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Christian Music Stations Expand Pulpit on the Web

Group that owns KFSH starts four online services for niche audiences too limited for standard radio.


Washington — WASHINGTON--They're using the latest Internet technology to relay a message more than 2,000 years old, and presenting it in enough formats to please almost anyone who wants to hear it.

This month, the Los Angeles-area Christian music and talk radio stations owned by Salem Communications Corp. are launching four Web-only stations aimed at kids, teens, young adults and older listeners.

The company hopes to reach audiences that are too small locally to warrant the exclusive attention of its broadcast radio stations yet are vast and underserved when seen as a national aggregate, said Dave Armstrong, vice president and general manager of the KKLA Communications Group. The company, a subsidiary of the Camarillo, Calif.-based Salem, includes Christian talk station KKLA-FM (99.5), contemporary Christian music station KFSH-FM (95.9), talk station KRLA-AM (870) and the Internet-only Christian Pirate Radio, or CPR.

"In almost every market in the country, there's going to be a rock station, a country station," said Armstrong, noting that the same isn't the case for Christian music. "There's a need for it in almost every market in the U.S. The Internet became an affordable way to do this."

The KKLA group already offers Internet streams of KKLA and KFSH, as well as the Web-only CPR and CPRXtreme, which feature alternative and heavy-metal Christian music.

Joining those this week are the new online offerings--CPR Kids, with stories and music for the under-12 set; CPR Classic, sort of a Christian music oldies station; Fish Net, an online version of the contemporary Christian format heard on KFSH; and CPR Celebration. The latter is an "alternative praise and worship" channel that will feature tunes akin to the modern music heard at many churches nowadays, "more overtly worshipful in its lyrics" than what is heard on KFSH, Armstrong said.

In addition, the company will introduce CPR-TV, a 24-hour online offering of Christian music videos. All are available through the CPR site,

"We feel this is going to serve the needs of an entire family," Armstrong said, and fit even smaller niches in the niche of Christian programming.

A broadcast station would find it impossible to attract a large enough audience within its listening area to stay in business by playing nothing but one of these formats. But by airing over the Internet, the Salem folks believe, such a station could reach small groups of listeners nationwide--worldwide, even--that in totality could exceed the audience of a terrestrial station in a major market. Armstrong said Christian Pirate Radio has reached as many as 200,000 listeners in a month, for example. Salem is well entrenched in the Christian media marketplace, with holdings that include 83 Christian radio stations nationwide, a radio network of news and talk programming with 1,600 affiliates, and a Christian music magazine, among other interests.

In addition to the music, the CPR Web site features news and reviews, links to buy albums, a chat room and a "Daily Devotional." For those unfamiliar with the term "pirate radio" and its anti-establishment connotation, the CPR site also features a page explaining the moniker, assuring listeners that it refers to the service's nontraditional delivery, via the Internet, and its playing of independent and alternative artists--nothing to do with pillaging or wenching.

The company has always seen promise online. Armstrong noted that KKLA was the first radio station in Los Angeles to stream its content on the World Wide Web, in 1995. The Internet-only CPR followed in 1997, with CPRXtreme the year after that.

"The ideas come, sometimes, long before the technology," Armstrong said. For example, the new stations that arrive this month weren't feasible, he said, until the KKLA group paired with the L.A. company Hiwire, which developed a system for Internet radio to insert different advertisements into the commercial breaks depending on where the listener is located. First-time users log onto the site and register gender and ZIP code--information that allows advertisers to target their messages even to specific neighborhoods.

The system also solves a problem that had many radio stations suspending their Internet streams: By playing commercials they were airing over the radio on the Internet as well, they became liable for additional payments to actors and agencies. With Web-only commercials, advertisers don't have to pay more expensive national rates.

KKLA officials hope to follow with other genres, such as Yo! CPR, a Christian rap and hip-hop channel, and a Christian-oriented country music station, said Jim Tinker, vice president of operations for the KKLA group.

"Our desire is to provide additional Christian entertainment channels," he said. "It would be nice if [these stations] paid for themselves and brought some income for the company." Armstrong believes eventually they will. The Web strategy allows Salem to take a successful format like the Fish, an adult contemporary station featuring artists such as Jaci Velasquez and Third Day instead of Christina Aguilera and Sugar Ray, and spread it to markets where the company doesn't yet own stations.

Tinker compared the relationship between traditional radio stations and their online counterparts with the way once-dominant AM stations subsidized their FM sister stations in their fledgling days. Now FM is the powerhouse side of the dial, and Tinker believes Internet radio will dominate one day as well.

"Who knows? By then we may have 25 different channels," Tinker said. "You can get as niche-oriented as you want."

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