Page 4 of 4   <      

A Signal From Above

Stone, a veteran of secular radio, started his Christian gig four years ago.
Stone, a veteran of secular radio, started his Christian gig four years ago. "We look at it as a way of reaching people," he says. (Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

* * *

Since 2003 the station has doubled its listenership, but it's still teeny compared with the ungodly radio available in Gotham. According to Arbitron, Star 99.1 is in 35th place in the New York City radio market, with about 230,000 in a good month tuning in for at least five minutes in a week. The biggest station here has an audience of more than 2 million.

Neither Stone nor his bosses are discouraged. As they see it, Manhattan and environs need the word of Jesus as much as anyplace, maybe more.

"There's not a lot of God here," says Stone of the city. "You would think a station like this would fail because of it. But that's exactly why we should be here."

For the most part, the show, which can be heard online at Star991fm.com, offers the gospel pretty gingerly. Much time is given over to Christian rock, here called "family-safe hits," which in recent years has become indistinguishable from the areligious stuff until you pay attention to the lyrics. There's also lots of jocular yakking, though with all the edge sanded off. One recent morning the subject was whether it's smart to wait in one line at the store or jump to another if it seems to be moving faster.

"Have you ever seen this strange phenomenon where the person will put their cart in line and then go finish their shopping?" asks Dein.

"We've seen that," says Stone.

"That's crazy!" says Dein.

"I've had people say, 'Can you just watch my cart. I forgot something.' Sure I'll watch your cart -- and they come back with an armful of stuff!"

You keep waiting for a Morning Zoo Insult -- "Who cares, moron?"-- but it doesn't happen. The show is high jinks with all the jinks snipped out. Religion pops up explicitly now and then. Like in an ad for a local OB-GYN who, we learn, invites patients to pray before each appointment. The prize for one call-in contest is a collection of hymns. And midway through the show, pastor Rob Cruver shows up for a segment called "Live Go for It." Cruver looks like a guitarist in a mid-career jam band and talks in dudespeak:

"Even today -- what day is today, by the way? -- even today, it's like, I want to do this, I want to do that, but I have to remember, wait, I have to go to the Lord first, say: Lord what do you want me to do?"

Sells don't get much softer. These are Christians concerned for your soul, but they're going to inquire gently about it rather than threaten it with eternal damnation. There are old-school religious broadcasters who have told Stone that they find his broadcast insufficiently pious. But what else will work for a station talking directly to the country's answer to Sodom and Gomorrah?

"Tomorrow morning," Stone says, signing off at 10 a.m., "I want to get into oil-change places." He plans to riff about how you always sense those car-repair guys are ripping you off. It's a topic that has the potential for snark and anger, but any hint of discouraging words vanishes when Stone says goodbye. "As you go through your day, remember to keep looking up, because" -- and here the whole crew suddenly yells in unison, " that's where it all is!"


<             4

© 2007 The Washington Post Company