Last Sunday morning, I was poking around online, seeking inspiration. I clicked on a link and found myself looking inside a radio studio listening to “Amazing Grace.”
I had stumbled on to “Sunday Mornings with Doug Burns” on 107.9 FM KFAN. I felt like I was sitting in his kitchen. Burns was sipping coffee, chatting with viewers, and playing CDs. It was a throwback to a time before every radio station was hyper-programmed.
Welcome to the Church of Burns.
As I logged in the first time, the host welcomed me to the feed, and asked what I was doing.
“Seeking inspiration,” I typed.
“I have something for you,” he replied.
Soon I was listening to a Winans song.
“Christian radio is normally known as religious radio,” the veteran DJ said when I called him after the show. “It can be preachy and attract a certain type of person, and it can turn off another kind. My listeners see this as a radio program for the Christian community. But I am also getting more and more listeners who are just here for the music.”
Burns, who spent two decades in large market Christian radio, came up with the idea for “Sunday Mornings with Doug” a year ago. Being a DJ in the Sunday morning timeslot can be a lonely vocation. The doubt always niggles whether anyone is listening, as few people bother to call in. So Burns started running video on a lark. Production values were minimal, but he didn’t mind.
“You can’t hear the music real well, and you’re just watching a guy on the radio,” he remembered thinking. “That can’t be exciting.”
But after going live, he was surprised at the depth and breadth of his audience. He began creating a map. He now knows he attracts listeners from Texas to Oklahoma to New York to Florida. He hears from a regular fan in Scotland, and a pastor with a ministry in Uganda.
“I’m fascinated to see the feedback,” he said. “What brings them here, I have no idea. I’m not sure what attracts them, but I’m glad they are there.”
What attracts them is the classic Christian music he plays, along with his laid back style.
Burns programs music from what he considers the golden age of Christian music, from around 1972 up to the mid-1990s.
“The music speaks for itself,” he said. “I let the tempo of the music be the tempo of the program. People like high-energy music. I don’t want them to be falling asleep while listening to the radio.”
His personal on-air persona, after years of polishing, seems no different from his “real life” personality. That’s not an accident.
“In radio, you start off being a disc jockey,” he explained, using his official “DJ” voice. “Then after years of experience, it finally comes down to being yourself. If you can’t be just who you are, people won’t be drawn to you. If they like you off the radio, you want to be the same person on the radio. Listeners need a human voice. They want to feel like you are a friend sitting next to them.”
He likes to keep his show simple, enjoyable, and professional. Being professional is a big issue for him.
“One listener told me, ‘I never saw anybody multitask like you!’” he said. “I am hitting buttons, talking, adjusting levels, while tying every song into the next one. That came with years of experience. If I can’t make it seem easy I shouldn’t be doing it. And I definitely shouldn’t let people see me doing it!”
Burns once told me that you can either make a lot of money in radio and have no say in what you play, or have control of programming and starve. Burns has done both, and now shamelessly embraces the latter.
“For many years I was in major market radio,” he said. “It paid very, very well, but I didn’t control my style or the music or the format. When I came here, I said the beauty is you get to control the music. I don’t get paid beans, but I love doing what I do on the air.”
Burns makes his beans with several other business ventures, including Hill Country Surface Restoration, restoring tubs, sinks, countertops, and cabinets. But every Sunday morning you’ll find him online, spinning CDs and welcoming inspiration-seeking listeners to the Church of Burns.
Sunday Mornings with Doug can be heard from 7-10 a.m. on 107.9 KFAN-FM, or found online at www.texasrebelradio.com.