Internet radio shaping kids' faith
An Interpreter OnLine Feature
By the Rev. Kathy Noble
"Common Good Radio for all God's children!"
Youngsters voice the ID regularly on a two-year-old Internet radio station offering programming for children. Common Good Radio helps form children's faith while nurturing friendship, honesty, exploration and curiosity, says the Rev. Robin Blair, founder and executive director.
Broadcasting 24 hours a day, Common Good Radio, she says, fulfills the mantra to meet people where they are.
"Where are the kids? They are on the computer. They are there so much that we've given them a name — digital natives. When they go there, they can be on Common Good Radio where there is much that supports and affirms their spiritual selves."
With listeners in 60 countries, the website in 2009 received 1.9 million views. "You could have knocked me over with a hummingbird feather," she says of the station's reach. "Singapore is a hot spot. I have no idea who is listening in Singapore." Listeners have also been identified in Kenya, Egypt, China, Brazil, Malaysia, South Africa and Bolivia.
Blair is passionate that children "know their voices are valued. Their expressions of faith and their spiritual lives are very, very important. I want children to feel loved and supported through Common Ground Radio." She also wants them in "a conversation about the sacred that carries into the rest of their everyday lives. Children offering faith formation at that point of their journey is what Common Good Radio supports."
Programming sacred and secular music from many genres reflecting the Judeo-Christian tradition, she pays music royalties monthly. She welcomes musicians who send their work to her. "I do listen," promises the singer who has released five CDs of children's music.
Children voice thoughts
Interspersed with the music are prayers and short Bible stories or reflections from Pastor Robin or another adult. Frequent are 30- and 60-second spots of children voicing their thoughts on a fruit of the Spirit or a topic, such as friendship or trust.
|The Rev. Robin Blair helps children record their thoughts on friendship for airing.|
Courtesy Photo by Fred J. Claus
Hearing a peer say, "'Hi, I'm Myra. I'm 11. Peace is...' is a far more powerful tool than Pastor Robin saying, 'Listen up,' " she says.
Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island, N.Y., where Blair's husband the Rev. Jeffrey Childs is pastor, "has welcomed the ministry" and does the bookkeeping and assists with marketing and graphic arts. It also hosted a "Common Ground Cafe" where Blair recorded many of the spots during which children offered their thoughts on the theme.
Natalie Rice, a listener who in June moved to Wilmington, N.C., from Buffalo, N.Y., attended the cafe with her Coast Guard husband and their 9- and 5-year-old sons. "They just adore that they can put themselves out there," she says. Rice wants to introduce the cafe to the new congregation they join.
Children can send their thoughts to Blair as an MP3 file attached to an e-mail with, she emphasizes, the permission of their parents or church group leader.
Ad-free, no corporate sponsors
Common Good Radio is commercial-free and operates on gifts from supporters. Corporate donations are not accepted.
Blair — who also leads workshops on media literacy — wants to give children the expectation that media does not have to be filled with advertising to be entertaining or relevant. Media can also speak that kind of caring that allows children to feel safe.
She wants parents to be completely comfortable that the music and programming will not contain violence or sexualized or exploitive material.
"All the music and dramas that are played on Common Good Radio have a positive message," says Fred Claus of Grand Island. "It's a blessing to have a station where my kids are not subject to music with bad language and inappropriate comments."
"It's a good wholesome place for your children to go," Rice says.
Making digital media child-friendly
Blair credits "Holy Spirit movement" for Common Good Radio. The idea "woke me up in the night," she says.
For several years prior, she had directed The Children's Center for the Common Good. Listening to youngsters' stories as she helped them express faith through arts, she says, "I knew there was something else going on for me. Then I discovered Internet radio and thought, 'Holy cats, I can do that.'"
|The Rev. Robin Blair |
|Photo Courtesy Robin Blair|
"Digital ministry is so accessible. The question is how do we make it free and child- and family-friendly and give children a chance to lift their spiritually magnificent voices?"
Drawing on a pre-seminary career in broadcasting, she understood the medium and how to program. "I had made a living with the sound of my voice, so I knew I could do the hosting. I took it to my advisory board. They supported the idea, and we were off to the races."
An early supporter, now on the advisory board, is the Rev. Carl Johnson of South Otselic, N.Y. "It is a cutting-edge way to reach folks," Johnson says.
Blair's district superintendent at the time, Johnson helped secure a grant from the North Central New York Annual (regional) Conference to help establish the station. "When people come with creative ideas, we ought to be supportive of them and encourage them to pursue those things." He wants to see the ministry well grounded financially.
Blair's appointment as a deacon in the new Upper New York Conference includes her ministry with Common Good Radio and a chaplain residency at Golisano Children's Hospital in Rochester, N.Y. Common Good Radio is available in hospital rooms.
With the residency ending in August, Blair is praying for guidance for her future ministry. She is considering hitting the road, "driving around the country a while and stopping in churches and recording kids' voices and playing music and seeing what the temperature of the country is with respect to this idea."
"Funding is a concern," Blair admits. "The ministry operates entirely on donations, and that's thin. A really faithful business partner would be outstanding. Maybe it is just supposed to be this quiet, lovely thing out there, but I have the feeling there is something it's growing into. Somewhere God has a plan for how this is going to work."
"How might we encourage simple faith formation in the daily lives of the children we love?" is her constant question. "If Common Good Radio can help in honoring the sacred in our daily conversation through music and talk, amen!"
--Kathy Noble is editor of Interpreter magazine and Interpreter OnLine, www.interpretermagazine.org.