Written by Gregg Brekke
When it comes to media consumption, the Rev. Robin Blair wants to give parents every opportunity to make healthy choices for their children.
"It's really important to me that children have access online to music, scripture and peer conversation that is not influenced by corporate advertising and does not usurp parental authority," said Blair, founder of Common Good Radio, Internet radio programming designed to lift up voices of children and family.
"Kids can be entertained without any commercials that try to persuade them to desire something unhealthy," said Blair, who also serves a "two-point charge" with Sandstone UCC and Finlayson United Methodist Church in Sandstone, Minn. "Common Good Radio accepts no corporate advertising because kids are not for sale."
The fallout of traditional media advertising targeted at children cannot be underestimated, she said. "All the ads that your kids are exposed to matter. They shape young minds and hearts, identity and perception."
Roots of Blair's labor of love are traced to her street ministry in central New York state – and to one youth in particular whom she said she believed in, despite his occasional run-ins with the law.
"It made me realize we cannot assume that children recognize their own worth to God and to life's purpose," she said. "They don't know it until we invite them to it."
Starting with a vision in 2008, Blair rolled out the welcome mat. Common Good Radio web streaming began in 2009 and is now heard in 60 countries. Especially catching on with the 10-and-younger crowd, the programming is "simply an attempt to support a compassionate lifestyle," said Blair. "Christian, interfaith, compassionate, you name it – the common good."
On Common Good Radio, a listener is apt to hear a child's voice saying, "Telling the truth is better;" the song "Big Yellow Taxi;" the parable of the Good Samaritan; or the song "Jesus Loves the Little Children."
By submitting audio clips of themselves reflecting on spirit, youth learn to participate safely in online media. Blair encourages youth groups and families to submit recorded reflections on scripture or concepts for use between songs. She also accepts recordings burned on CD – like the one the missionary in Bolivia sent from her Sunday school class.
Blair said she recently observed youth from her church dancing to some of their favorite music. After she heard sexually explicit lyrics, she asked whether they knew what they were hearing – and its implications. "They said, 'Oh, we don't listen to the words. We just really like the beat.'
"Probably that is true for the most part," said Blair. "On the other hand, if you are repeatedly exposed to something like that, don't you pick up on it a little bit?"
Before answering the call to ministry, Blair had been a recording artist, television personality and radio program director. TV program creator is also on her resume.
Those experiences prepared Blair to envision an online radio outreach. She started Common Good Radio with support from the Upper New York Annual Conference, where she was serving at the time.
The station's revenue covers royalties and programming upgrades, but no staff. Blair is appointed to Common Good Radio as an extension ministry of Upper New York Annual Conference, but is not compensated. (Grand Island, N.Y., Trinity United Methodist Church holds the station's fiscal responsibility.)
She accepts online donations for Common Good Radio and is seeking a fundraising volunteer so she can devote time to developing projects such as live broadcasts or a parenting podcast, or starting Faithdreams, a sister station focused on bedtime music.
"Other parent issues have to do with technology, video games, cell phones, computer time," she said. "I would like to see evening programming that offers parents a chance to have those discussions."
Blair's future programming vision also involves clergy podcasting. Discussion topics might include the challenges of living in a religiously pluralistic culture while still building up the body of Christ, she said.
"How do we respectfully hold on to what we believe our faith is calling us to live into – and yet the biggest picture that God provides us is that nothing was made that wasn't made by God. And that's the common good.
"Welcome to Common Good Radio!"