[INTERVIEW] Salvation on the airwaves

Commercial radio is all about entertainment value and big bucks – and no one knows this better than the host and producer of Salvos Radio, Chris Elliott.

After 34 years in the industry, he has heard it all. And between meaningless banter and the top-40 hit, he knows few things fall further from the message of The Salvation Army.

But this experience has led him to possibly the greatest mission field of all – the airwaves. “I’ve always believed in radio as life-changing, although back then even as a Christian I was just in radio because I loved the media,” he tells others.

As Chris talks about Salvos Radio his face lights up. It was while attending Blacktown Corps in Sydney that he knew he wanted to work for the Salvos.

In 2011, he found out about Salvos Radio when he met a former host of the program. He immediately knew this was what he wanted to do with his life.

The show that Chris (pictured below) puts together is heard on more than 110 radio stations every week. This includes both commercial and Christian radio throughout Australia, as well as stations across South East Asia.

Salvos Radio provides a life-giving alternative to your average radio show. It’s all about finding freedom – freedom for the program’s interviewees, and freedom for the listeners. 

How does that work in a 15 or 30-minute show? It’s a difficult task, but few people are as well equipped to sow seeds of hope on radio than Chris.

He uses his extensive commercial radio experience, which has included being an announcer, copywriter, producer and editor, to create the Light and Life program.

The show includes anecdotes, positive music, a psychologist, and a segment called Talkback Matters that features an interview with someone who has found freedom in Christ.

Light and Life began in 2006 and was the initiative of Captain Peter Hobbs, who is now the Corps Officer at Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria. Subsequent presenters have included Major Chris Witts, Lauren Martin and Helen Shield, before Chris took over the microphone.

It is clear that presenting is Chris’ forte and, as he talks about the stories he shares every week, his face reflects the empathy he feels for his guests. “I speak to these people who are so broken and my heart really wants to know their story, how they found freedom and to get that story out there so that other people who are struggling can hear it as well and be rescued,” he says.

Just a few days before others spoke to Chris, he had interviewed Lee. Contemplating suicide, Lee was offered $25,000 to “take a suitcase” on a flight from Thailand to South America.

He was discovered by the authorities and sentenced to death, later reduced to 100 years in the “Bangkok Hilton”.

While in prison, he was given a Bible by a missionary and read about how Jesus came “to set the captives free”. Lee prayed: “Jesus. please get me out of here because it’s too much for me to bear.”

Within 10 years Lee received a pardon from the King of Thailand. Today, Lee is still a follower of Jesus.

This is the hook that keeps Chris going when the stories get too heavy. “My heart just breaks for these people – but [it’s] the fact that they’ve found freedom, and in every case when they’ve cried out to God for help, God has responded,” he says.

Creating meaningful content comes with its challenges. The show’s demographic age range is 25- 54, but it is also played during family friendly periods of the day.

This means there is constant tension between keeping the raw details of each interviewee’s road to redemption and censoring a segment so it stays on air.

For some stations, it’s the difference between the program being picked up or dropped. But for Chris there’s really no question; the significance of the program lies in the quality of the content because this is what transforms lives.

“It’s a tough gig,” he says. “If I was to make it a lot easier to listen to, [more non-Christian stations] would play it, but what would be the point if it’s not addressing the reality of the issue?”

For more information or to find where Salvos Radio is played on a station near you, go to salvos.org.au/radio