"I feel seasons in the air, I feel seasons everywhere..." - Donald Lawrence on
There's a little bit of paranoia resting in the air and it's because the seasons are beginning to change regarding the future of gospel music. While it continues to grow as a genre in terms of popularity and sales, certain regions are being hit hard with the big changes of style and progression of artists - which is releasing uncomfortability and tension on some individuals.
In Birmingham, Ala. alone, the only FM 24/7 gospel radio station, Hallelujah 105.5 FM, quickly faded into darkness as a new sound and signal was released on the same dial this past weekend. The new Vulcan is being hailed as Birmingham's new rock station. Sadly, this also comes as bad news to the black community since WENN-FM (105.5 FM) had a strong historical significance in being the first black FM station in the city of Birmingham. WENN made changes to play gospel music two years ago and has sold its power to playing rock music.
In a city like Birmingham, located in the Bible belt, where gospel music is a serious religious experience to many of the citizens here, it should come as a surprise to hear the present changes on gospel radio. But this trend is probably a national issue.
Part of it has to deal with what gospel radio plays and knowing their limitations. After interning for a gospel radio station, in hopes of reviving its listening audience with fresh music, I realized that gospel radio really doesn't want to live. Instead doing what is traditional and regular, without stretching its potential, is the trend today. The TOP 10 songs are played over and over, half of the DJs barely know the artists or know how to pronounce them...and there is a bit of bias that comes with DJs in terms of what they play. Most of the time if they are unfamiliar with the artist, the favor on their music is usually very limited. Then there's the Gospel Music Workshop's Gospel Announcers Guild, a group that controls most of what gospel radio plays...this group conducts themselves like the record pools conducted back in the Atlantic Records' days and during the height of the disco era. While it's cool to have an association with other DJs and playing what other places like, it's not good to be controlled by other sources. Usually this blocks the DJ's creativity and spark.
Then let us consider that anyone nowadays can push a button to play a song. That's usually what the DJs do now...and they speak a little bit and give us the weather. Instead of directing the music in an amazing flow...the DJs of today have become radio evangelists instead of music directors. While mainstream music rejoices over DJs that remixes songs and mixes on the 1's and 2's on Saturday night while playing endless medleys of the hot songs of today, our DJs just choose a track and have not welcomed new ideas to help strengthen their programs. Because of this, gospel radio sounds outdated. Which is what leads us to the big issue. Gospel radio is now falling into its early stages of extinction.
Without serious changes for growth and maturity, gospel radio will remain an AM pastime. With new ideas and fresh vision, there is room for hope. But as the popularity of satellite radio increases and drivers choosing to play their CDs and mp3s on the road, gospel radio may need to take a seat in the back of the bus. At least for now.
For Birmingham citizens, express your opinions regarding Clear Channel Communications' decision to close HALLELUJAH FM and venture into rock by commenting on the blog. We want to hear from you!
[WENN SOME...LOSE SOME]