Behind a cramped console, surrounded by stacks of tapes and CDs, seniorÿproducer B.L. Westbrook is responsible for organizing seven hours of sermonsÿa day on Rejoice — 15- to 45-minute spiritual messages from local and nationalÿpreachers. Most come to WREJ by hook or by crook, downloaded from theÿInternet, or sent via hissy cassettes and CDs. Westbrook points to a chart.ÿ“I’ve got it all worked out but there’s any number of things that can goÿwrong,” he says calmly amid the chaos.ÿ
WREJ’s preachers have their own weekday followings, but mostly the stationÿbroadcasts a mix of traditional and contemporary music. Its latest successÿstory is Saturday’s “Old School Gospel” program with host Ed Stephens Jr.ÿ“He gets so many calls, you can’t get through,” Joy says.
RadioRichmond also owns WVNZ 1320-AM, the city’s only all-Spanish radioÿstation. Like that venture, Mazursky claims that 1540 has a very loyal andÿpassionate listenership, built up from 10 years of attentive communityÿbroadcasting (the frequency was, in another lifetime, top-40 station WKIE).
Looking at the larger media landscape, Joy is happy to note “current trendsÿhappening in inspirational music,” pointing out that an array of secular FMÿstations in the region [like WCDX 92.1, WBBC 93.5, WKJS 104.7, WJMO 105.7ÿand WBTJ 106.5] now present gospel programs, usually on Sundays.” It’s aÿnatural, Mazursky says. “And there’s been a lot of crossover artists lately,ÿYolanda Adams ...ÿJoy pipes in: “Donnie McClurkin.”ÿ
“Absolutely,” Mazursky says. “He’s played on WKJS-FM, and we play him too.”ÿ
“So it’s a message of hope that is bleeding over,” Joy concludes. “If youÿthink of the lyrics in all kinds of music now, they can be very offensive,ÿeven angry. Gospel music comes in with the same beat but with a positiveÿmessage. ... even Missy Elliot has a gospel song while other secular artistsÿare starting to put inspirational songs on their albums.”ÿ
Corporate advertisers are also coming onboard. Mazursky says that theÿstation regularly attracts the same kind of sponsors — theme parks, chainÿstores, restaurants, cellular phone companies — as pop radio.
But Joy — also a RadioRichmond senior account executive — says thatÿpersuading mainstream sponsors remains an uphill battle. “We have to dispelÿmyths, from a sales and marketing perspective, myths that say people who goÿto church don’t buy toothpaste, tennis shoes, et cetera, so we probably do have to educate a little more than a normal top-10 station.” — Don Harrison
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