10 Questions with ... Steve Sunshine
December 1, 2014
1. Brief History / Synopsis
I was born in New Jersey and lived there until 7th grade, then we moved to Indianapolis where I lived for another 15 years. I went to Butler University, so I'm a big college basketball fan. I grew up in a pretty secular home and did not come to Christ until I was 30 with some help from my (future at the time) wife, and the pastor of a church I was visiting. Now we've been married for 18 years, we have a 16-year-old daughter named Camille and a 12-year-old son named Meyer who we adopted from Haiti 6 years ago.
2. What was it that made you "catch the bug" for radio? When did you realize that it was what you wanted to do for a living?
I was yet another geek who had a "radio station" in his bedroom...basically my record player and a cassette recorder. I won an hour on a top-40 station in a call-in contest when I was 14. I'm sure it was more exciting for me than the listeners! Other than that I don't know if there was a specific moment. I was the only kid I knew who was more interested in what the jocks were saying than the music.
3. What are the core values for Spirit 105.9....and what is your greatest obstacle?
The home stations for the Steve & Amy show are KFMK Spirit 105.9 in Austin and KCMS Spirit 105.3 in Seattle, owned by CRISTA Ministries. CRISTA is a very diverse organization that does everything from media, to world relief (you may know World Concern and the 44 Cent Cure), plus education, camps and senior living. CRISTA's mission is to love God by serving people - meeting practical and spiritual needs - so that those we serve will be built up in love, united in faith and maturing in Christ.
Within that context, CRISTA Media seeks to provide hope and encouragement to the unique culture in each of our markets. It has occurred to me that it is no coincidence that CRISTA's radio stations are heard in Seattle, Austin, and Vancouver, BC. These are three of the least-church cities in North America. This has a strong impact on how we look at who our listener is. Our mindset is that many of them don't know Christian jargon - even the kind found at contemporary churches, they don't know our artists, and they may have all kinds of misconceptions about what we're about. So we go out of our way to make it clear that they are welcome no matter who they are or what they've done.
I think it's working. We've talked with more people between Austin and Seattle that have struggled or are struggling with addiction, or been in prison, or been abused, or been an abuser than I can remember at any other station I've worked at. Ratings have been very positive too.
As far as obstacles are concerned, I would say the instability of PPM in a smaller cume format, and of course the ever changing landscape of new media options.
4. With the advent of "instant everything"..... How do you compete with what the potential listener has available to them?
In our house we've really become a Netflix family. We rarely watch TV when it's scheduled. What that's taught me is that we have to find ways to make our content available on demand. It's a little different because we do short bits of content and movies or TV shows are long form. But I think the principle is the same. We need to find ways to deliver and package content to people to use on demand.
5. What would you categorize as your greatest personal challenge in radio? What are you doing to overcome that?
In my case right now, I'm the program director of one radio station and doing the morning show on two, and now also syndicating that morning show. What am I doing to overcome it? I'm trying to be replaced as program director. Call me if you're interested! :)
6. Who are three people that you look/have looked to as mentors/leaders?
John Frost has done more to make me a better broadcaster all around than any one person I can think of. John's focus on the values of the listener rather than simple radio tactics has really helped build some of the best radio stations in our format. I love the fact that he always seems to have another level to strive for, no matter how far I may think I've come! I also catch myself hearing some of my early heroes in my own work on the air. Starting out, I was very heavily influenced by Chicago radio in the 80's. I loved the real life, regular guy approach of Steve Dahl, the dry wit of his partner Garry Meier, and the harmless sarcasm of Larry Lujak, among others.
7. What do you believe is the single greatest factor in building audience share/cume?
There are all kinds of tactics that may be helpful depending on whether you're in a diary or PPM market. But the most important factor is having a radio station that is so compelling that people will WANT to listen and come back. If there is nothing worth listening to on my radio station, people won't listen regardless of what we do tactically. Pandora can fine-tune music to an individual listener's taste. We have to play songs large groups of people can agree on. We have to offer something more than music listeners can get a million other places.
8. Most successful station promotion ever?
I love an event we have at Spirit in Austin called Spirit Fest. It's an all day family festival with a great lineup of major artists (this year Chris Tomlin, MercyMe and Jeremy Camp are all headlining), local artists, rides and attractions for kids, vendor booths and more all at the AAA baseball park. It's a ticketed event and has drawn as many as 14,000 which was a record for the venue. I'm grateful for our promotions and marketing department, they do a great job!
9. What's the last book you read?
Maybe not what you would expect. It was Perelandra by CS Lewis. It's the second in his Space Trillogy - I'm in the middle of the third book right now. In Perelandra, the main character travels to Venus and meets a character similar to the Biblical Eve. The difference is that she has not fallen but is about to be tempted. This character is charged with interceding between her and the Satan figure. I love the way CS Lewis is able symbolically teach about God and human nature through fiction.
10. Radio 101....in 101 words or less, how would you guide/instruct/advise a radio programmer/air talent who wants to get better at their craft?
What happens between the records is critical. Make your radio station matter. Know your listener and focus on the things that are most important to her. Find the right talent who can share real life in way that is compelling and meaningful - whether they are local or syndicated. Engage in your local community. Know how to get maximum credit in whichever Nielsen methodology you are measured. Play your listeners favorite songs often and introduce new music with care.
1. Most embarrassing moment on air?
I was running long-form programming early in the morning in college radio. I fell asleep. When I woke up I realized the show had been over for 10 minutes. Nobody called. Nobody was listening. Maybe it wasn't that embarrassing!