When I was 13 years old, I wanted two things in life. To play guitar and write songs like Steven Curtis Chapman…and to work in Christian radio.
I told you I was a weird kid.
KSWP was Lufkin’s only Christian radio station and was two miles from my house. I listened to it constantly, loved the DJs and could name almost every song within the first 32 seconds. So at the age of 14, I showed up and begged to help out. I applied for an FCC license and was soon training on air. Working at the station was one of the formative experiences of my life, so when I heard they were celebrating an anniversary last week, I took a minute to look back on things I had learned.
1. Work pays off. The woman who trained me wa named Wanda Allen. She was a quiet, shy woman who carried none of the DJ persona. But every Thursday she showed up with a spiral notebook filled with songs, scriptures and encouragements. Her 3-hour shift was a sight to behold. It lacked the slick sheen of ego. It was ministry. As I got better shifts, I didn’t see Wanda as much, but her work ethic stayed with me.
2. Ministry is messy. As my skill and influence grew, so too did my proximity to the powers that be. Eventually, I saw the uglier side of ministry. It was hard, it was impossible to predict and sadly, it was filled with people consumed with self. Please understand, I loved my time there, but as a teenager, I had no idea you could be in ministry and be a jerk. I learned quickly that jeks were everywhere. It was a valuable lesson, but not necessarily a fun one.
3. Essentials are enough. KSWP was the most denominationally diverse ministry I had ever been a part of. As a budding worship leader, I was fascinated with how churches worshipped and thought of God. Pulling a shift after the Souern Baptist preacher and before the Pentecostal was good training. Seeing folks that diverse who could work toward something common was important in my faith journey.
4. Christian sub-culture is not cool. Over time, I began to grow tired if the insulation of Christian sub-culture in a small East Texas town. We kept telling people our station was converting people but I’m not sure we were. I think we were afraid to own the ministry of encouragement and I think we deceived folks into thinking we were more than we were. We would have done better to invest in the local church instead of trying to convince people we were a one-stop shop for ministry. There’s a reason why we have churches and I’m not sure Christian radio (as a whole) really understands that fact.
5. “Share-a-thons” aren’t near as fun as they sound.
6. Integrity should always win. Toward the end of my ‘career,’ I hosted a Saturday night Christian rock show and a substantial drive-time shift. I’ll never forget being called into the station manager’s office and being told my Saturday night show was being cancelled. That wasn’t cool, but I was surprised when he asked me to make sure every one (on air and off) thought it was my decision. I was asked to lie, and I did. That’s one meeting I’d like to have back, gang. And shame on that guy for abusing his position…he may have got the result he wanted, but he lost credibility with me that day. And he’s yet to win it back.
7. Volunteerism is tough. KSWP was made up of mostly volunteers. The office staff was paid and a few administrative spots were full-time, but the rest of us did it for the love of the job. I remember thinking early on that volunteering would be an easy job to quit should things go bad. What I didn’t know is that when you ask volunteers to commit, they do just that. Once volunteers love the work, there’s a natural tendency to take them for granted because they’ll endure all sorts of craziness and stress because they love the job so much.
8. People Will Tell Ya’. As a part of my Saturday night job, I loved sharing new music with the listeners. Up until that point, I had always believed that ‘church people’ would always be nice. I realize now that it was naive, but I was really shocked one night to receive a call from an irate mother and supporter of the station. One night, I played a song called “Meaningless” from a new band called Sixpence None The Richer. It was a minor-key retelling of some verses in Ecclesiastes and I thought it was a great lament for public consumption. Imagine my surprise when a mom and radio supporter called to scream at me. She claimed the song was so depressing that if anyone was considering suicide, this song would push them over the edge. Wasn’t expecting that.
9. Big egos can exist in small rooms. I was always fascinated with those at the station who considered themselves “famous” for working at the station. As invested as I was, I still found the notion of being a celebrity for a tiny little radio station in a small town to be pretty silly. In the end, it wasn’t the hot shot drive time jocks that stood out in my mind. It was the humble, faithful saints who poured themselves into their work and trusted the success to God.
10. You gotta’ try. I still listen to Christian radio and am encouraged by it. Every now and then, I think what might have been had I tried to make radio my career. It’s crystal clear to me that becoming a DJ would have been a terrible move, but I’m so glad that I gave it a try. I’m glad I faced the fears, dealt with the jerks, learned a consistent work ethic and made some solid spiritual relationships. Even though it didn’t become my life, it was still a valuable part and I’m glad I did it.
To those at KSWP, thanks for giving me a shot. I learned a lot from you all and I’m thankful to God for every lesson. I pray God continues to bless and refine you as you seek to serve Him.