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Christians take to the air with songs of praise

Britain's first religious radio station promises 'not to beat people with a Bible'

Media Correspondent

Fears that Britain's first Christian radio station would be all folksy revivalism seemed confirmed at its press launch yesterday, when three of the presenters picked up a tambourine, a harmonica and a guitar and launched into Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind".

The last time the guitarist Sal Solo reached the radio big time, he was lead singer of the Eighties band Classix Nouveaux who had a hit with "Is it a Dream?".

A similar thought must have crossed his mind as he stared at Cindi Kent, former lead singer of the Sixties band The Settlers, warbling "How many roads must a man walk down?"

Solo, who has worked in broadcasting for decade, will present a weekend Christian music chart show when Premier goes on air in London and the South-east this afternoon. Kent, a former religious producer for Capital Radio, will front an afternoon magazine programme aimed at women, while the third member of the trio, the lead singer of Manfred Mann, Paul Jones, will lead listeners through his collection of Gospel music.

The station's programme director, Mark Seaman, says Premier will offer all the radio standards of news, current affairs, music and chat, but with a Christian twist.

A coffee-time show with phone-ins will cover issues such as health and relationships, an afternoon magazine will deal with more health, holidays and cookery, while the late night cocoa-time slot will be taking in music and showbiz guests. There will be a slice of morning worship and "In Between the Lines", an attempt to make the Bible relevant to modern life.

Premier believes the problem with current religious output is that it consigns faith to broadcasting ghettoes, placing God in a box. Faith becomes narrowly defined in terms of the Church, instead of being placed in the context of daily life. Mr Seaman explains: "People are looking for some sort of moral stance and traditional basics that we can live by." However, he adds, Premier will not preach. "We're not about hitting people over the head with a Bible."

The station's willingness to take a stance has been demonstrated by its refusal to take advertising for the National Lottery, described by Premier's chief executive, Peter Meadows, as a "national evil in conflict with the Christian ethics of the station".

Indications that this latest radio wannabe is ready to take off the gloves in the fight for listeners came this week with the announcement that it would run its own "Thought for the Day", head to head with Radio 4's daily spiritual turn on the Today programme.

The presenters of Premier's "Reflection for the Day" will include Richard Bewes and Elaine Storkey, both poached from the Radio 4 version. The slot underlines Premier's belief that a hefty bulk of its listening will come from the BBC - 37 per cent, according to the station's pre-launch research.