88.3 WAFJ Celebrates 25 Years of Serving the Community
With the words sometimes found in the lyrics of popular music these days, it’s not surprising that parents might suddenly lurch for the radio dial to protect young ears.
But there is one station in the CSRA where that has never been a worry. That’s 88.3 WAFJ, which in 2019 will celebrate its 25th year in the CSRA playing family-friendly contemporary Christian music.
“We continue to be the music alternative that the whole family can listen to together,” Steve Swanson, station manager, said. “Mom and Dad don’t have to reach for the dial because they don’t know what words the kids will hear.”
WAFJ is owned by Radio Training Network (RTN), which licenses more than 25 stations playing Christian music, primarily in the Southeast. RTN was founded by Jim Campbell in Lakeland, Fla., more than 30 years ago.
RTN set up its first two stations in Bradenton, Fla., and Greenville, S.C. It was the Greenville station — HIS Radio — that first caught the ears of residents in the CSRA and had them asking for a similar positive music station in the area. At first that meant a translator — a radio tower that relayed the Greenville signal — but then, in 1994, WAFJ set up its station between Georgia and Knox avenues in North Augusta.
“It’s been the same format and original vision for all 25 years,” Swanson said. “That’s unusual in the radio business.”
One thing that has changed, he said, is the quality of the music. Today’s contemporary Christian music has improved since the Christian music Swanson grew up listening to in the 1970s and ’80s.
“The quality coming out of Nashville (a center for Christian music) is better,” he said. “The folks who grew up on Christian music are now producers themselves and are making music on par with any other music. The format is growing by leaps and bounds.”
But 88.3 WAFJ is about more than just music — in fact, it uses “more than music” as a tagline.
In addition to sponsoring several concerts each year featuring some of the top names in Christian music, the station also contributes to and promotes a number of community events.
In December, WAFJ held a “Ham it Up for the Holidays” event that raised nearly $6,000 for Golden Harvest Food Bank. Other events in 2018 included Pursenality Night, an event that raised nearly $15,000 for SafeHomes through a purse raffle; Praise Beneath the Stars, a concert raising money for iCare, a local organization which combats child sex trafficking; helping The Lydia Project raise awareness about breast cancer through the Pink Railcar Project; participating in area Christmas parades; promoting blood drives with Shepeard Blood Center; and giving free public service announcements to local nonprofits.
“It gives us a chance to connect face-to-face with the people we talk to every day and be the hope and encouragement we talk about,” said Jill Kauffman, WAFJ’s promotions director. “You can get a lot of streaming Christian music, but we’re different because we’re local. We have feet on the ground in our community. That’s the favorite part of the job for me.”
WAFJ is a nonprofit, which means that according to Federal Communications Commission rules it can’t sell advertising. Instead, it holds semi-annual fundraisers called Share-athons.
“Lots of stations rely on advertising; we rely on people,” Swanson said.
That means thousands of people making monthly contributions. The standard is “a dollar a day,” or $30 monthly, although the amounts range from $5 to hundreds of dollars per month. Businesses also contribute through a donation process called underwriting, which allows the station to mention the business by name as a Business Ministry Partner as a thank you for the contribution but not as an advertisement for the business.
Venture Auto Sales in Augusta has been one of those Business Ministry Partners almost since the business opened in 1997. Not only does manager Debra Niederhofer have WAFJ playing in her office, she has also set radio dials on all 70 vehicles on their lot to 88.3.
“The station gives me hope and joy and peace,” Niederhofer said. “I hope that rubs off on my customers.”
But she also appreciates the personal touch, knowing that she can call the station with a prayer request and have the staff stop and pray with her right away.
“It’s nice to have that connection in this evil and sin-filled world,” she said. “I can’t imagine my life without 88.3. There’s nothing else I want to listen to.”
It is appreciative supporters like that who keep WAFJ on the air.
“We couldn’t do this without God’s faithfulness and the generosity of our listeners,” Swanson said. “The listeners are generous because we make genuine connections with them. We’re part of the community.”
That creates a partnership between WAFJ and its listeners.
“They listen in a different way when they’re a partner,” Swanson said. “It becomes my radio station not just a radio station.”
One of the most popular community outreaches has nothing to do with music — the Job Board on WAFJ’s website. Started in 2008, when the U.S. economy faltered, it has grown to be one of the go-to places for many employers and people looking for a job. On average, 10 or more new jobs are listed daily. It has become the most visited part of the website and has earned praise from employees for the quality of jobs listed and from employers for the quality of people who apply for the jobs.
WAFJ has a listenership of about 62,000 per week and places in the top five among the three dozen radio stations in the area in almost every category of the radio business.
Listeners are loyal to the station and, thanks to a smartphone app, stay connected even when they move away or are on vacation. Swanson said one listener entered an on-air contest while sitting by a pool while on vacation in Florida.
Because of that loyalty, WAFJ plans to kick off its 25th anniversary celebration with an open house on Jan. 25 to meet and thank listeners. Also part of the plan are concerts by two of the giants in the Christian music industry: Steven Curtis Chapman in February and For King and Country in March. Other events and contests celebrating the anniversary will be announced later in the year.