By Doug Carroll
He calls himself “the needle for the Christian bubble,” freely admitting that his radio show isn’t for everyone.
Somehow, he’s still on the air after more than three years — an eternity in the broadcasting industry — and you get the impression that there’s room for only one person in Christian radio to be Wally.
He’s the one.
“I’ve received the worst hate mail doing this,” says Wally, who prefers to be known by the singular name. “It’s almost caused me to quit a few times. There are days when I hate this.”
“This” is his Nashville-based show on WAY-FM, a national network of Christian radio stations that dares to furnish him with a microphone every weekday afternoon for five hours.
When Wally’s needle is out, only Jahweh gets a pass. He’s unafraid to share his highly opinionated takes on the news, on Christians, even on himself.
What’s more, he’s studying leadership in the online master’s degree program in the Ken Blanchard College of Business at GCU, because he eventually wants to teach future Wallys how to do what he does. Which means he’s a college student all over again at age 42 — for the next year and a half.
That’s another thing he thought about quitting, by the way. His first week of online study was a major adjustment.
“I learned by lecture as an undergrad,” says Wally, who studied organizational communication at the University of Central Florida. “Online is figuring out a bunch on your own. But I was surprised by how well the GCU counselors walk you through it and stay up with you.
“I had to make some changes in my daily routine, but I think I’ve figured it out.”
He also thinks he has figured out Christian radio: It’s mostly dull and boring, he says.
“Christian radio has the most signals — but the fewest listeners,” he says. “That tells you it’s irrelevant to a lot of people. By and large, it preaches to the choir.
“This is way harder than any job I’ve ever done. Christians are not known for their sense of humor, and sometimes comedy has a victim. It’s a tricky balancing act. The God stuff is the easy part, but the humor actually does more good for people. My show is not for everybody, but it’s for somebody every day.”
Those tuning in over the airwaves or via streaming audio (www.totalaxxess.com) might hear Wally’s “News Bomb” (on current events), his “Wally’s Island” (a bit about three songs you’d want to hear on a desert island), his “10-Second Topic” (10 seconds to state your case on anything) or his “What’s a Guy Thinking?” (a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of male behavior, for the female audience).
He has tussled with listeners over everything from baptism to crab fishing.
“So many (Christians) hide at church and separate themselves,” Wally says. “They live in a bubble and are completely ineffective. They’re great at making sure they don’t stumble, but not so good at taking their faith out to the world. God said, ‘Go.’ He didn’t say, ‘Hang out and wait.’
“It’s like one of the guys in Casting Crowns says: People don’t hate Christians because they mess up. They hate them because they mess up but act like they don’t.”
When listeners don’t like what he has to say, they let him know. Do they ever.
“People often argue from the position of what they’ve been told, not from what’s in the Bible,” he says. “Most of them are people you’d never want to hang out with.”
With a lengthy resumé in mainstream radio that includes a stop at an alternative-rock station in Atlanta, Wally’s OK with turning the needle on himself.
“I have the typical radio-guy story, where you get fired or you quit every so often,” he says. “In Atlanta, I was caught between doing my job and living out my faith. God said, ‘I don’t see this as a good fit for you.’ My wife was seeing that, too, and (WAY-FM) is the best decision I ever made.”
He visited GCU’s Phoenix campus in June — and loved it. Some of what he did on his visit can be seen at www.collegewithwally.com. (The bookstore scene is a laugh riot, with Wally going Jim Carrey on the place.)
“I love the fact that GCU has a real campus,” Wally says. “There’s more credibility (for online programs) that way. My studies hopefully will open a door for me to teach radio. I like the leadership aspect of the master’s program, and I want to be better at that.”
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or at [email protected].