• John Woods

Video Killed the Radio Star


Photo by Alberto Bobbera on Unsplash


It was the beginning of the 1980's. The supremacy of radio was being challenged by the use of music video services.


When MTV started its 24-hour-music channel on 1st August 1981, Video Killed the Radio Star was first music video they broadcast.

Video killed the radio star video killed the radio star In my mind and in my car we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far pictures came and broke your heart look I’ll play my VCR.

Well, the last line reminds us that the march of technological time just keeps rolling on. VCR? We still have one, but they’re largely museum pieces today.


It reminded me too of the award-winning 2011 French language film The Artist. It’s a striking portrayal of the moment between 1927–1932 that silent movie stars had to face the challenge of “talkies”, that would replace silent movies.


It was a crisis for many film stars, who found that their skill set did not fit the demands of a different cinematic format. The film depicts a brilliant older actor who commands the silent screen, whose star fades when he tries to make the transfer to talking parts.


That’s settled then: move with the times; adapt or be left behind.


Then of course there are vinyl records. The compact disc seemed to have killed off vinyl records for good. People could get rid of them quick enough. Yet in the last decade vinyl has made a comeback. The turntable is cool again.


The new is not necessarily the best. Many churches have found that on Zoom there can be many moments of uncertainty, time delays and unpredictable happenings, including on Sunday 17th May a temporary complete collapse occurred of the whole Zoom platform. One tech guy suggested that it was because so many churches are using Zoom to facilitate after coffee chat following their services.


Zoom, like the internet in general, has evolved in an unpredictable and sometimes chaotic way.


Or, like the M25 motorway, it’s been put in place to cope with the volume of traffic generated within and around London. The problem was that the capacity of the motorway was soon taken up and parts of the motorway became like some of the biggest car parks in the world.


The Lockdown is putting some new tools into the preachers’ toolkit.

But remember where you put the other tools; they might come in handy later.


Coming back to Video Killed the Radio Star. Jolyon Mitchell, in his book Visually Speaking, references the video when suggesting that contemporary preachers could learn a thing or two about the medium of radio. Mitchell suggests that there are four words than preachers could learn from radio:


Listen, picture, translate and edit.


Listen to the radio.What word choices do presenters make to communicate with their hearers?

In the old days when the BBC did ball by ball commentary on cricket, both on the TV and the radio, some people chose to watch the cricket but listen to the radio commentary. The Test Match Special radio team were fun, but they were also very good at describing.


Picture the questions and concerns of the listeners and attempt to graphically describe what you see in terms that can be easily grasped by the hearers. Descriptive language and the use of stories turn people’s ears into eyes.


Translate the Christian message into the language of our day.

“Public speech needs to be translated into accessible, conversational and vivid terms.” (Jolyon Mitchell Visually Speaking, T&T Clark, 1999 p.229).

What are the fresh metaphors we can use in our preaching to grab the attention of congregations who live in an image saturated society?


Edit out the unnecessary, verbose or jargon words. Strive to be plain, economical and focused in your preaching. John Stott used to say that a sermon ought always to sound as if it were about 20 minutes long. Of course, we’ve all heard sermons that felt like 20 minutes long, but they had only been going on for 5 minutes!


Preachers need to learn to be adaptable and nimble.


It takes wisdom and skill to take a timeless message and communicate it effectively over a new medium.


It’s important to hone fresh skills, but not forget the old ones.

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