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RIVERBEND – FAITH AND FAMILY NIGHT

BOOKING THE GOOD BOOK – FAITH AND FAMILY NIGHT

By Casey Phillips – 6-14-16

Ted Gocke, the morning on-air personality for J-103, speaks about his involvement helping secure acts for Riverbend Music Festival’s Faith and Family night while in the radio station’s studio.

When it comes to his feelings about the Christian music of yesteryear, local radio show host Ted Gocke skirts the letter of Gospel law to “Judge not, that ye be not judged” from Matthew 7:1.

After decades of watching Christian music’s evolution, the 49-year-old Gocke (pronounced GO-kee), morning radio host and promotions manager at contemporary Christian radio station WLLJ-FM/J103 (which broadcasts in parallel on WJLJ-FM in Cleveland, Tenn., and WBDX-FM in Chattanooga) — makes no bones about the difference in quality between the artists receiving airplay today and those he heard more than 30 years ago while growing up in Louisville, Ky.

“Christian music has come a long, long way,” Gocke says through a smile that’s like a permanent exclamation point atop a stocky frame that still hints at his flirtation with competitive body building nearly a decade ago.

“The music back then, now looking back at it, it really wasn’t that good, but it was contemporary at the time and what’s contemporary changes,” he continues. “Now, people tune into J103 — they scan the dial and they stop and listen — and the sound is so much like the other mainstream stations. Then they suddenly realize, ‘Wait. What were those lyrics?’”

Gocke’s long-standing familiarity with Christian music is the key to why he’s been tapped for a decade to serve on the committee that selects which acts to book for Riverbend’s Faith and Family Night celebration, which takes place tonight.

Christian radio host TED GOCKE guides act selection for Riverbend’s Faith and Family Night

In the Chattanooga area, no one knows contemporary Christian music like Gocke, says John Zeiser, the president and CEO of Southern Champion Tray who’s also on the Faith & Family Night artist selection committee. He’s one of a small group of business leaders who stepped in a decade ago to ensure the survival of the Christian event after previous fundraising efforts fell short.

“When it came down to recommending artists to be considered … you need someone who is active in that world and knows who the up-and-comers are,” Zeiser says. “Ted is that guy. He’s critical.”

Tonight’s Faith and Family Night lineup includes six artists representing a broad range of Christian sub-genres, from “outlaw gospel” singer/songwriter Cody McCarver and local a cappella ensemble Voices of Lee to headliner For King & Country, a Nashville-based pop duo which Billboard listed as one of its New Artists to Watch in 2012.

Creating a lineup representing a diversity of styles is both reflective of the prevailing trends in Christian music and a fulfillment of the purpose of the evening to reach out to as broad an audience as possible, Gocke says.

“I think [God] will use every avenue he can — every genre and format he can — to share hope and encouragement and salvation,” Gocke says. “If you go fishing, you use different bait depending on where you’re fishing and what you’re fishing for. … The music has to change in order to keep up with the ever-changing likes and desires of the listeners and consumers.

And he has witnessed the changing winds of Christian music during more than a quarter century on-air.

As a freshman at the University of Louisville, he attended a luncheon featuring a guest speaker named Tony Tabor, the program director of the local Christian radio station. After the event, Gocke approached Tabor and expressed his interest in joining the station’s staff. Three months later, he was hired to host overnight programming, a role he continued to fill throughout college despite being a dyed-inthe-wool morning person.

“I’d get off the air at 6 in the morning … I’d bring my sleeping bag in and sleep for about two hours and then go to my eight o’clock classes,” he says. “I’d get four hours of sleep in two shifts during college.”

In 1992, Gocke and his wife moved to Ringgold, Ga., where he took a position as the youth minister at Burning Bush Baptist Church. Shortly after being hired, the sales manager for J103 visited the church seeking sponsorships. The receptionist pointed out Gocke’s history as a radio personality and the next week he was hired as the station’s traffic and weather announcer. For more than a decade, he’s served as the morning radio host.

Last year, J103 relocated from Ringgold Road to a Lee Highway building that formerly served as a retailer of high-end audio equipment. The walls of Gocke’s office, near the back of the building, are dotted with dozens of signed pictures from Christian artists and framed pictures from various iterations of JFest, the radio station’s annual Christian music festival, held at Camp Jordan in East Ridge every spring.

Even in his quieter, more contemplative moments, Gocke seems almost restlessly enthusiastic and possessing of entirely too much latent energy for someone who’s work day begins at 4 a.m. He says that unflagging energy helps him fulfill his duty to use his position to inspire and encourage to his listeners.

And before any Faith & Family Night entertainer takes the stage, Gocke says he feels duty-bound to make sure they understand that they’ve been given a similar opportunity to “evangelize without beating [listeners] over the head with a Bible.”

“The opportunity to share and provide hope and encouragement to those people [on Faith and Family Night] is different than at most festivals,” he says. “I think the artists are capitalizing on that. I hope so.”

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@ timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP

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