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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Local Christian radio station expands range in region after 30 years, hits top in market

Christian music radio station KEEH-FM has broadcast from Spokane for 30 years, but it was a 2016 rebrand as Shine 104.9 that boosted its audience size and expansion.

Seven years ago, Shine sought to connect more with area nonprofits and Christian churches to share events. It took on a more local focus. Meanwhile, the station steadily climbed in ratings, as tallied by broadcast tracking company Nielsen.

For December 2023, Nielsen ranked it at No. 1 among radio stations for the Spokane metro market, the fourth time since 2019, said general manager Darin Patzer.

“We’re typically always in the top five or 10 with Nielsen, so it was kind of exciting that for the fourth time in the last five years, KEEH has hit No. 1 of all the 50-plus radio stations for this market, which is somewhat unique for a noncommercial, nonprofit Christian station – a hometown station – to hit No. 1,” Patzer said.

“We are quick as a Christian station to give the credit and thanks to God for that.”

Prior to 2016, KEEH was part of a Northwest radio network that provided programming. When it became independent, Shine focused on content for the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene areas, Patzer said.

The station is heard across the Palouse and rural towns. Coeur d’Alene-area listeners tune in at 94.9 FM. Just over a year ago, Shine expanded into Sandpoint at 91.7 FM.

But people send notes from across the U.S. and as far as Brisbane, Australia, listening on its Shine app or website.

“We do know that in metro Spokane, we have 66,000 unique listeners a week,” Patzer said. “Our average listener is at about eight hours a week, so that’s a little over an hour a day for the average listener, which is pretty good for radio.”

Nielsen doesn’t typically track outlying areas, but he has heard a rough estimate of about 75,000 as a wider audience.

The station’s popularity in recent years is unusual and somewhat unexpected, say some regional faith-based leaders.

Ron Hauenstein, Spokane Fatherhood Initiative president, said Shine’s popularity “is a big deal,” but also surprises him.

“I’m frankly stunned that Shine consistently ranks as high as it does,” Hauenstein said. “There are so many types of music out there and so many genres, and also, it’s overtly Christian. Why would people choose that medium as their favorite place to go to, when it doesn’t hide what it’s about?

“I’m really pleased by it. The Northwest is not known as a churched segment of the country; we’re known as the least churched segment of the country.”

Hauenstein, who listens more to talk radio, said he sometimes tunes into 104.9. “The station is uplifting; there are positive lyrics.” He also credits the station for promoting regional Christian events and becoming “sort of a glue that holds the Christian community together.”

Pastor John Repsold said he listens to Shine but is somewhat surprised at the station’s growth. He’s at Mosaic Fellowship, a Spokane nondenominational Christian church.

“I’m always surprised when any particular Christian element captures the attention of a large segment of the population,” Repsold said. “I think it’s actually reflective of people’s desire to connect with God, and that radio station has somehow figured out how to help people do that.

“They have done a good job of reaching across the spectrum of the Christian church, and even broader than that, to people who may not even identify with a church but are hungry for an experience with God. Contemporary Christian music does what Christian music has always sought to do, which is to keep the focus on the Lord Jesus.”

Repsold said he’s aware of a few other Christian stations broadcasting here, “everything from Catholic radio to KMBI Moody radio out of Chicago.” Two or three have a similar music format, he said, but others combine Bible teaching.

Ron Hessel, Summit Northwest Ministries pastor, is heard on Shine for Saturday sermons. He’s aware of Christian station KTSY near Boise reaching a No. 1 rating for that market. It’s unusual nationwide, he said, but has hit a stride here.

“Why? I think it’s that people – particularly with the way things are going crazy – want something that’s comforting, encouraging, uplifting, that feeds their soul rather than distresses their soul,” Hessel said. “Contemporary Christian music really fits.”

He also believes songwriters can reach farther.

“I’m a preacher, right?” he said. “But I know the best preachers in the world are songwriters. Nobody comes out of my sermons repeating what I have to say, yet a good Christian songwriter writes a song that touches people’s hearts and they’re singing it over and over. It’s the power of music and a positive message.”

While based at Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, Patzer said Shine’s mission is to serve various Christian denominations. The West Plains campus also houses a Christian bookstore.

Over the years, 200 area pastors have recorded Bible verses of the month at the Shine studio, Patzer said.

“We give thousands of dollars every year back to churches and nonprofits in our communities in free radio spots, different things to help promote whatever denomination is trying to get information out to the community,” he said. “We use our website and our radio DJs to support them. Many of our announcers are of various Christian denominations.”

The station doesn’t run commercials between songs. Instead, Shine as a nonprofit does a twice-yearly share-a-thon, when listeners pledge donations to support its operations, similar to public television drives, Patzer said. About 30 local nonprofits and for-profit businesses give donations either then or throughout the year.

But challenges include what many nonprofits face, from meeting budgets to relying more on contractors and part-timers.

“People who really care about the ministry, but they’re not paid what they’re worth,” he said.

Among them, Patzer credits the station’s radio engineer Conrad Agte, a contractor who works for many area radio stations.

The station has additional high-definition channels – HD 2 for Christian talk, and HD 3 for seasonal Christmas music. Those seasonal tunes also get air time on its main stations, beginning near Thanksgiving as mixed in and then full-time by Dec. 25, from “White Christmas” and other classics to ones by modern artists.

Patzer said Shine regularly partners in missions, including with the Spokane nonprofit Water for Life, which digs wells in rural villages of Guatemala. Shine is a co-host with the Coeur d’Alene-based group He’s the Solution Ministries for the Be Bold For Jesus Conference each October.

On Oct. 11-13 at the Spokane Convention Center, the conference has scheduled talks by “The Chosen” TV show creator Dallas Jenkins and actors Kevin Sorbo and Candace Cameron-Bure. The band We the Kingdom is set to play.

Last year, the Spokane conference with singer Danny Gokey and comedian Jeff Foxworthy drew more than 4,000 people.

“People can hear these celebrities who are strong in the faith and be encouraged in their own walk with Christ,” Patzer said. “It’s an event that loses thousands of dollars, but He’s the Solution and Shine together believe so much in trying to uplift people’s faith, that we feel it’s an investment.”

The KEEH studio had to rebuild after a December 2008 fire, which destroyed much of the larger facility. The station’s space had smoke damage, so its broadcasts temporarily moved to a South Hill facility until returning after construction finished by 2012.

Today, the station’s DJs include local, regional and nationally syndicated hosts, including a show by Brant Hansen and Sherri Lynn.

Lorenda Rae, DJ for the 4-8 p.m. slot during the week, regularly does segments in the studio. She’s worked for KEEH since 2006.

“One of my favorite things about doing this work is connecting with listeners with hope and encouragement,” she said. “With the stressful world we live in, to be about connections with hope is important, and also to connect them to other ministries in town and with nonprofits. It makes us like family.”

She has done on-air talks with Foxworthy and musician David Crowder among memorable ones. Station interviews are posted later as podcasts, both among musicians and with city leaders – recently with former Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl, Patzer said.

Shine also has hosted a free Shinefest listener appreciation concert in different years at Riverfront Park.

Patzer said listeners’ support and the station’s ability to give back are key.

Sometimes at year-end, if Shine has a surplus from donations, the station gives grants for programs by nomination. Its Shine Gives Back program has given thousands of dollars to such organizations as Vanessa Behan, Spokane Fatherhood Initiative and Women’s Healing and Empowering Network.

“We’re supported entirely through this local community, and we’re so grateful,” Patzer said. “We’re trying to serve all these Christian denominations and build them up with encouragement and hope.

“There is a lot of appreciation for that, and I think it’s part of the reason it’s built to the top.”