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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

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The Fish surfaces on Milwaukee radio


Quick ... what's the fastest-growing radio format in the United States? Rock? Nope. Rap and Hip-Hop? Uh-uh. Spanish? Almost, but no. Russian? Nyet. Give up? The answer is: Contemporary Christian.

Milwaukee now has its own 24-hour Contemporary Christian FM music station in The Fish, located at 105.3.

Salem Broadcasting, owner of more than 80 stations across the country, launched a lively Contemporary Christian station called "The Fish" in Los Angeles in 1999. The station immediately garnered impressive ratings in both Los Angeles and Orange County. Today, similar stations exist in over 25 major markets, including Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, and Sacramento.

Milwaukee has other religious broadcasters, such as WJYI (Joy 1340 AM), WEMP (1250 AM), WVCY (107.7 FM) and even The Fish's sister station WRRD (AM 540, "The Word"), that offer ministries, features, discussions and various forms of religious music. But The Fish sticks to one thing: the burgeoning field of Contemporary Christian music.

Although the "Fish" moniker is used at numerous stations nationwide, each is programmed locally, with local air personalities.

Danny Clayton, a 17-year veteran of WKTI who recently handled on-air, news and other similar duties at stations WRIT and WMIL, is Program Director at The Fish and he says that The Fish has some biases to overcome with potential listeners.

"The problem, or stereotype, we encounter is that when people hear "Christian" they think Ned Flanders. In reality we've got a lot of variety, a decent rock and modern rock sound, pop, urban and what is called modern praise music.I think it's got wide appeal and truly think that if someone just flips by on the dial and finds it, they'd find it very 'listenable,' sonically. After a while they'll notice that we've got a huge amount of spiritual content in the lyrics."

Formerly a fragmented genre that encompassed everything from Christian rock bands like Stryper to southern Gospel, Contemporary Christian has grown more focused, blending contemporary and secular beats and sounds with spiritual lyrics and Christian themes. It is now gathering huge new audiences across the country.

Core artists on The Fish include Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day, Rebecca St. James, Avalon, Jennifer Knapp and numerous others that have crossed over into pop radio at times. Artists like Michael W. Smith ("Place In This World"), Jars of Clay ("Flood") and Amy Grant ("Baby Baby," "Love Will Find A Way") have seen airplay on adult contemporary and Top 40 stations in the past.

Broadcasting on a recently authorized, Mukwonago-licensed FM signal under the call letters WFZH, The Fish started out playing Christmas music from Thanksgiving weekend right on through Christmas before diving completely into the new format, which is still evolving. The signal itself has less power than most FM stations in town, but its tower on the New Berlin-Waukesha border covers most of the area well.

The Fish is already beginning to move into promotions, like a Christian Music Night with the Milwaukee Admirals, at the Bradley Center, and plans to launch a Web site shortly.

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