This last weekend saw me riding the driver’s seat of our Corolla for long stretches of time as I cruised north and back. Searching for some music to imbibe, I cruised the dial, the seek feature on our car’s radio stopping every 0.3 MHz to land on a different station.
Here’s what I discovered: about a hundred Christian radio stations, each and every last one playing “i Can Only Imagine” at the same exact time.
Okay, so maybe the “I Can Only Imagine” comment is an exaggeration—though not by much.
And each of those stations is “kid-safe” or “family-friendly.”
A decade or two ago, I would have welcomed those stations gladly. Now I wonder if all they’re producing is milquetoast believers whose idea of a spiritual challenge is choosing the right two-tone cover for their TNIV.
Worse, all these stations seem to be owned by the same conglomerate, so it’s not unusual to find two or three stations on the dial playing “I Can Only Imagine” at the same exact time because some “DJ” is sitting in a booth in San Antonio spinning that disc, pumping it out to thousands of subscriber stations across the country. Why? Because a lot of local stations obsessed over demographic figures, switched their programming to be mostly (bad) music, gave up their distinctive voice, and saw their audiences shrivel up. Or the stalwart audience went elsewhere, leaving the station to the new masses, masses who had no intention of financially supporting that station. Big conglomerate swoops in and the next thing you know, new ownership, and a DJ who sounds suspiciously like Ryan Seacrest.
I used to listen to Christian radio primarily for the teaching. I suspect that most Christian radio stations don’t even have teaching anymore. And what teaching remains seems about as stale as year-old bread.
There’s something tremendously sad about witnessing the dynamic Christian radio I knew in my youth distill down into this lowest-common-denominator slop we have today.
I find it disheartening, too, that the most challenging teachers out there are either gone from the airwaves or have dumbed-down their messages to be more appealing and easily grasped by an audience with an attention span of a paramecium.
I also find it discouraging that an artist like Derek Webb, one of the few contemporary musicians I listen to, can’t get airplay. Then again, a line like “I am a whore, I must confess…” ain’t all that family-friendly, now is it?
So instead of dancing a jig over the juggernaut of contemporary Christian radio stations taking over the radio dial, I’m nostalgic for what once was.