“Spirit 105.3,” with Channah Hanberg

Channah Hanberg '03 graduated with a degree in business administration and started working in radio and TV advertising soon after. She joined CRISTA Ministries in 2008 as a digital sales specialist and has worked her way up to the current role of general sales manager for Spirit 105.3.

Amanda Stubbert: Welcome to the SPU Voices Podcast, where we tell personal stories with universal impact. I’m your host, Amanda Stubbert, And this is my producer, Kyle. Say hi, Kyle.

Kyle Brown: Hi Kyle.

Amanda: Today we sat down with Channah Hanberg. She graduated from SPU in 2003 with a degree in business administration and started working in radio and TV advertisement soon after. She joined the CRISTA Ministries Organization in 2008 as a digital sales specialist and has worked her way up to the current role of general sales manager for Spirit 105.3. When she’s not working, Channah enjoys doing CrossFit with her husband and spending time with her two amazing children. Channah, thank you so much for joining us today.

Channah Hanberg: Thank you for having me.

Amanda: Well, let’s just start with the medium itself. Radio was really the first live broadcasting tool that united communities and the world really, but now there are just countless alternatives to radio. So, how has radio shifted and changed with the times and what is it like today to work in that medium?

Channah: We just actually received Nielsen, who does our ratings, just came out with a brand new research study that showed 91% of people still listen to radio. I think what’s shifted is that while radio used to be the only audio source that people listened to, now it’s the easiest that we still listen to it, but we listen to so many other things. You’ve got tons of other music options and podcasts like yours. How radio has shifted, I would say when I started here in 2008, we were just launching Facebook.

I was a part of launching our Facebook. So social has played a big role, doing blogs and having a blogging community. We have podcasts. So it’s really just how I look at radio is just multiple forms of communications on different platforms. It’s really all about this community that we serve. So it might be that you’re getting something on social that might be our daily Bible verse theme. You’re hearing an interview on air, the extended interview is posted online. All of these different platforms work cohesively together, and that’s really the biggest change I’ve seen.

Amanda: Well, I definitely resonate with it being the easiest because I know when I listen to radio, it’s in the car because it’s right there at my fingertips. And then it used to be… I went through a period of time where I didn’t ever listen to the radio at home because we didn’t have the radio, the actual radio, sitting on a counter anymore. But now that we all have our devices that we can ask them to do things for us, now I ask my device to play the radio for me. And now I think it’s come full circle, and I listen to the radio while I’m cooking and doing the dishes as well, and I’m sure that’s the same for many other people.

Channah: Yeah. Actually since COVID hit, we got out of our routine where we were driving in the car and radio was definitely king of the car. It’s the easiest way. We started doing different verbiage on air, what we call imaging. We had some fun with Alexa and Siri and we saw our smart speaker listenership increase between 35% and 45%, depending on the month. So people are definitely adjusting their habits right now.

“We had some fun with Alexa and Siri and we saw our smart speaker listenership increase between 35% and 45%, depending on the month. So people are definitely adjusting their habits right now.”

Amanda: Yes. Hopefully we’re making some good new habits.

Channah: Right.

Amanda: Not just the bad ones of sweatpants all day.

Channah: I have no good pants on right now.

Amanda: It’s debatable whether that’s a good habit or a bad habit, to wear sweat pants all day. So we all have some idea about what listening to the radio is like on this end, but what is it like in the studio? What a typical day look like for you?

Channah: Well, right now I’m working from home as the general manager, but I do have some of my DJs and talent going into the studio. So we call them the fab five. There’s five people that go in. Other than that, the rest of our programming team, our promotions team, our sales team, everybody else is working from home. So Zoom and everything has been just our choice of connecting. The fab five are really getting our station rolling, and one of our DJs, Erica, she’s live every day.

We’ve got our producer for Sam. Donna goes in, Sam is actually at home and Sarah is at home in her closet, because it’s the best place for the audio to absorb. We have Mark on our KCIAM Station. He’s a DJ. He’s going in. We have Cole, who does the majority of our production work and imaging. He’s going in. Then last, but not least, we definitely need our chief engineer there so that we make sure everything’s rolling. But other than that, we’ve got about 45, I think, total employees for our radio station and everybody else is working from home.

But it has shifted in the fact that Erica used to be our morning DJ, right now we have her in the afternoon because people are listening so differently. So we shifted Sam, put her in the morning and Erica in the afternoon, because what we’re looking at is most people are starting their day more around nine o’clock, whereas traditionally it’s six o’clock, you’re commuting into work, and now we’re seeing people are tuning in around nine o’clock. We peak at the 11 o’clock hour. So, it’s just a total different way of listener habits. So we shifted around our DJs and our talent.

Amanda: Let’s dig into that a little bit, because I think a lot of us, you turn on the radio, you hear an interview, you hear songs playing and you almost take for granted that the information is just there. But how does that all come about? How do you decide who’s going to do which interviews? Which times of the day? How do you decide which music to play which hours of the day?

Channah: Yeah, that’s a good questions. So music is done in a combination through my program director and our music director. We have a music team both externally and internally, and Sarah Taylor, who’s also one of our DJs is our music director. And she sends out emails that allow people to sample and vote on the music. So we use that in combination with actual research studies, where we have an external organization that will call a sample size of people, have them listen and vote as well. So music is an interesting thing because we will try some new things, but it is very much kind of a science on how we put things on air and work with the record labels.

And I think that’s one of the beauties of radio. If you’re just tuning into say, a Spotify or another listening option, it is going to be random whereas we can really reflect maybe the time of the day, your mood, what songs are really going well with listeners. And then on top of that, you get the DJ that gets to come in and connect with you in the stories. So the combo of those two things are really what makes it interesting. And then, as far as the DJs and the content goes, I will say, Erica is our interview girl. She is, oh my gosh. She had Russell Wilson call in just recently. She’s gone out and just been able to get abundance of really great influencers in the Seattle market to be able to interview.

But she also combines that with interviewing listeners because listeners are such a big part of who we are. And sometimes it’s just as impactful from hearing a listener story as it is hearing someone like Russell Wilson or Brock Huber that she’s called into. So, Erica is definitely one of our top interviewers. And then our program director helps filter everything and say, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to put on air. Here’s when we’re going to do it. Here’s when the most listenership is. Here’s when we’re going to replay it.” So it’s a fun strategy that they play.

“Sometimes it’s just as impactful from hearing a listener story as it is hearing someone like Russell Wilson or Brock Huber that she’s called into.”

Amanda: And you were just telling me before we pushed record here that you were going to take advantage of this crazy time and try some new things you’ve never tried before. Do you want to give us a sneak peek about what some of those might be?

Channah: Sure. There’s a couple of things. I don’t know. Some of them may or may not come to fruition, but one that I’m really excited about is we are going to do a series of mini sermons. So traditionally, Spirit 105.3 has been just all music, and this is something that would be unique. We’re partnering with 10 pastors influencers in our area, and we’re going to do a series that is focusing on mental health, and COVID, and what we’re all going through during this time, and they’ll be a half hour long and we’ll have them on Sundays. So, for people that have been missing that church in-person type of thing, there’s something really special about live radio that you’re all listening to. You can almost feel that connection that hundreds and thousands of people are listening to the same thing all at once.

So this is a way that we thought, “OK, how can we fill that gap in that void of community right now that we’re not having in-person at churches and just connect these different pastors, and the congregation and our listeners all together through radio and make it easy? Make it easy for you to be able to just tune in and listen to a church service at 11:30 on Sunday. So we’re going to try that, super excited about that. We also have a couple other little fun programming things, morning motivation. We’re going to start the day with some morning motivation where we’re going to have maybe pastors and teachers and local influencers doing little motivations to start your day in the morning, so that you can get into habit of waking up and starting your day and getting that motivation.

And then another thing we’re working on, which I’ve been really excited about is a 12 o’clock, 12-minute dance party. We are going to play different types of music, music that we don’t traditionally play. We’re going to have students actually vote on it. So we’re going to work with a lot of different schools. They’re going to vote on the music that they’d want to dance to, and then we can just program in for parents that are homeschooling, “Hey. Tune in at 12:00. We’re going to have this 12-minute dance party. Get the wiggles out with your kids.” And we’ll play music that you might not usually hear, but that will be relevant with the kids that are wanting to dance and have fun.

Channah Hanberg

Amanda: Well, not only does that feel community building, but I feel like there’s some TikTok videos coming our way.

Channah: Right. For sure.

Amanda: By their lunchtime dance party, I might be dancing as well. Do you have to have a young kid to dance when the dance-

Channah: No. It could be adults too. It’s a good workout. You got 12 minutes.

Amanda: I was just making sure, because I no longer have young kids at home, but I would like to dance every day at noon.

Channah: So get your cardio in.

Amanda: Well, let’s shift a little bit beyond the programming to the part that I know I do sometimes turn it down when those commercials come on, but it is part of the programming. It is part of what you hear when ads come along. How do you decide which companies to partner with and then what to put on air? Especially as a part of a Christian organization, when you have more parameters of who you’re willing to partner with? That seems like quite a task.

Channah: It is. But this is my favorite thing to talk about because I started in sales and when I became a Sales Manager at Spirit 105.3, one thing that I noticed is we had a lot of national ads playing, but it’s like I wanted to hear from those local businesses that we want to support, and they also just love our station. They’re wanting to be a part of this because they want to be a part of this community. It goes beyond just advertising and getting clients. So we started really pushing forward with what we call direct clients.

So when you listen to our station now, as opposed to, let’s say four to five years ago, you’re going to hear more owners talking on air with interview type of spots. I was all about, “Hey. We have shifted. We’re in this YouTube type of ‘let’s be transparent’ generation. So let’s reflect that with our advertising.” So how we look at our station, it’s not just the DJs and it’s not just the music. You’re right. It’s the advertising too. While we have parameters, we have areas that we won’t take. I mean, gambling and some other things, we actually don’t air that on air, but we have other areas that it’s like, “How do we make this creative really fun and interesting in between the songs and in between the DJs talking?”

And we also look at it as a resource. So a lot of our clients have an amazing story to tell, and they are a resource to you. If you’re looking for Christian counseling or if you’re looking for somebody to do your roof and you’ve got to trust them, we are able to allow our clients now to tell their story in a different way. So I’m really proud of the advertising shift that we’ve made. It’s not that you won’t hear some of the national ads. We still have some of those in there, but there’s definitely been a huge shift to making it more entertaining in between the breaks.

“If you’re looking for Christian counseling or if you’re looking for somebody to do your roof and you’ve got to trust them, we are able to allow our clients now to tell their story in a different way. So I’m really proud of the advertising shift that we’ve made.”

Amanda: There is just something about intimacy in community. The more the internet has made our worldwide community, I think, we expect to know people. Like you said, anything we interact with, we want to know what’s behind it, who’s behind it and how they really treat the world and people around them.

Channah: Yeah. And it’s fun because what radio does a really great job at is being able to tell the story and emotionally connect, and we can build that story. I mean, digital alone with advertising, it’s a call to action. You might see a sale and you might click on it. But what radio does is it lifts the veil like, “Who are the people behind it? What is it really like?” And being able to tell that story and emotionally connect to a brand or a store or a product is something that is really unique.

Amanda: It’s interesting someone my own age and frankly, anyone older than say 35 where you could, most of your life, put something on YouTube or throw things out there on the internet, on Facebook, when your childhood really the only time your brush with fame was to be on radio or on TV. So being able to call in and hear yourself on the radio and have your friends and family hear you on the radio, that was your pinnacle of being out there in the world.

Channah: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.

Amanda: So I just still think of that to this day as that one little moment that now that we can recreate that all day long in our own living room, if we want to. But it used to be that one way that we could connect with our outside community, and I love that that’s still available.

Channah: Yeah. And what I love about that is we do a game on air. It’s fairly popular. It’s called the secret sound. We just gave away $12,000 to someone, and the story he had was so incredible. Just moving up here, happened to tune into our radio station. He was going through a really hard time, going through some depression issues and financial issues. And he talks about how he was totally brought out of that and had just so much encouragement from our station, and then he won this money and he was able to then turn around and gift a thousand dollars to one of his friends who helped him during that time.

So, we called him live. It was just this whole cool thing. So you get all of the people that are listening to it live, and what I love about technology now is not just the people that listen to it live and felt that in the moment, we were then able to take it, re-air it later, also put it on our socials, be able to share it in different ways. Then it actually has such a bigger reach than it would have, and I just think it’s cool. You still get that with radio, but then you get to reuse it in different ways too.

“We just gave away $12,000 to someone, and the story he had was so incredible.”

Amanda: Right. It’s become a yes and-

Channah: Yeah.

Amanda: It’s not the old way has passed away. It’s that you still have that, and it gets to live on in other avenues, which is [crosstalk 00:17:37]. Yeah.

Channah: Yeah.

Amanda: So speaking of community, what drew you to the CRISTA community in the first place? Did you intend it? Did you set out to work for a Christian organization?

Channah: I did not. No. Well, I mean, I was always open to it. When I was at SPU, I was interning at KOMO-TV. I interned at, it used to be called Northwest Afternoon. It was a live TV show and something about media and being live, always drew me into… I loved the energy that being live feels, and everybody’s connecting even if you can’t see them all at the same time. So from there, I went to Q13 for a little bit as a sales assistant and then I went on the advertising agency side of things, and they were all non-Christian organizations, obviously. I used to buy advertising from Spirit 105.3 at one of my agencies, and I went to coffee with some of the people from Spirit 105.3, and the coffee turned into, “Hey, would you ever consider working for Spirit 105.3?”

So it popped up into this impromptu offer. But what I loved about it, what drew me in was a couple of things. One, I could still use my business skills, so I could still go and use what I’ve learned in media and my business skills and my marketing skills, but I could use it for an organization that was a nonprofit because the advertising and what we do, it does give back. CRISTA owns six total ministries. So I loved the idea that I’d be working for a nonprofit, but I can still work in media and use my business and marketing skills. I always thought of a Christian organization or a nonprofit to be different, I wouldn’t be able to do that. And when I got that opportunity, I thought, “This is a great synergy. I can use my skills, and I get to help others.”

“I loved the energy that being live feels, and everybody’s connecting even if you can’t see them all at the same time.”

Amanda: I think we’ve all … well, I won’t speak for everyone. I know I have thought the same way early in my career that it was one or the other. That you work for a church organization or an NGO that is all boots on the ground, or you work in the business world and there’s not a lot of crossover, but of course that’s not really true. Every business still needs to be managed and still needs advertising and all those wonderful skills can go to work for a company that has an overall aim of doing good.

Channah: Yeah. And I grew up in a Christian household. My dad was a pastor and I went to SPU, but I will say the biggest thing for me I think, I see it in all new employees that come in is this difference. It’s like, “How do I… This is a Christian environment, but it’s also a business environment.” So getting used to that, I would say it’s a one to three month adjustment period. Like, “Oh, I can pray before a sales meeting.” That’s okay. But we’re still then talking about our ROI. So it’s just this really cool blend of the two of them, and I love that. I mean, I completely obviously embraced it. But we walk in, you’re like, “We usually keep these two things separate, but now it’s combined. How cool is this?”

Amanda: Right. The object, of course, is to be more of yourself and not less. You’re not putting on just a totally different hat. You’re hopefully being able to bring more of yourself to work every day. That’s what I have found anyway, in the Christian workplace, that I just get to be more of who I am.

Channah: Yeah. I love that. That’s so true.

Amanda: On your CRISTA bio, you said that your favorite verse is Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Why did you pick that verse?

Channah: So that verse has been huge to me. I know, it’s a very popular verse. I actually have it on a big canvas in my house. There is a lot of reasons why. I have a unique story in the fact that I moved out to Washington at a young age, at 15, while my parents lived on the East Coast. And I moved in with a family I had met on a missions trip. It’s a whole long story, but there are so many times where being alone without my family close by, I would try to be my own strength. I would try to control or handle the situation.

And there were a lot of really sweet ways that God brought me back. And then I fall back on this verse. It’s really God who’s giving me the strength and it’s not me. And in all of those ways that He comes alongside me and it’s like when I lean into Him more, I can see that He’s giving me that strength more. When I try to push away and to be independent, it’s almost like I take a step back and I realized, “Okay, I got to get back in alignment.” So there’s a lot of reasons why I love that verse though, and it’s a constant reminder for me.

Amanda: Speaking of that next step in that growing up process between the 15-year-old trying to make it on her own, and then the work career that we’ve been talking about, how did SPU play a role in that?

Channah: Yeah. Gosh, I loved SPU because it was this amazing opportunity for me to be able to go to school and feel independent, but really feel supported by a community that had the faith component as well. I think God had his way of bringing me to SPU as opposed to another college, because I was so vulnerable being across the country and doing my own thing. So SPU was amazing at that. I had met some of my best friends, who are still my best friends. Sarah Taylor, our DJ that is in the afternoon here, we had a connection through SPU even.

“I loved SPU because it was this amazing opportunity for me to be able to go to school and feel independent, but really feel supported by a community that had the faith component as well.”

She went to UW, but our mutual best friend went to SPU that introduced us. Then we lived together senior year and we never thought we’d work together someday,  and that just happened by chance. So there’s just so much that SPU brought and actually my internship at KOMO-TV, the reason why … there were 150 applicants and they took three interns. It was a six-month long internship, 20 hours a week. It was pretty intense. But I had met the producer at the SPU job fair, and he was an SPU alumnus. So there’s so many connection points that SPU brought to get me here in my career. It’s really cool.

Amanda: That’s great. That’s great. I think a lot of us have a story along those lines. Well, we like to end every interview with the same question and I love how the depth and breadth of answers that we have received. If you could have all of us do one thing differently tomorrow that would make the world a better place. What would you have us do?

Channah: Okay. So I asked my husband this question, too, because I was really curious because it’s a great question, and we were cracking up laughing because everything he said, I’m like, “Cliche. Cliche.” But if I could have one of us do something differently, what I would love is that we would get a glimpse of the other person’s perspective when communicating to them. I don’t know if it could actually happen, but if we could in all of our communications would bring about a different grace and empathy, because I think the other person’s perspective is usually different than what we are guessing it will be. We seem to tell stories about what we think the other person is? What angle they’re coming in at? But what I would love is if you go into every conversation, if it was ever possible, you get a glimpse of the other person’s true perspective. It would change the way the communication would come about.

Amanda: There’s a little bit of science fiction in there. If we could see their thoughts, and if we simply opened ourselves up to questioning what is their perspective? And then perhaps giving it the benefit of the doubt of their perspective. I know I’ve definitely done that in my life where you see someone who is angry or someone who is not handling a situation well. I always try and think what could be causing that, that I would let them off the hook? Because it’s so much easier to give someone a break, like you said, if you know the reason why this is happening, if you know the reason why they’re doing what they’re doing. And even if I’m completely wrong and it’s not true and they’re totally at fault, but it emotionally lets me off the hook and it lets me see if I can be of help in that situation.

Channah: Yeah. I think it gets to the core, too, of where they’re coming in at. And I think one of the biggest things … I tell my kids all the time, “Don’t tell a story about what’s happening. Think about their perspective,” because I think it’s so easy to create a storyline especially in difficult conversations. You create a whole storyline before you even start the conversation a lot of times. So if we just take a step back, we stop the story and we think about their perspective, it definitely helps change the angle of that communication for sure.

Amanda: Yes. Yes. Brene Brown uses a phrase, ‘the story I’m telling myself.’ When you realize the motives you’re placing on the other person that isn’t actual truth, that’s the story you’re telling yourself based on what you’re guessing right here and the story you’re telling yourself may not be the truth at all.

Channah: Exactly. Yeah. I love it.

Amanda: Channah, thank you so much. I will be so excited to listen to the radio tomorrow and think about you and your team and all the work that you do to make that community happen. And we will definitely be looking for those fun, new programming elements coming our way, especially those daily motivations. I’m definitely interested in that for myself.

Channah: Yes. Thank you. Yeah. I loved talking with you. This was fun.

Amanda: Let’s end our time together with a prayer of blessing. May the Lord bless you, and all you put your hand to. May the Lord be gracious to you and all who hear your story. May He bring unity to our community and peace to us all. Amen.


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