As we celebrate KTIS’ 60th anniversary this year, we naturally reflect on the changes since the station went on the air in 1949. One constant in these 60 years has been change itself.
When KTIS first signed on the air, FM frequencies were plentiful and broadcasting licenses were relatively easy to obtain. Today, radio licenses cost tens of millions of dollars. Programming philosophies, with varying amounts of music and talk, have come and gone. Music styles have changed from an organist playing hymns on an Allen organ live in the studio to Christian artists’ highly produced prerecorded selections of today.
Sixty years ago, it cost $44,000 to buy the equipment to put KTIS-AM and FM on the air. Today, the annual budget for the network of stations KTIS birthed stands at approximately $14 million.
Something else has remained constant throughout the last 60 years: KTIS’ (and Northwestern’s) commitment to use mass media to complement the educational mission of University of Northwestern and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with listeners throughout the Twin Cities.
While KTIS’ ministry and most of our programming for the first five decades was geared primarily to Christians, nearly a decade ago KTIS began to focus on reaching out beyond the Christian community. We began to air contemporary Christian music with only a few teaching programs on our music stations and within a few years KTISFM’s audience grew to the point where we were ranked #2 in the morning drive time among women ages 25–54 and in the Top 5 among all stations in the Twin Cities.
Equally committed to our mission of helping Christians mature in their spiritual growth, we continue to air a lineup of solid Bible teaching and talk programs on our six teaching/talk stations. In the last five years Northwestern, with the support of listeners, invested $3.5 million to upgrade these stations to make sure listeners have access to the best in Bible teaching.
In the mid-1980s Northwestern began a full-service satellite network that first began beaming programming to our owned and operated stations. Other stations expressed interest in the service and the SkyLight Satellite Network grew.
Adapting to change, anchored in truth
Winds of change blew once again through the radio industry in the 21st century. Digital copies of music have become readily available so people rely less on radio. MP3 players and iPods have made it possible for consumers to listen to the music they want, whenever they want it.
At Northwestern, we determined one way to counter these trends was to return to local programming with strong local promotions which helped our stations connect with listeners in their home communities. As a result, we discontinued our syndicated music service in October 2007. Responsibility for the final selection and mixing of music returned to program directors in local markets.
Broadcasting in the Future
As KTIS looks toward the future, we face a number of challenges:
- How do we continue to serve an increasingly diverse audience with the unchanging message of the Gospel?
- How do we create compelling programming that will encourage listeners to keep coming back for more?
- How do we help connect listeners to each other as they share common experiences?
- How do we develop financial support so the ministry can continue and grow?
While change continues to be expected at KTIS, the pace of change accelerates; we have seen much change in the last five years alone and recognize that even more is ahead. Music is a commodity that can now be purchased anywhere. We have to do more than just broadcast music. We need relevant on-air personalities who will connect with listeners and bring them back to the station repeatedly. We also need to be so closely tied to our local communities that listeners count on us to connect them to others living there.
Each change we have seen over the years has ushered in opportunity and sometimes disappointment on the part of our listeners, yet we are determined to remain anchored in our mission—leading people to Christ and nurturing believers in their spiritual growth—and to follow a biblical model in our ministry.
Under the direction of the Northwestern Board of Trustees and President Alan Cureton, Northwestern Media has formulated a Philosophy of Media statement that guides the media ministry, which uses as its operating model the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and also draws on the ministry of the Apostle Paul. We identify five operating principles from Scripture in this model:
- Qualification – refers to the moral and spiritual character of the messenger of the Gospel as well as the necessary ministry-related skills.
- Proclamation – states we are required to proclaim the unchanging message of the Gospel in a variety of ways that are consistent with listeners’ media usage.
- Demonstration – recognizes that we must not only proclaim God’s Word but also demonstrate in practical ways how His truth is lived out.
- Identification – points out the importance of understanding our audiences and adapting our message to fit their needs and understanding without compromising the message.
- Connection – reinforces the notion that we want to be used by God to help build relationships between our listeners and God, connecting our listeners to each other in the Body of Christ and bringing the Good News to those without hope.
Written by Paul Virts, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President for Media