One of the first stations I worked with as a researcher, more than a decade ago, was the iconoclastic Classic Hits format on WKLU Indianapolis. Back when “Classic Hits” was not yet a euphemism for “Oldies,” WKLU was one of the first stations to bend the distinction between the two terms with a wide list that stretched from “Play That Funky Music” to Collective Soul’s “December” to an obscure Stephen Stills song, left over from the station’s unusual “jam band” Triple-A predecessor.
After my involvement with them, WKLU went to a more typical Oldies/Classic Hits format. Then, they were sold to the Christian AC network K-Love. And both these things were true: I was happy to see K-Love come to Indianapolis. I was sorry it was on that particular frequency, especially since Indianapolis never got another true Classic Hits station. I was also sorry to see the Richmond, Va., station that I’d helped launch as Bob/Jack-like Adult Hits WWLB (Liberty FM), even though that station had been through several subsequent incarnations before K-Love as well.
But as a Christian AC station, WKLU was the No. 3 station overall in Indianapolis in September, up 6.4-6.9, ahead of either Mainstream AC. It’s around a four share in San Antonio and Denver, and has spiked considerably higher in the latter market on several occasions. It’s not alone among Christian AC success stories. There’s WFSH Atlanta (4.3-5.3) tied for third last month and KTIS Minneapolis (5.6-5.6) tied for fifth. WAYF (Way-FM) West Palm Beach is up 4.2-5.0 this month.
If I controlled the radio dial, K-Love would have found a place in Seattle other than Classic Hits KMCQ, a place in Hartford other than heritage rocker WCCC, and a spot on the Providence dial other than college broadcaster WBRU. But if I controlled the dial, my reanimation of heritage brands would hardly stop there. (I’d like three different incarnations of WDRC Hartford back, as well.) And I’d still want K-Love to have a place in those markets.
I wish K-Love were landing on stations with no local employees. I wish K-Love were buying those group-owned stations that were supposed to be divested years ago. There are plenty of those. But the reality is that even when good broadcasters expand, it is still often a case of other good broadcasters leaving a market, or getting out of the radio business. And I do consider K-Love to be a good broadcaster.
When I last spoke to the Christian Music Broadcasters three years ago, K-Love’s growth was a source of trepidation to existing Christian ACs. Until approximately that time, K-Love had mostly grown in markets where there was a Christian AC hole. Certainly, those secular radio people now being displaced by K-Love at KSWD (The Sound) Los Angeles and elsewhere come by their dismay honestly as well.
Beyond that, however, there’s been a certain amount of chat room/trade press piling on, and some of it is from people who are likely unfamiliar with K-Love for anything other than its buying spree. I thought that Radioinsight’s Lance Venta was more on target.
So here’s what you should know about K-Love:
If you accept that there is room in American radio for national brands, K-Love is making the most of theirs; only NPR and ESPN are comparable, and they’re not doing it in the context of a music format. K-Love offers a shared experience. K-Love sounds big. K-Love was doing a national awards show before the iHeartRadio Music Awards. National radio often sounds generic; K-Love sounds distinctive. And in many ways, what it recalls is the 50,000 watt Top 40 AMs that had their own broad footprint.
That’s not a coincidence. K-Love CEO Mike Novak is a veteran of the same KFRC San Francisco dream team that launched Broadway Bill Lee to stardom. K-Love could, if it wanted, play close to 60 minutes of music every hour. Instead, the music is peppered with teaching promos (some of them voiced by Novak) that sort of recall the “Father Harry’s God Squad” vignettes that aired on KFRC in that era.
In the 2 p.m. hour of K-Love I listened to a few days ago, there was also a news update. There was concern expressed about the Northern California wildfires (but no mention that K-Love was based in Northern California as well). Afternoon host Scott Smith gave a longer testimony based on meeting the family of his son’s girlfriend. He set it up seven minutes ahead with a PPM teaser. He followed it up with a listener call about a poem that her new daughter-in-law had read to her.
There were several fundraising promos for the station (one ingenious one was a standard hook promo, but interspersed with listener testimonials about how that song had moved them). There were vignettes with artists talking about their new song (something else I’ve heard K-Love do for a while that has become common in secular radio).
Musically, K-Love is conservative in texture. If it were a secular AC station, it would be a mainstream-to-soft one. There’s been a lot of music in Christian AC over the last 15 or so years that sounds like Matchbox Twenty or Lifehouse, but even that music reads as Mainstream AC these days. The hour I heard was roughly a third current, a third recurrent, and a third gold. All but two songs were from the 2010s, and K-Love has a reputation in the format community for being more aggressive on new music (at least within its stylistic wheelhouse) than many of its counterparts.
Here’s K-Love at 1:45 p.m., October 10:
- Big Daddy Weave, “Jesus I Believe”
- Elevation Worship, “O Come To The Altar”
- Building 429, “Where I Belong”
- Danny Gokey, “Rise”
- Hawk Nelson, “Diamonds”
- Jeremy Camp, “Word Of Life”
- 7eventh Time Down, “God Is In The Move”
- Ryan Stevenson, “The Gospel”
- Chris Tomlin, “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)”
- Jasmine Murray, “Fearless” (poppier and more uptempo than much of the other music, the first “4” on a 1-5 scale so far)
- Matthew West, “Forgiveness”
- Micah Tyler, “Different”
- Needtobreathe, “Multiplied”
- Lauren Daigle, “Trust In You”
- Rend Collective, “Rescuer (Good News)”
- Chris Rice, “Untitled Hymn (Come To Jesus)”
- MercyMe, “Dear Younger Me”
- Mandisa, “Stronger”
- Sidewalk Prophets, “Prodigal”