It seems that every time I turn on our local Christian radio station, they are inevitably playing a song by a non-Christian artist. You know what I mean… It’s not that the artist isn’t a Christian; it’s just that you won’t find their CD on the shelf at a Christian bookstore. And you certainly won’t find them in the Christian/Gospel section at Target. In fact, it’s more likely that you’ll walk past a large cutout of one of these artists along with a packed display of their latest CDs on your way to the Christian/Gospel section. You know the songs I’m talking about–tunes that have a Christian message but are sung by a well-known country or pop act. Do you recognize any of these?
- “Jesus Take the Wheel,” by Carrie Underwood
- “I Wish,” by Rascal Flatts
- “Anyway,” by Martina McBride
- “You & Me,” by Lifehouse
- “Home,” by Daughtry
- “How To Save A Life,” by The Fray
These are all great songs. These are all great songs that are also played on pop and country radio. But I cringe every time I hear them on Christian radio.
Now, I’m not bashing mainstream music. I like it and listen to plenty of it. I don’t want to be misconstrued in any way in saying that these aren’t good songs or that they don’t contain some sort of positive Christian message–they are and they do. However, I think it all goes back to the age old question of what defines a Christian song; and furthermore, what defines a Christian artist? And while we could debate this for weeks on end, here’s my point: Every time I hear a mainstream song on Christian radio, I feel cheated. I feel sorry for our industry. I ache for all the incredible Christian artists out there making music full of artistic integrity that will never see the light of CCM radio.
The reality is that there are, in any given month, anywhere from 40-50 songs going for ads and only a handful of these songs can be added to radio playlists. There are fewer and fewer slots for singles to be added each week, so I wish the slots now filled by mainstream artists (who are incidentally already getting tons of airplay in their respective genres) would be given to caliber artists in our industry. How about we replace the list above with some songs from artists who don’t get the airplay they deserve like Sara Groves, Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson and Audrey Assad (just to name a few)?
I already know what you’re thinking… Couldn’t playing a familiar song by Carrie Underwood make someone who wouldn’t otherwise listen to Christian radio, stop on the station and hopefully not turn the dial when the next song comes on? Certainly. But what if the opposite was true? What if the artists in our industry strove for the highest level of excellence in their music so that when someone is flipping stations they can’t help but be captured by the artistic integrity of the song and, in turn, be held captive by the lyric? What if Christian radio programmers took a chance on the artists and songs that don’t follow the typical radio-friendly format? What would Christian radio look like then?
“I Can Only Imagine” got played on a secular station in Texas because it resonated with a program director. It defined MercyMe’s career.
“I’m Not Who I Was” was called “too personal” by industry execs. Besides, it doesn’t even really have a traditional chorus. The single put Brandon Heath on the map.
“If We Are the Body” came from a small youth group band out of Florida we now know as Casting Crowns.
“How Great Is Our God” wasn’t Chris Tomlin’s first single. We forget that he had two full albums that were just a blip on SoundScan before he struck gold with the songs on his landmark release, Arriving.
God uses Christian radio to change lives. I know this because Christian radio lifts me up every day. It’s time to make non-believers stop and take notice. It’s our job to be the salt. We need to be doing everything we can to promote the incredible music emanating from our Christian songwriters today. It’s too good (and too powerful) to keep it to ourselves.
How do you feel about mainstream songs getting played on Christian radio?