Olivet The Magazine | Beyond the Impact of Olivet’s Shine.FM

“People desire authenticity and transparency in the media today. Radio is just the platform we use to point people to Christ.”

Lauren Beatty

January 24, 2024 Olivet The Magazine

Shine.FM radio station and media network ONU

Although the catchphrase “We believe. You belong here.” didn’t appear on Olivet Nazarene University marketing materials until the late 1990s, the institution has always focused on strong community interactions, both on campus and in the surrounding area.

When Olivet Nazarene College moved in 1939 to Bourbonnais, Illinois, following a devastating fire at the original campus location, the college and the community took some time to adjust to one another. One initiative that helped pave the way for positive engagement was the introduction of a Christian music radio station.

The original radio station on Olivet’s campus, WONC, was created in January 1967 as a training facility for college students. Initially located in Ludwig Center, WONC also operated out of the back of Benner Library for a time. In the mid-1980s, the call numbers changed to WONU to reflect the institution’s shift in academic designation from a college to a university, and the reach of the signal expanded. In 2000 the station found a new permanent home when the University acquired a restaurant building just south of campus, and it was rebranded as Shine.FM. The prime location, on a busy thoroughfare in Bourbonnais, has solidified the station’s influence in the community through messages that spread love, joy and hope to listeners.

Shine.FM is a listener-supported radio station owned and operated by Olivet. The mission of Shine is to create relationships that influence people for Christ by building personal connections in the local community using music and experiential activities. Today, the reach of that mission is enormous. Shine.FM provides audio content to more than 1 million listeners every month through four radio channels and a host of rotating podcasts.

“At Shine we’re all about a value system, and shared values create community,” says Brian Utter ’91, executive director of the Olivet Media Group. “People desire authenticity and transparency in the media today. Radio is just the platform we use to point people to Christ.”

While it might be assumed that playing music is the primary source of listener engagement, in fact, coordinating playlists and interviewing musicians only account for a small portion of the work of a radio station. Through the affiliation with Olivet, a primary purpose of Shine’s work is to provide students with hands-on technical knowledge of the broadcasting industry. Olivet’s Department of Communication offers six unique concentrations for a degree in multimedia communications, all of which allow students to dip their toes into broadcast media.

“The only way you can do broadcasting well is by just getting in and doing it,”
Brian explains. “We teach students to be content creators and storytellers through various formats of on-air delivery. Our students bring great energy and enthusiasm; they really add value to our teams. Students think about the media differently than we do, and it’s important to listen to that.”

That emphasis on practical teaching has paid off, as Olivet is consistently ranked as the No. 1 school in the United States for sending graduates into the Christian radio industry, according to Christian Music Broadcasters (CMB). Spark, a student-run station in the Shine network, provides opportunities for student directors to gain broadcast experience. In 2023 Spark was nominated as CMB’s University Radio Station of the Year.

As the radio station has continued to increase delivery forms to meet evolving needs, the team has taken advantage of opportunities to extend the geographic reach of its uplifting content. Shine added towers in Indianapolis in 2011 and in Lansing, Michigan, in 2013. The expanded reach of Shine continued in 2023, when the station acquired new channels in Indiana and Illinois, two of which are dedicated to Spanish station Brilla.FM.

“Content is still king — you have to have great content,”
Brian says. “But that is closely followed by distribution. Technological enhancements including HD and online radio streaming have helped Shine reach new listeners not just in the Midwest but around the world. We recently received an email from a small- business owner in the Netherlands who plays Shine every day.”

To further engage the communities touched by Shine.FM, the station has developed connections with 75 impact partners in the greater Chicagoland, Indianapolis and Lansing areas. These organizations, which represent education, healthcare, ministries, financial and legal services, retail and more support the station through sponsorship, but they also seek to facilitate community growth. Shine’s periodic Sticker Stop events inspire people to donate items such as baby wipes, school supplies and box fans for local ministry groups to distribute as needed. Faith and Family events, held in tandem with professional sports events, encourage family togetherness in safe and fun environments. Contemporary concerts provide world-class music through Christ-centered performances.

With more than 55 years of influence in the community, thousands of people have expressed their gratitude for Shine’s uplifting content. Others have experienced miraculous redemptive moments, sparked by hearing a song on the radio, listening to a testimony or connecting with community members at an event. The Shine 180 podcast documents such stories of listeners who experienced major life changes as a result of Shine content. The testimonies continue to create a cascade of positivity.

“Radio is the most connective medium that exists,” Brian says. “Research has shown that audio triggers a part of the brain that TV and film don’t, as listeners have to create the image in their head through their own imagination. It is actually the most intimate form of media and something I’m proud to have invested my career in.”

What Are Listeners Saying?
“I would not want to make it through the tough days without Shine. The music and stories keep me hopeful. I have been blessed with a good-paying position at a job I’m passionate about that makes my soul sing. I feel the little voice telling me, tapping my shoulder to pass it along to others so they, too, can feel the music in their hearts.” – Flora

“I am a middle school teacher in an urban school. Things have been really rough this year. Bad behavior and fights have been at an all-time high. Good teachers are quitting, and I go home often feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and struggling to know if I’m making a difference in their academic lives. In addition, what are they seeing in me? I turned on Shine.FM on my way to work one morning, and Crowder’s ‘He Loves Me’ came on and then Cain’s ‘I’m So Blessed’ came on. I started crying out to God, ‘This is why I’m here at this school, so they can see Him through me.’ I’m blessed and stressed, but I have support and know that I know that I have a God Who loves me and died for me. I need to show that grace and love to my kiddos at school. Shine.FM definitely puts me in the right head and heart space to know He will give me the strength to live worthily for Him. I can shine for my students who don’t have much light in other parts of their world.” – Jennifer

“I am a truck driver and go from Indiana to Joliet every day. I was having a bad day one day, flipping through channels, and I heard Megan on Shine.FM. I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s the only way to listen at work.” – Shawn

From Olivet The Magazine, On Purpose – Winter 2024. Read the full issue HERE.

Lauren Beatty

Lauren Beatty ’13 is a freelance writer, author, editor, artist and an adjunct professor in the Department of Communication at Olivet. She earned a Master of Arts degree in cross-cultural and sustainable business management from the American University of Paris in 2014. Her thesis explored the evolution of socially responsible business practices in America.

Student on main campus wearing pink sweater and holding water bottle.

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