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"My Lords, ladies & gentlemen
There are perhaps 2 types of Christian broadcasting. The first is primarily aimed at Christians. With a basis of Biblical teaching, preaching, worship and communication of church information it's purpose is to entertain, inform and build up it's audience in their existing Christian faith. In a nation of more than 70% Christians, according to the most recent national census survey, programming from such platforms appeals and is of value to many people.
The second type of Christian broadcasting is one that aims to position itself as accessibly and as relevantly as possible in the wider marketplace outside the church. It is one that engages with the everyday issues in a community and looks to work in partnership with existing bodies and so contribute to positive social change. It is one where the proclamation of Christian values goes hand in hand with actual valued effectiveness for the needs of the community. This is the aim of Cross Rhythms City Radio - an FM Community radio station broadcasting across Stoke-on-Trent. Let me explain.
In February 2002, Cross Rhythms was the first Access Community radio station to launch as part of the Radio Authority's 15 station pilot scheme. Two years later the station has begun to become an integral part of life in the whole city, not just the church:
Feedback shows that the station is heard in taxis, hairdressers, barbers, chip shops, universities, schools, the Citizens Advice Bureau, petrol stations, car mechanic garages, furniture shops, doctors surgeries, the council offices, church foyers, pubs and even Muslim owned shops.
We have managed to position a Christian station that people outside the church are willing to turn on, listen to and even let their clientele see them associate with us. Why is this? There are several reasons:
1) We sound contemporary. We play a lot of contemporary music - rock, pop, r n b, rap... But all our music is by Christian artists. Most people, when they hear the phrase 'Christian music' think Thora Hurd, Harry Secombe, Cliff Richard or Mr Bean mumbling an age old hymn. Yet when people are searching through the dial and find our station, the music is the first thing that grabs them - it sounds great. One example of this is a man called Buff, the owner of an infamous rock pub in the city called the Rigger. He came across the station and loved the rock music. So much so he wrote to us and said he wanted to support us. He said that as for our message he's a 'floating voter', but he's recognised that his kids watch a lot of tv and the values and lifestyle presented was, in his words 'one sided' and he felt by supporting us he'd be doing his bit to bring some balance. He subsequently put our poster up in his pub next to the poster of a naked girl band by the name of Rock Bitch, and every month for the last year and a half we have dj'd Christian rock music in his pub.
The music we play is popular. In America last week, in the mainstream Billboard Top 100 charts, over 20% of the albums were from Christian artists, whilst figures recently for our own music sales department at Cross Rhythms showed that despite being a national organisation broadcasting on Sky Digital and running a popular website; more sales came from our home county of Staffordshire than any other county and Stoke-on-Trent was the city with the most sales, second only to London. People listening to our station want to buy the music they hear.
2) Secondly, we have engaged with daily city life. 80-90% of my life as a Christian is the same as my next door neighbour who's not a Christian. I'm interested in how Stoke City did at the weekend, what's on at the theatre, local news, travel, health awareness, education and employment opportunities. Christians aren't people who hibernate all week with their be-spectacled noses sunk in the Bible, only venturing out into the big bad world for a quick Sunday morning dash to Church and back. No, Christians live in the real world too. So our station looks to present normal Christian lifestyle.
Every week we run programming with the police, the job centre and local health and education authorities. The local newspaper The Sentinel supplies us with news every hour and local companies buy on air advertising and sponsorship - everyday businesses such as Holdcroft Motors, Centurion Italian furnishings, Blinkin' Ink Toner Cartridges and Pedal Power. During local elections we have run acclaimed round table debates and interviews with all the local politicians, being affirmed by many of them as the best local coverage of all the local broadcasters. Every other week we interview the openly gay elected mayor, a man who, whilst holding a different set of beliefs, has called us a 'Force for good in our city' and has stated 'long may we continue.'
Just before Christmas we saw evidence of the favour we have received in the community. With only two weeks notice we ran a live on air lunchtime programme called Something To Celebrate where we invited local leaders from The Mayor, local MP's and the Chief Supt of North Staffs to those representing the African Caribbean partnerships, Voluntary Action, CAB and many more. Each person was to share in 2 minutes their 'Good News' story in the city for that year. 27 of the invited 31 came. Each one was also presented a commemorative salt shaker, kindly donated by a local pottery firm, simply to say 'thank you' for leading in our community - Affirmation for leadership being a rare occurrence these days.
3) Which brings me to my third point. In effect our station is a normal radio station, but it is underpinned by a basic Christian worldview that is applied to the how, what and why of all we broadcast. Chief Supt. John Woods has commented to us that he and his police constables who appear on the station truly enjoy coming on because they are given the room to bring out what they are really doing rather than interviewers always looking to find what is wrong. This doesn't mean we jettison editorial integrity. We will engage with any issue, but the approach is respectful and constructive rather than suspicious.
Everybody has a worldview, indeed everybody has a faith. The belief there is no God, or the belief in the omnipotent power of man (commonly called humanism) is just as much a faith as the belief in a loving Creator God intrinsically involved in His creation. And out of our beliefs come our worldviews - how we interpret life, what we value and how we should live it.
From our Christian worldview Cross Rhythms is looking to bring a fresh approach to the broadcast landscape. When we first started our Access Community Station we were categorised as a Community of Interest station i.e. for the Christian community. But it is a truer description, and one noted by the independent evalutor, that we are becoming a Community of Place station from a Community of Interest perspective. In our society that celebrates both multi-cultural diversity and also inclusivity this is a strong model. Incidentally, your probably wondering why Muslim shop owners play a Christian radio station? Their comment was that they liked the 'God Slots'. And why? Well, although we have different beliefs, when Muslims see the level of our materialistic western culture or the way scantily clad women are presented on billboards, they find they have far more in common with our Christian values.
4) And fourthly, we do provide experiences and examples of that other 10-20% of our Christian lifestyle - that which comes out of our spirituality.
Music that in its focus on God is able to stir the spirit as well as the soul - we call it worship. Inspirational teaching that offers hope and purpose to some of the pain and tragedies that people suffer. And life stories of people who have overcome difficult times and done so with and through faith. One example of this - we heard of a local lady who was considering suicide. She went to the shed in her garden, but instead turned on her radio and listened to our Close Encounters programme where someone was sharing about their faith. It so inspired her she got on her knees, asked God for help and is now still alive and part of a community of people who can support her in a local church.
2 years ago Stoke-on-Trent was ranked the worst place to live in Britain in the Experian Survey. Now it is only 8th from bottom. The city is pulling together and we believe Cross Rhythms has played a small part in this.
So, what of the future?
At the end of this year, our initial pilot period comes to an end. God willing and Ofcom willing we hope our licence will be extended for a full 5 year term. We feel that the initial 2 years has been an invaluable time. Relationships with local leaders and bodies have been developed and a strong foundation has been laid. We have a good team of people - 14 employees and more than 25 volunteers. Some volunteers have moved city, and one came from Ireland to join us. Others travel from Nottingham and Birmingham. They come from all backgrounds - university media students, mothers who come in to clean, some disabled, some with no experience or qualifications and just recently a young asylum seeker from Georgia.
In anticipation, we are already preparing for the next 5 years.
1) Firstly we are partnering with the local YMCA to invest into their 'customers'. From 2005 those customers who fulfil some basic requirements at the YMCA will have the opportunity to come to Cross Rhythms for some media training experience. They will be asked to do a 5 minute presentation on what they think of the station, then they will get editing, mixing desk and interview experience, leading up to presenting their own one off, one hour show and receiving a certificate of achievement at the end. This is a valuable opportunity to offer a hand up to some disadvantaged people.
2) Secondly we want to engage strategically and effectively with the drugs problems in our city. As such we are in discussions with DAT (Drug Action Teams) about educational programmes and helplines on the station. We are working with a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre called Gilead Foundations who are about to set up a rehab house in the city to help the worst cases. We will broadcast programmes of the stories of those who have escaped the grip of drugs. The elected mayor himself is getting behind the initiative - helping to source the right building and location.
Recent statistics have shown that in Britain 143,000 people are at risk of mortality due to drug overdose and more than 250,000 are problem drug users. One in three 14 year olds have tried drugs at least once. In addition alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs make up 70% of prime time network dramas, 95% of top grossing movies and 50% of all music videos.
We believe Christian community media should do more than entertain and inform. It should build with community for the sake of the community. Media that helps people at all levels.
At the heart of the Christian faith is not just proclamation, it is action. The action of a George Muller who initiated Europe's first orphan houses; or the action of a William Wilberforce who worked for a generation to overthrow the practice of slavery. It is action that is interested in social change, serving people and helping people.
These are some of the values of the government's bold launch of Community Radio. Christians in this media field will serve it well."
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