Canton's WNPQ

       Not if contemporary Christian radio station WNPQ 95.9 FM and deejay Dean Richards have anything to do with it.

       Started only a year and a half ago, WNPQ is trying to reach out to the youth in the Canton area. In particular, deejay Dean Richards is a voice of hope to young people in the community. He offers entertainment that is accessible and appealing to teenagers, yet serious enough to get the message out. His nightly spot on the air, the Christian Jukebox, is popular with the pre-teen to age 25 crowd. Richards takes requests every night and often converses with the callers on the air.

        "We offer an option to kids. You don't have to hang out at the bars or party on the weekends. You can stay on the right path and still have a good time. That's what we're here for," says Richards.

       Competing with peer pressure? Making the Gospel fun? Yes, says Richards. "Our goal is to be an 'easy in' to the Gospel. We let our listeners hear the Word through the music. It's enjoyable that way, giving them a chance to worship and socialize at the same time. We really have a heart to get out a godly message without preaching or Bible beating."

       Getting the message out involves teen dances, roller skating nights, covering high school football games, and family fun nights sponsored by WNPQ. Dean Richards enjoys meeting the listeners and having the chance to be a friend to them. "It's great to see the fellowship going on. Youth groups are hooking up with other youth groups and the kids are realizing that they're not alone out there. We get a lot of response from parents because they appreciate having an opportunity to listen to music and participate in activities the whole family can enjoy."

       The station has a fourfold goal for its listeners, according to Richards: 1. Get them to listen. 2. Get them to listen to the words and the spiritual message. 3. Get them to church if they've never been. 4. Get them to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. "The music is good and can draw youth in on that point alone," says Richards, "but when they really listen to the words, you know you're making an impact in a fun way for God. It's a privilege to minister to the youth in that way."

       Dean Richards, who has been a Sunday school teacher and is currently a youth football coach, is personally drawn to ministering to the youth. "I think the youth has been overlooked as the future of the church. They need to learn how to become good Christians or our churches won't last. They've been neglected on Friday nights for a long time. I hope our station and the Christian Jukebox can give them a place to have fun without compromising their morals."

       Richards is not afraid to get serious when the situation calls for it, however. When a murder and assault of two teen girls occurred in the Dover/New Philadelphia area, Richards took calls for 45 minutes to talk with grieving teens. Disobeying what is conventional radio - talking after every two or three songs - he ministered to the teens in need of a friend. Another night, after a caller reported that a friend had committed suicide, Richards prayed on the air with teens and spoke from the heart to spread God's message of hope. "Sometimes I'm more than just a deejay," he says. "Teens call in looking for a friend, a counselor, a pastor. It's an opportunity to minister to them that doesn't come up in other radio formats. I tell them that if they're talking to us, they should also be talking to God. We're just trying to put the heavenly and the earthly together."

       Everyone recognizes the big three of popular culture: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. According to Dean Richards and WNPQ, it's more important to draw people to the real big three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.