Bill Gaither’s enLighten

by | Mar 22, 2024 | Commentary & Observations, Music Business, Radio

If you were to ask the general population to name any southern gospel artist, odds are that Bill Gaither will be mentioned quite often. The Gaither brand is one that is heavily recognized outside the genre, especially since the late-90’s when the Homecoming video series was at its peak. To many, “Gaither” is a bit of a genre all its own.

And this is apparently the fear of SiriusXM radio listeners, as southern gospel station, enLighten (channel 65), has been officially rebranded as “Bill Gaither’s enLighten.” According to the Facebook post on Gaither Music’s page:

Now, when I read that particular post myself, my first reaction was very similar to what some other listeners have expressed – “Does this mean only Gaither-associated artists will be played?” This was compounded by SXM’s main page:

Of course, this was the main SXM page, so that’s all listeners, not just gospel music. As I read through the comments, many were mocking the station/format (one in particular claimed that Bill looked like he was a cast member of “The Righteous Gemstones,” which I personally found hilarious), although there were some concerns voiced from actual listeners here and there.

Meanwhile, artists by and large seem to be celebrating the announcement (and let’s be honest – what are your chances of getting played if you aren’t at least trying to play nice?). Gerald Wolfe took the more straight-forward approach:

Others have given a more defensive (and snarky) response, with one artist referencing how the Classic Country station was rebranded as Willie’s Roadhouse without significantly modifying the channel’s format. So far, I haven’t seen any artist publicly denounce the name/brand change, but again, that’s to be expected.

Now, let’s look at what REALLY is happening here…

The station known as enLighten has had its ups and downs over the years. It has changed ownership hands more than once, and was even removed from the primary lineup at one point. Its status on the provider has always been in flux. It’s also not the only station to be rebranded, as previous noted – the classic country station was rebranded as “Willie’s Roadhouse,” and the only thing that really changed was the name. The music stayed mostly unchanged – it’s not just a “Willie Nelson and his favorite songs” station.

That is what appears to be happening here, as well. Yes, Bill Gaither oversees a massive musical enterprise that bears the his name, but that doesn’t mean that that enterprise will be the ones making all decisions on enLighten. In fact, I’m willing to bet that, if anything, it’s a brand license/consultation agreement only – Bill himself may offer suggestions, but I doubt the radio station will be his top personal priority, nor do I fully believe SXM’s comment about playlists being “curated” by Gaither (beyond the Homecoming Radio show, anyway).

And in case you are still dubious, as I wrote this post, I had enLighten playing in the background (my family has a subscription, as we do a lot of traveling). I listened to a total of 10 songs. Of those 10, four artists could be considered “Gaither associated” (having recorded an album under the Gaither Music banner) – Guy Penrod, the Hoppers, Adam Crabb, and the Booth Brothers. The remaining tracks were the Jordan Family Band, Anthem Edition, the Inspirations, Triumphant, and the Talley Trio. And none of those tracks were from a Homecoming taping – they were all studio cuts. While 40% may seem like a high number, you also have to consider that AT LEAST 40% of the southern gospel music industry has had at least SOME association with Bill Gaither, so the overlap is impossible to avoid.

(Full disclosure, an hour later, I turned the station back on and heard another Hoppers song; in my opinion, this should be seen less as a promotion of Gaither artists and more just a continuous habit the station has had of playing the same artists over and over.)

An important designation is that the station is simply “Bill Gaither’s enLighten.” It is NOT being re-named “Homecoming Radio,” or carrying anything with the “Homecoming” name on it. That was probably done on purpose to ensure listeners that it’s not just going to be “The Best Of Every Homecoming Album Ever Made” on a 24/7 loop with David Phelps thrown in. It’s still a southern gospel music station playing music from a variety of artists and labels; it just now has Gaither’s name on it for recognition.

I should also note that, shortly after the initial announcement, the Facebook page bio was updated with the following bio:

Bill Gaither’s enLighten. Uplifting, harmony-driven Gospel music with stories, inspiration and hope from iconic singer/songwriter Bill Gaither. Plus music from The GVB, Booth Brothers, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Karen Peck & New River, Greater Vision & more

Sounds to me like the only thing really changing is the fact that Bill now handles the station ID’s, bumpers, intro’s, and overall in-between-songs content (all pre-recorded).

If you are still unhappy with SXM and Bill Gaither’s enLighten, there’s always Singing News Radio, Pandora, and any number of streaming platforms that will allow you to build YOUR playlist with songs that YOU get to pick. There are also local terrestrial stations (if you can find one locally), or your own music collection. SXM is just one option, and if you don’t like it, no one is taking away your other options.

So, before you go and panic over Bill Gaither “taking over” enLighten, stop, listen, and think – the station programming (so far) has not drastically changed. If anything, it may improve in quality over time. And if your goal is to draw in more listeners from the general public, why not attach a name they might recognize?

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Kyle Boreing

Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

9 Comments

  1. Daniel H

    After reading the reports, comments, and this well written article I’d definitely call it a plus for the station and an olive branch for gospel music.
    Sure I mainly listen to the Real Southern Gospel radio app and will point anyone unhappy that way.
    I’d be glad to listen to both and may even give it an opportunity to have something that’s been missing (mostly) over the years- a dj.

    Reply
  2. SCOTTY R. SEARAN

    Well I have listen to Enlighted, but I prefer other internet options such as My Harbor Radio and and Truckers Chapel Radio. They are both Southern Gospel and Truckers Chapel Radio plays also country Gospel and Bluegrass Gospel.
    Enlightened and Bill Gaither seems to be drifting away from its traditional Southern roots. Bill Gaither has become too contemporary.

    Reply
  3. Cynthia Heaver

    I hope they do not forget to play groups like the Erwins, Gold City, Kingdom Heirs, Greater Vision, Zane & Donna King. This was what really got me excited about other gospel music.

    Reply
    • Kyle Boreing

      While the programming is leaning heavily into the Gaither brand, I have heard quite a few “non-Gaither” artists in the last week still.

      Reply
      • Henry (Larry) Reader

        14 minutes every hour of Gaither commercials.

        Reply
        • Stephanie Smith

          I’ve noticed the save thing. We subscribed to sxm primarily because of enlighten and now I just really don’t see any point in continuing the subscription. I’m ahead sick of hearing Bill talk about himself. Self praise and glorification is so unappealing.

          Reply
  4. Vivian Brewer

    I subscribe to Sirius XM just for Enlighten and haven’t been pleased with the all Bill Gaither show (or so it seems). I don’t see a reason to renew.

    Reply
  5. Janie ingram

    I do not like the change. Enlighten Southern Gospel was perfect the way it was. Gaither is nothing but a self promoting entertainer. I mute him every time he starts talking. I’d much rather hear the Bible verses!

    Reply
  6. Hensley Ronald

    I don’t like the change. Hate to be negative but too much Bill Gather talking.

    Reply

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