities (451,600 weekly cume), and WGTS in DC and Baltimore (539,200 weekly cume). Source: Nielsen Audio May 2016 PPM.

CCM’s trade group Christian Music Broadcasters (CMB) is a sophisticated group of broadcasters that use music testing and perceptual research as well as any commercial music station. CMB has borrowed ideas from public radio and their annual meeting – Momentum [link] – reminds me of the PRPD.  CMB invites top radio consultants such as Mark Ramsey and Paul Jacobs to do custom research and speak at Momentum.

An article published earlier in June by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog [link] has raised a new concern: Maybe CCM is too damn upbeat and blissful.

Writer Leah Libresco, in her report The Sun Is Always Shining In Modern Christian Pop says perhaps CCM radio is taking “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” a bit too far. She asks if songs like Beautiful Day, a monster CCM hit by Jamie Grace, are too filled with “cotton candy” to be relatable to listeners other than the hand-core core. Consider these lyrics:

This feeling can’t be wrong
I’m about to get my worship on  
Take me away  
It’s a beautiful day.

Dylan never wrote a better hook.


Libresco backs up her claim with research.  She listened to the top CCM songs from the past five years and categorized them into comparative pairs “Life/Death” and “Grace/Sin” etc. The result?  Libresco says:

There were 2.5 times as many mentions of “grace” as “sin” in the songs’ lyrics. Other pairs were even more lopsided: There were more than eight mentions of “life” for every instance of “death,” and “love” was more than seven times as common as “fear.” 

Then she compared current CCM hits with Old-Time hymns. You guessed it: CCM tunes are much, much more positive than older stuff.

Libresco’s point is that CCM is missing an opportunity to add more listeners by playing a greater number of songs that touch on negative themes. She believes they make it easier to tell the positive stories because of the comparisons. In the real world, she says, a relationship with God that is more touched by pain, distance or doubt:

[Many listeners] can’t recognize themselves in the “Walt Disney-fixation” of CCM music.


Libresco’s research and conclusions met resistance from one of CCM’s most successful programmers. Brad Hansen from WAY-FM, a national CCM channel wrote in an op-ed [link]:   

Look, I get it. The writer cites a common complaint: CCM doesn’t have enough {songs] about judgment, sin, darkness, death, etc. Years ago, I made this argument myself.

I fully realize that life includes much suffering. We should expect it. So why doesn’t Christian music on the radio reflect it?

Well, here’s an answer: It’s radio.

Radio is a particular medium. People use radio, just like they use any tool. It turns out that people on the way home from a tough job do not use the radio to hear a song about sorrow and judgment. We can foist it on them for their own good, but they have these darn buttons they can click.

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