…national Christian radio in Britain is, as of now, ten years old. UCB’s national DAB service started at the end of November 2009. Which could come as a surprise to readers in other countries. The USA, for example, has a long tradition of Christian radio stations – today there are probably 2,400 stations (on AM, regular FM, and low-power FM) as well as the mega-stations which, in their heyday from the 1930s to the late 60s, broadcast on AM medium wave from just across the border in Mexico .
This book by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford is worth reading if you want to know more about the US mega-stations.
Faith, religion and broadcasting raise questions: should we talk about our beliefs on the radio? In a crowded market place you could be forgiven for thinking that faith-based radio stations in the UK seem to be hidden away from the mainstream. Should there be more religious music on the radio? Or none at all? What is religious music anyway? And, whilst we’re at it: why do radio and TV struggle to portray people of faith, particularly in fictional drama? Full disclosure: I’m a Christian; a director of Branch FM in Dewsbury; a director of Reach Beyond in Bradford; and a director of New Life Christian Centre in Wakefield.
Four years ago I co-authored an essay with Kirsty Macaulay examining the state of UK Christian radio. It was both a brief history from the early 1920s onwards and also a commentary on the current state of the genre, including interviews with key players at the relevant radio stations. Here’s the reference:
Cooper, M. and Macaulay, K. (2015), ‘Contemporary Christian radio in Britain: A new genre on the national dial’, The Radio Journal – International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media, 13: 1+2, pp. 75–87, doi: 10.1386/rajo.13.1-2.75_1
It was digital audio broadcasting (DAB) that helped two organisations gain national coverage: UCB and Premier both became country-wide at the end of 2009. The two broadcasters currently each have two DAB services. All the stations are ‘listener supported’, in other words they rely on donations. Premier – which is based in London – carries some commercial advertising, whilst UCB has none. Neither broadcaster is aligned formally with any denomination. Premier has – in this writer’s opinion – slightly more of an Anglican feel to its sound, whilst UCB is a bit more Pentecostal. But perhaps that’s just a minor distinction as these stations both sound as if they’re already broadcasting to the converted. A non-Christian might not find much here to keep them listening for long periods to the music and interviews or the late-night preaching programmes – even if the quality of Christian worship music has improved significantly over the past couple of years. Both stations play a lot of this type of music. For a different take on this, and a mention of the cross-over musicians interestingly named as “crypto-Christian artists”, see this 2013 article from a Catholic Jesuit magazine in the USA. Meanwhile the current music genre is today so big it now has a regular magazine of its own devoted to the artistes and musicians.
There is, as yet and as far as I am aware, no major British radio broadcaster that is Christian-based yet plays secular songs (if we may call the whole of the rock’n’pop cannon for the past seventy years this). Some have been trying – like Cross Rhythms, a community station in Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands and its two sister stations in Stockton-on-Tees and Plymouth. Although all three primarily tend to promote contemporary Christian music. The difficulty is that rock ‘n roll’s subject matter often sits uncomfortably with Christian ethics. A dilemma that’s reflected elsewhere – for example in how TV shows sometimes tackle the topic of men and women of the cloth. Take these two examples. Firstly Grantchester on ITV featuring a Church of England vicar.
And secondly, Father Brown on BBC TV – also successfully sold to other broadcasters…
A Church of England vicar and a Catholic priest – both solving crimes and both at times challenged in their faith by sins and sinners (usually violent murderers, liars, thieves and cheats, and so on) in a mixture of drama and wry humour. Incidentally the BBC Radio version of Father Brown starred Andrew Sachs between 1984 and 1986, and a US version was broadcast in 1945 on the Mutual network. Follow the links to both and you’ll find audio from the archives. And while we’re thinking about old shows, do you remember All Gas and Gaiters here in the radio version from the original 1960s BBC TV series?
And lest we forget of course – in the 1990s – it was the Vicar of Dibley on BBC TV
So, guilt-ridden clerics? Bumbling vicars? Naive men and women of the cloth? But what do Christians think about how they – and their faith – are portrayed in the media?
This was produced by a networking organisation called Christians in Media [the definite article is intentionally removed] which includes a whole range of people who work for both Christian and secular organisations. The group includes PR consultants for Christian charities, writers and producers in Christian media production companies, as well as believers who work on network TV shows, soap operas, radio stations, news bulletins and all areas of the print and online media. And they take an active part in the media and creative industries in Britain. Here, for example, are some predictions for 2019:
I’d welcome your opinion on the issues I’ve shared here. If you’re a reader from outside the UK what do you listen to? Is it a radio station that supports your faith? Tell me about it. If you’re reading this in Britain do you ever listen to any of the religious/faith-based radio stations, either the local FM or the national DAB ones? If so, why do you tune in? Should your faith affect your choice of career and where you work? Should you talk about your religious beliefs at work? Should faith-based radio stations play secular music? Should mainstream stations play religious tunes? What do you think about the ways in which people of faith are portrayed in TV dramas and comedies? Drop me a line via the ‘comment’ section below; and don’t forget you can support this website by donating. Just click the PayPal symbol whilst you’re down there at the bottom of this page if you’re on your ‘phone (or on the right if you’re on your laptop). Thank you.
Oh, and a final thought about the media. Moses was – of course – one of the first to use a tablet, but long before that Eve had already got herself an Apple…