ANDERSON, Ind. — More than a decade ago, Kelli Thompson said a prayer. And God's answer far exceeded her expectations.
Thompson was working at a country radio station in New Castle and the 9/11 attacks unfolded live on television.
“There were 25 to 30 people all gathered around a little television set and I would look at them and then look at the TV,” Thompson said. “I wanted to be able to be a comfort to them and share with them my hope.”
Instead of sharing her faith, however, she stood silent.
Thompson, now the host of Moody Radio Indiana’s morning program, "New Day," had been in the radio business for 33 years and never felt more strongly in that moment to talk about God with others.
At the time, workers were often reluctant to discuss religion in business settings. And it was the same at the radio station.
Today, Contemporary Christian and religious teaching radio stations dominate the airwaves. According to M. Street Corp. and Inside Radio, which tracks radio statistics, there are more than 2,723 of these two types of stations across the nation giving their combined totals the largest listener base. Country and news talk stations also top the charts.
The days and weeks that followed her silence haunted Thompson until she told God she would never let it happen again.
She has kept that promise and a strong relationship with her savior.
Thompson says unlike some, she did not find God – he found her.
“I was not raised in the church,” Thompson said. “But I remember when I was very little walking around through the house talking to him.”
She said that while growing up her mother would watch the Billy Graham crusades and other religious programs. When she was about 8 years old she watched "The Ten Commandments" starring actor Charlton Heston.
The movie changed her life.
“I remember thinking that’s just so awesome,” Thompson said with a laugh. “I just started talking to him then and I haven’t shut up in 40 plus years."
Today, Thompson shares Scripture and her faith with more than 110,000 listeners each week in Indiana.
According to James Crompton, an analyst and industry expert for IBISWorld, Inc. in New York, the radio broadcasting industry has undergone many changes in the past decade. The Internet along with digital platforms for music sharing are altering how consumers listen to their music.
In 2012, about 29 percent of Americans listened to online radio stations which compares to about 11 percent in 2007, Crompton said. Overall, Crompton said Americans spend about 20 hours a week listening to the radio.
And for broader appeal across the nation, Christian stations have started using podcasts, live streaming and satellite radio to make the format available 24 hours a day.
Fine tuning the format
Ray Hashley is the station manager of 97.9 FM, WGNR, and AM 1470, WGNR, where Thompson’s program originates on the south side of Anderson.
Thompson’s program is aired daily on all of the Indiana stations owned by Moody Radio and they include stations in Anderson, Covington, West Lafayette, Kokomo and Bloomington.
“We have a huge area we cover,” he said.
In December, Moody Radio plans to convert its AM station here to all-Spanish to reach a wider audience. That will give Moody Radio an edge, Crompton said. He said many factors come into play when accessing a potential listening base including an area's employment rate and population. For example, Madison County's population is 3.3 percent Hispanic.
"Periods of higher unemployment typically coincide with people listening to less radio, as they would not be commuting as frequently," Crompton said. "So while I cannot definitively say whether or not your city radio stations are reaching the majority of the local population, I can say it is likely they reach a solid majority of residents."
Hashley said the station’s target audience is 35 and older. He said roughly 60 percent of its listeners are women and 40 percent are men.
That creates a small overlap in audiences between Moody Radio listeners and 98.7 FM, WQME listeners. WQME is a Contemporary Christian station located near Anderson University at 1102 E. Sixth St.
Don Boggs, general manager for WQME, said his target audience is women between the ages of 25 and 54. WQME has listeners in both Madison and Hamilton counties.
In 2012, Arbitron, a radio ratings and media research firm, said that each week radio programming reaches about 93 percent of the population 12 years-old and older.
Both local radio stations take advantage of new technology to reach their listeners with social media and live streaming options, but Boggs said the expanding technology also means there is less advertising dollars to support radio stations.
“We have the potential to reach more people than ever, but whatever growth we have is being divided up and the advertising pie is cut up more,” Boggs said.
In fact, 90 percent of the industry's revenue is derived from advertisements and the recent economic downturn has impacted corporate budgets, Crompton said.
Boggs said in addition to online advertising, the way people are advertising locally has changed and evolved. For example, Boggs said grocery stores are now selling ads on their grocery carts.
“Technology cuts both ways,” Boggs said. “And change is always challenging.”
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