The Rise of Christian Radio: A History of Popular Stations

Christian radio might seem like a relatively niche segment of the broadcasting market, but it’s a lot bigger than many people realize.

According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, more than 20 million people tune into Christian radio or religious radio stations every week.

Moreover, Christian radio actively engages its listeners, with around 45 percent of listeners saying they’ve donated to at least one ministry.

These stations aren’t just designed to share uplifting sermons with religious listeners; they also act as a source of relaxation and emotional support for many.

In 2016, Christian radio was one of the most popular genres in the American landscape. As of 2022, it still stood as one of the top four station choices for listeners.

Today, we will take a closer look at the history of Christian radio stations and how they’ve evolved over the years.

The History of Some of the Most Popular Christian Stations

Man and woman at a radio station looking at one another while leaning into a suspended microphone on TalkSport
Christian radio has many popular stations on the air today, from K-Love to Vision Christian Radio.

As Christian radio has grown increasingly popular, the number of stations on the market has increased drastically.

Today, no matter where you live in the world, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find at least a handful of Christian stations to enjoy.

Here’s a brief look into the history of some of the most popular stations.


Considered one of the biggest Christian stations in the US, K-Love isn’t just a single radio channel; it’s a network of contemporary Christian music stations.

Owned by the Educational Media Foundation, this station’s programming is now aired to over 520 FM stations nationwide.

K-Love started life in the 1980s when the Christian Life Center First Assembly of God received a permit to create a new non-commercial station on 91.19 MHz.

In 1982, after a few years of struggling to purchase a station in San Francisco, EMF bought KCLB for $65,760.

KCLB expanded in 1987 with two new translators and eventually changed its call letters to KVLR in 1988.

Unfortunately, its wooden transmitter building was soon burned down by a brush fire, but the team didn’t let that stop them.

During the late ’80s and ’90s, K-Love expanded its reach, purchasing small stations and working with on-air personalities like David Pierce, Mike Novak, and Larry Wayne.

By 2022, the network celebrated its 40th anniversary with an amazing presence throughout the US.

Premier Christian Radio

Premier is one of the UK’s most popular Christian radio stations, reaching around 1.2 million listeners weekly.

The charity Premier Christian Media Trust owns the station and broadcasts Christian programming, news, debates, teachings, and music throughout the UK.

Premier was founded in 1994 and broadcasted exclusively on a medium wave line to Greater London.

By 2001, the station received an official warning from the Radio Authority for broadcasting content that might be offensive to non-Christian listeners.

However, the group acknowledged its errors and began ramping up its audience as a result.

The station has since launched AM channels, DAB, and internet versions of its station, and two sister stations, Premier Praise! and Premier Gospel.

In 2004, Premier was declared one of the most upmarket stations based on its audience demographics.

Vision Christian Radio

One of Australia’s biggest Christian radio stations, Vision is a narrowcast radio station operated by an affiliate of the UCB (United Christian Broadcasters), Vision Christian Media.

It broadcasts Christian music and talk shows to more than 720 AM and FM radio frequencies nationwide.

Vision is relatively new compared to some of the historical stations on this list. It started life in 1999 as Vision FM, with just one transmitter in Beaudesert, Queensland.

However, by 2001, it had established approximately 40 transmission sites, and by 2004, this number had increased to 156.

The group’s network growth was partly driven by purchasing 16 high-powered open narrowcast licenses throughout Western Sydney, Victoria, and Western Australia.

Today, the network sends a single national programming feed to more than 780 remote areas, towns, cities, and suburbs throughout Australia. Vision also produces a national news service.


Man wearing a red shirt and a jacket talking into a microphone broadcasting Christian radio in a room with a bright window and plants
KLTY is a Texas-based station founded in 1985 that experimented with multiple formats before playing Christian music.

Another prominent Christian radio station from the US, KLTY, is located in Arlington, Texas and owned by the Salem Media Group.

Today, it broadcasts contemporary Christian music, talk programs, and phone-in segments.

KLTY began as an adult contemporary music channel, launched in 1985. In 1986, the station changed its call sign to KHYI, and the format was updated to Top 40 music.

After failing to achieve fame in the standard music landscape, KLTY began experimenting.

Marcos A. Rodriguez eventually purchased the station and turned it into KOJO, a news-focused channel.

When KLTY was sold to Salem in 2000, it returned to its Christian playlist with a combination of adult contemporary music and Christian programming.

Today, KLTY is considered the number-one adult contemporary Christian music station in the US, with the most listeners of any similar station.

Smile FM

Based in the United States, Smile FM broadcasts from Williamston, Michigan.

Initially, it started as two separate networks: The Light, founded in 1996, and Joy FM, which began in 2000.

Both stations played contemporary Christian music, but The Light targeted a younger audience.

In 2004, the two stations were combined. Smile FM’s network is well-known for putting stations on the air with minimal cost and manufacturing some equipment.

Unlike most Christian stations, Smile only plays music with a few short breaks for announcements, weather, news, and features. Smile even pioneered new technology to help distribute and customize programming for four subsidiaries.

Smile now has stations throughout Michigan, and the team even filed a deal to purchase WGVY in Grand Valley State University in 2022.

Moody Radio

One of the largest Christian radio networks in the United States, Moody Radio is located in Chicago and operates 71 different stations.

It also has hundreds of outlets and affiliates carrying some or all of its programming.

The flagship station of Moody Radio, WMBI, has an unusual history. A storm in October 1925 stopped the talent for the scheduled WGES program from performing on the air.

This allowed two Moody Bible Institute students to take over and fill the time slot.

Despite changing technology, formats, and audiences, the station maintained a fantastic air presence for over eight decades.

In 1958, the Moody Bible Institute purchased WCRF in Cleveland, followed by WDLM in Moline, Illinois.

These acquisitions led the way to creating a network that would grow to include more than 36 stations nationwide.

By the end of the 1960s, the network had an audience of around 30 million listeners. Today, the stations broadcast 24 hours per day, with award-winning programs like In the Market and Open Line with Dr Michael Rydelnik.


Owned by the Salem Media Group, WFSH, or The Fish, is a contemporary Christian radio station described as being safe for the whole family.

The station is one of the oldest Christian channels on this list and one of three stations in Metro Atlanta.

Unlike its competitors, however, WFSH is a commercial radio station. It launched in 1964 with the name WDOL-FM.

In the 1970s, the station got a power boost to 50,000 watts, and WDOL changed its call sign to WJSR and began broadcasting progressive rock music.

In 2000, The Fish embraced its Christian programming. Today, the station has won several awards and set itself apart from competitors by hosting all weekday shifts hosted by female DJs.

It’s also the station responsible for running the Celebrate Freedom Atlanta event every year on Labor Day weekend.

The free outdoor concert takes place in Marietta, Georgia. It has an attendance of around 40,000 people per year, with 15 to 20 artists performing on the stage.

Why Are There So Many Christian Radio Stations?

A person driving a car adjusting the radio settings in their vehicle
Christian stations number 1,600 in the US, spreading uplifting messages nationwide.

Although the number of Christian radio stations available varies based on location, plenty of options exist.

There are approximately 1,600 Christian broadcasting organizations in the US, each with a unique selection of content to explore.

It’s difficult to know for sure why Christian radio is so popular. The answer could have something to do with the widespread impact of the Christian religion.

According to some studies, up to 75 percent of the population may be Christian.

This suggests that Christian radio will likely appeal to a vast audience of listeners.

It’s also worth noting that Christian radio is often considered uplifting, motivational, and relaxing.

A study from 2021 found the number one reason people listen to Christian radio is that it helps them grow spiritually.

Christian radio stations can also be highly versatile. Although the stations often carry a mixture of Christian music and programs, many often share contemporary music and shows that appeal to various audiences.

Most stations are family-friendly, making them a good choice for parents searching for safe content for their kids.

If you want to check out the power of Christian radio for yourself, try tuning into one of the popular channels mentioned above.

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