I remember the early days of CCM aka: Contemporary Christian Music. Especially its partnership with Christian radio to distribute this new kind of music to the masses. I guess you would say I experienced the “love affair” of this partnership first hand in my life as well as in my professional career, as it had such an impact on me personally. Because I believe in the power of biblical truth expressed in music that’s culturally relevant, I have spent my life “sharing the love” with anyone who would listen.
From my earliest recollection, it was artists like Larry Norman, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy and a handful of others that were recording and performing what would become known as Contemporary Christian Music – or if you will, “Jesus Music.” It all happened back when Gerald Ford was president and I had hair. This new kind of music was just a few years old when I became a follower of Jesus Christ. I was nineteen years old.
Truth be told, I wouldn’t have known about the music of the “Jesus Movement” had I not met its author first. It was my faith that led me away from a career in sportscasting to build a career in Christian radio. I personally witnessed God working through Contemporary Christian Music to change my life by changing my priorities and life choices. I was convinced so much of its influence that after two years as a Top 40* radio DJ and basketball play by play announcer, I went to work for a religious radio station** because I wanted to change the world. I was young and naïve sure, but because CCM had impacted me so greatly, I was convinced that God’s Holy Spirit working through Contemporary Christian Music could make an impact especially on young people looking for answers.
The opportunities that I’ve enjoyed; the people I’ve met; the mentors that have guided me along the way have really been a “God thing.” My decision to change careers from sports announcing to Christian radio broadcasting is one that I’ve never regretted.
Back to these aforementioned musicians of Contemporary Christian Music.
Saved from the hippie movement of the 60’s, they roared into the 70’s with a very simple formula for success that, unbeknownst to these pioneers, would birth a brand new genre of music and a brand new radio format. There were hundreds of religious radio stations** back then. Most were AM low wattage stations. Any music programming they aired consisted of organ music, choirs, and quartets. Some of them, including KCNW in Kansas City where I was newly employed, decided to experiment with this new style of music. The rest is history.
I remember my first Contemporary Christian Music concert. I went to see a band called Love Song and was hooked immediately! As a new believer in 1972, I thought it was so cool that this kind of music was even being heard. I actually went to several Christian concerts in those early years, including a band called Petra that played hard rock with a message of hope through a relationship with Jesus. What a concept! As a fan of Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones and other rockers, I loved the music. I thought “I’d died and gone to heaven.”I guess in a way, I had.
These early bands played wherever they could find an audience including high school auditoriums, church sanctuaries and outdoor festivals. The crowds were small back then, but they were enthusiastic to say the least. The Jesus Movement was rockin’ with it’s own musical ambassadors!
Two things set these artists apart:
1) Their personal lives bore witness to a change. Between songs, it was most common to hear them testify how they had come to a crossroad in their life where they met Jesus. God had shown them real love when the “free love” of the 60’s never seemed to satisfy. Many shared how their faith had allowed them to walk away from drug addictions to heroin, LSD, and alcohol with no repercussions and no regrets. Their values were different. They had new priorities. The one who claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life had changed them forever and those that knew them, watched in awe. Indeed, they were changed.
2) They performed music that sounded stylistically similar to secular songs found on Country and Top 40* radio formats except that all the lyrics to their songs proclaimed that “Jesus is the Answer” to faith and life. Their music portrayed what their lives displayed.
Tomorrow? I’ll talk about a shift in lyrical content that is prevalent in CCM today. One that has made the CCM/Christian radio partnership an integral part of maturing the church in America.