Non-Christian listeners are getting tired of some of the messages in mainstream country," says Rich Tiner of Morningstar Radio Network, the only syndication of 24-hour Christian country music. He acknowledges that "country music will continue to be country music, including all of its elements—drinking, cheating, loving, leaving." Yet, the resurgence of mainstream country music in the last five years has brought with it a new genre: Christian/positive country music. Some think it has a significant evangelistic potential.

The trend has two overlapping facets. Christian country, produced on Christian or mainstream labels, and played on about 80 radio stations, is overtly Christian, with an explicit gospel message. Positive country is only implicitly Christian, conveying biblical values but not necessarily a gospel message. Played on about 1,600 stations, it is also produced on Christian and mainstream labels, although music by non-Christians may be included if it conveys a message compatible with such biblical principles as faith.

The idea to use a positive country message to reach non-Christians began two years ago. Rick Bowles, now marketing director for Word Nashville, then worked for CDX, the major compilation disk service in mainstream country music, where he produced a compilation disk of Christian country that he called "positive country" to gain mainstream acceptance. When CDX offered positive country to its stations, about 700 requested the disk in the first week. A new company, Positive Country, was created to be an independent compilation service devoted to providing positive entertainment and carrying a Christian message into mainstream country music.

Of the stations Positive Country serves, about 1,300 are mainstream country formats that use the disk for weekend programming. Some deejays slip positive country cuts into regular rotation, too. "As they've listened to the disks, a lot of them have just been blown out 'Who are these people? This stuff is great!' " reports Thom Granger, executive director of Positive Country. "Airplay of these artists on mainstream country radio is happening every day."

Contemporary Christian music artists rarely receive airplay on mainstream pop rock radio, says Granger, but the country audience is a churched group, open to traditional values and biblical principles, which allows positive country to be part of the diversity of country music rather than a subgenre of Christian music.

Says Vince Wilcox, whose 1993 debut album helped set the standard for Christian/positive country, "Any opportunity we have to celebrate family and faithfulness, to celebrate a Christian heritage, is good for our culture."

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