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Interview: David Taviner head of radio development, United Christian Broadcasters

08 May 2015

'People assumed I'd want to work in television, but I didn't'

Christian radio was made legal some years ago now. There's Premier, based in London, which is a little more speech-based; and there are some smaller Christian stations around the country. United Christian Broadcasters (UCB's) distinctive emphasis is on music at national level.

There are three flavours:
UCB Inspirational (worship-music style), UCB Gospel, and UCB UK, which is more contemporary, like Radio 1, with more speech, and the best Christian music. America has a vast array, and we feature that, complementing that with Christian music from around the UK. Classical music and hymn-singing is in the mix, but more on UCB Inspirational, which is perhaps a little bit more like Radio 2.

UCB UK is on DAB and online,
and there is Christian television programming on UCB TV. UCB Inspirational and UCB Gospel can be heard online. All three stations are available via the UCB app.

The key UBC UK programme is in the morning,
from nine till 12, with five or six topical issues covered by a presenter and studio guests, and listeners phoning in. The news agenda is highlighted because there's a strong sense that everyone needs to know what's going on in the world. Christians have an opportunity to pause and pray, and we're keen to provide the information for this. Occasionally this happens on air - a presenter may pause and pray for a moment - which is refreshing.

Our funding comes from people mainly in UK,
and abroad as well, who are very generous with their time and money. There's no advertising or sponsorship.

My new role as head of radio development
combines ensuring the radio output is distinctive, popular, and unmissable, and relating to key supporters of UCB who've captured the vision.

I've literally just arrived;
so I'm splitting my time between both things: on the editorial side, looking at subjects covered, choice of music, the way things are presented. On fund-raising, we come alongside our supporters personally, get to know them, and invite them for tour days in Stoke-on-Trent.

There is a real demand for high-quality Christian radio that is entertaining, edifying, and engaging.
I'll be working with the UCB team to take the music-based stations to the next level of excellence to make them accessible for everyone. Hourly news bulletins come through an agreement with Sky, complemented by Christian news from UK and abroad.

We don't tend to broadcast church services,
but we invite speakers and preachers from the UK and USA, who contribute short talks, some of which would be Bible-based, like Word for Today. That's our free quarterly devotional publication.

Word for Today
is a partnership with Bob Gass and his family.
Bob started these 25 years ago, and offered them as a way to support the early UCB. Now they're so successful, we send them free to thousands of people who find them helpful and pertinent and of the moment. They come in direct mail, or churches distribute them. Copies go into prisons. Many countries around the world translate them into their language. I believe that God is in them. They invariably relate to an experience you're having - as if they've been written for you in that particular moment.

Good broadcasting makes you think,
opens your eyes, changes your attitude and even your behaviour. It makes you want to tell someone else about it. For me, it could be a line from a song, a story shared, a balanced discussion, or a Bible-inspired home truth.

I started in radio, because "the pictures are always better on the radio."
I have a passion for radio: I listen to lots, dipping around a bit. It's grown so much since I began my own career. I typed my first application on a typewriter to all the local radio stations - about 50 of them. There are three or four hundred now.

Of course I listen to UCB:
I'm personally interested in Christian music. Sometimes, the way the lyricist has phrased something makes me think about something I've read or heard in a new way.

The mathematics of music fascinates me.
How can such a few notes create such an enormous range of sounds? And continually create and re-create?

I'm not a musician.
I don't sing very well, but I do love music. I once tried to learn to play the trombone, but had to practise outdoors, and people didn't like it. I played the piano up to Grade 5 as a child.

For 16 years, I worked at BBC Radio Humberside,
as a presenter and producer. Most recently, I was the executive producer for BBC Songs of Praise and television worship. It was a huge privilege to work with the exceptional team, and it enabled me to meet so many people who were big fans and never miss it.

Songs of Praise
is greatly valued by people.
Ordinary people with a Christian faith are able to tell their story and encourage viewers to appreciate that the world isn't that bad after all. It's a Sunday tea-time pick-me-up when you are about to face a new week. Everyone has heard of it, and has a point of view about it. The bouquets always outweighed the brickbats.

I enjoy television:
most documentaries, all sorts of music, gardening, quizzes, discussions, drama, of course. People assumed I'd want to work in television, but I didn't want to. I imagined you'd be a smaller cog in a bigger machine. I always valued the immediacy of radio, contact with listeners, creating an interview so quickly. . . But an opportunity arose to work in television; so I bit the bullet. You are indeed a smaller cog, but if everybody works together and uses their skills effectively, together you produce something worth watching.

Radio listening is stronger than ever,
and audiences for religious programmes, such as Sunday breakfast shows on local stations, often outstrip the weekday equivalent. I don't have the figures, but the weekday breakfast show is seen as the flagship, and it's assumed that weekends elicit less interest, but actually the Saturday Today programme is more popular. Perhaps people have more time at weekends to listen?

I grew up in Somerset,
and now live in the north-west, with my grown-up family not a million miles away.

My first experience of God was a deep-seated assurance that all would be well,
like a child being embraced by a loving father. I've seen time and time again that God, as in that story in the Bible about the Prodigal Son, is like the father waiting with his arms outstretched, ready to welcome home the child who thinks they know best.

Capturing how others articulate their philosophy of life
as I work with them in broadcasting constantly helps me to clarify my own beliefs.

I like travelling to new destinations.
It makes me take lots of photographs. I just find that, when I have the privilege of travelling, the wow-factor kicks in, and makes me think what a wonderful world we live in. I photograph landscapes. Perhaps in life we don't often stop and pause and wonder enough at the world in all its beauty.

My bucket list keeps getting longer,
but just five minutes on the International Space Station, gazing back to earth, would be incredible. I'm happiest when I'm watching a beautiful sunset.

I love the sound of a bumble bee collecting nectar.
Summer has arrived!

Getting flashed by a speed camera made me angry last.

My parents,
my wife, my children, my friends, my colleagues, and Jesus have all influenced me in my life - but not in that order.

I pray that people would come to see that God is on their side.

If I found myself locked in a church,
a conversation with King Solomon ought to keep me occupied.

David Taviner was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.


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