Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Mark Ramsey
Folks in public media might not know that consultant and blogger Mark Ramsey [link] is as a major presence in Christian Contemporary Radio (CCM).  Ramsey has done extensive research on CCM listening trends and consults the trade group Christian Music Broadcasters (CMB). CMB is a noncom cousin of the Public Radio Program Directors Association (PRPD).

Last week Ramsey revealed trends that he sees in the CCM world that have implications for other noncom stations. Ramsey cites two facts important takeaways:


• Over time, the magnitude of giving to CCM stations is steady or rising, but the total number of givers is declining.

• According to Ramsey’s research, the age of those who give is not just a little older than the age of the listening audience; in many cases it’s a lot older.


While some donors are more philanthropic than ever, they are masking the overall reduction in the number of listeners supporting the brand. Meanwhile, as the average age of the audience creeps up, the average age of donors is creeping up faster. That means donors are not only becoming scarce they are becoming increasingly unlike the audience for the stations they are supporting.

The key difference between the two groups is the way younger listeners perceive “free” and how that perception applies to their own giving. To illustrate, Ramsey tells this story:

Some time ago I sat with a young guy who worked for a well-known “growth hacker.” His job was to grow digital startups and do it cheaply and fast. I outlined for him the non-commercial radio model, which he was not familiar with.

He looked at me, utterly befuddled.

“You mean you want people to pay for something that they can otherwise get for free?”

Um, yes, I’m afraid that’s what I mean.

“Why would they do that?”

Ramsey’s bottom line: They are just listeners, not members.

In other words, younger listeners expect something more “than free music.” The compelling reasons older folks support noncommercial media, don’t generally click with younger folks. According to Ramsey, data shows older folks are more philanthropic than ever. Younger listeners aren’t so apt to give and support the brand.

If these trends continue, public media organizations that depend on philanthropy will become unsustainable unless other sources of revenue appear. Younger listeners want to perceive they are getting something back for their donation.

Here is Ramsey’s advice to Christian noncoms:

Christian non-com stations will have to think less about donations and more about membership, less about giving and more about experiences, less about one-brand-one-product and more about a portfolio of products and services, less about pledge drives and more about exchanges of value, less about listeners and more about community, less about broadcasting and more about participation.


A CCM station that excels in providing experiences to members is WJTL, based in Manheim, PA, near Lancaster.  Check out WJTL’s website [link] to see the many opportunities for listeners to become

 As you can see in the ratings, Harrisburg listeners appreciate WJTL in significant numbers. WJTL does equally well in two other Diary markets: Lancaster and York.

The Quad Cities are a little bit Iowa and a little bit Illinois. They are four cities – Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa; Rock Island and Moline, Illinois.  They straddle the Mississippi River to create a metro area of 350,000 people with many different loyalties. So, it is tougher to have a consensus in the Quad Cities.

WVIK is the long-time NPR News voice. Newish GM Jay Pearce has ‘VIK humming. Iowa Public Radio’s three program channels are a smaller factor.  The star of the Quad Cities continues to be WGVV, an independent Urban Contemporary, R&B and Hip-Hop station that always performs well in the ratings. WGVV provides an excellent example of how to serve younger, more diverse listeners via radio.


  1. Is Mark specifically distinguishing between music stations and spoken word/news stations?

    Seems like the argument for supporting the latter is a lot more "obvious" to listeners than the former.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Ken!

    And Aaron, I'm really talking about Christian stations in particular, and especially music stations. The audiences for Christian teaching stations are both smaller and older, so there's less inherent conflict (and less financial support and listenership).

    How well this applies to Public Radio news stations depends on what the metrics are for these stations. For one thing, public radio content is increasingly unbundled from the linear broadcast thus (hypothetically) opening up more channels for support. Fundamentally, however, even in the best case scenario I'm guessing that 90% or more of a public radio news station's audience ignores pitches at pledge time. In Christian radio it's closer to 95%. And for anyone who thinks that's an attractive model in a world of so many choices, so many ways to involve yourself with them, and so many models for supporting them, I suggest you think again. :-)

    To your point, the argument for support is more obvious, but you still have not given me - the donor - something that non-donors don't get for free. So whether I'm a good citizen or a sucker is a matter of opinion :-)