Catching Up With Gerard Bonner
Gerard Bonner is the founder and host of Bonnerfide Radio, the leading online radio station for inspirational music. Bonnerfide Radio delivers programming with an unmatched level of quality and creativity that more than lives up to its tagline of “Radio the way it’s supposed to be”.
Bonnerfide Radio is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and listeners can subscribe to the show on iTunes for free. Such access has resulted in traffic from 47 states and 55 different countries. Awards for Internet Radio Station of the Year seem to be a perfect fit for Bonnerfide Radio, as it won the GMWA Crystal Mic Media Award and has been nominated twice for a Stellar Award in that category. Bonnerfide Radio’s programming recently expanded to include two new segments, LoveLudes with Tre Thomas on Mondays and Women Listen with YannyYan, ShariLachelle, and Mysti on Wednesdays.
Gerard recently announced Bonnerfide Radio’s first international partnership with M-Brio Music and M.E.X. Magazine. Bonnerfide Radio will feature a new program called UK FIYAH, which will be hosted by M-Brio Music founders Adam and Matt Brooks to present the hottest Christian and gospel music from the UK and Europe. In return, Gerard will bring the top 10 US hits to London by contributing a monthly column in M.E.X. Magazine.
In addition to Bonnerfide Radio, Gerard hosts The Gospel Beat, which airs in Pittsburg, PA and New Haven, CT and Brotha Live, a radio talk show with Jesse Duckworth and Jamil Willis that discusses issues that face Christian men. If that doesn’t keep him busy enough, Gerard also operates Bonnerfide Photography, which has covered several events including BET’s Bobby Jones Gospel, the Stellar Awards, and the Hero Tour featuring Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary.
While Gerard’s many successful ventures are certainly impressive, perhaps the most inspiring thing about him is that he often encourages others to pursue their dreams as well. We had a great conversation, where he shared how he started Bonnerfide Radio, how he prepares for the episodes, and the new partnership with M-Brio Music.
Mimi: What three words would you choose to describe the Bonnerfide brand?
Gerard: exciting, innovative and groundbreaking
Mimi: Your tagline is “Radio the way it’s supposed to be”. How did you determine what radio is supposed to be and how it should be delivered?
Gerard: That’s a good question. I kinda went back to my childhood. I remember being glued to mainstream radio because radio would take chances and introduce new artists and styles that you hadn’t heard before. So, as we look at what radio has kind of morphed into these days, in pretty much any genre, you find the same kinda folks that end up dominating the airways. So, the goal was to really make radio fun again and give a platform to people who aren’t normally heard because the independent music scene, as I’ve seen over my career, has always been the place where new and the exciting music takes place. It’s nothing against what’s mainstream but it’s always that independent undercurrent that really shapes the next direction and next wave of music. So, that was the idea and design behind it.
I didn’t know where it was gonna go. I was just like “We’re gonna do this because I really feel a strong passion for it and love for music. So, we’ll do it and see what happens.” I have a tendency to write down my playlists and kinda store them away in a book. One day I looked through the pages and ran across my original plan for Bonnerfide Radio, which was a two-hour show twice a week. So, going from that to where we are now is amazing.
Mimi: I’ve enjoyed reading your blog posts. Last November, you wrote one called Costly Cause where you said that “living the dream is not for the weak at heart but the cause of your dream far outweighs the cost of your dream”. What is the cause of your dream?
Gerard: I would say that really the cause of it, and I don’t want to sound corny or anything, is to simply make an impact on our world. I don’t know that I really understood at the time what it would do, but what I knew was how music impacted me. I used to work in retail 10-15 years ago and when I did, I just remember the power of music and how you could tell somebody what was on an album and they would love it and then watch it change their world. It was like gosh, we get the opportunity to be a part of people’s lives on a daily basis. Why not use music to change their world?
We’re very strategic about what we do. We don’t randomly throw songs on. All of the music has purpose and meaning to it. I want somebody after they’re done listening to Bonnerfide Radio to have an experience that says my life is better because of this. You should be able to help people with what you’re putting together. So, my cause is to really impact the world and bring life.
Mimi: What are some of the costs of your dream?
Gerard: I will say that if there’s anything that caught me by surprise, it was the fact that I didn’t know just what the cost would be. The process to get here was really interesting. I wasn’t prepared for some of the doors that would be closed. Prior to this, I had started a website with three friends called Gospelflava and I was doing that while working a full-time job. So, basically I never really looked at it as my income source. A lot of us in music do that so it’s nothing against that. But, what I wasn’t prepared for was that this would end up being the job.
I was laid off from my traditional job and I was like ok, I’m gonna do this while I get another job. I didn’t realize until several months later that I was really fighting against God’s will for my life. I was thinking that was the side gig and the hobby and He’s like no, this is your life. I finished at the top of my college class but could hardly get an interview anywhere. People kinda call me a dream pusher because I just really believe in launching people into what they’re destined to do. I remember during those first few months, I was pushing them and then on the back end I was looking for jobs.
I will never forget this as long as I live. One day I was just telling someone “Stop running. God has something specific for you to do”. I had an interview scheduled for later that day. When I went to the interview, the woman asked me what I do and I said “Well, I got this internet radio situation and you know it’s not bringing me all the money I want but…” and the woman literally told me in the interview “I think you probably still need to be doing that”. I’ve never had that happen in an interview before and I literally started laughing and was like “Ok God, I get it. I get it.” I never went on another job interview again.
So, I think the cost that I didn’t count was that I didn’t anticipate this being my new way of life. I think that’s what purpose and passion will do for you. Sometimes you think you’ll stumble into something that is your hobby or you just like it, but it’s really what you’ve been put on the planet to do. A lot of times we fight against God’s way of doing things because it’s a bit unconventional. It’s not the go in, do the 9 to 5, grab your check, and come home. It’s something that’s gonna require more work but it’s gonna impact more lives as well so that’s the cost that I didn’t initially count. And this is the funny part, when I finally said “Ok, this is what I’m gonna do”, everything changed.
Mimi: Bonnerfide Radio recently aired its 400th episode. What are two things you’ve learned about how to sustain a successful radio show?
Gerard: The first thing would be to always be relevant. You have to keep your hands on the pulse of what’s going on. I think a lot of times people are guilty of catching something after it gets hot. When you catch it after it has gotten hot, everyone has already done it so you’re kinda looking like the person who jumped onto the bandwagon. The other piece is to really be a forward thinker. Try to anticipate things before your audience does because when you program something, you really help shape how people listen. So, take the time to actually program. You gotta program effectively because at the end of the day, music still impacts people. So, be relevant and set the trend, don’t follow the trend.
Mimi: I’m sure you receive lots of music submissions. How do you determine what music makes the cut?
Gerard: First of all, I make sure that it makes musical sense. It has to kind of grab me. I try to think about our listeners too because they are in the chat room and they are very vocal. They’re not the type to boo people like at the Apollo, but they will let you know if they really like or don’t like something. When I see them saying “Oh my God, where can I get this”, that’s the first sign that they love it. Usually if they don’t like it, they’ll either ask “What is this?” or they’ll get really quiet. So, when I listen to music, usually if it impacts me, it’ll impact them. And, it has to sound good. I’m all for breaking new artists but the quality of what you do has to rival the quality of what I’m already playing so that it doesn’t sound any different on the station. We get some amazing music. People are really out there grinding.
Mimi: I have to say that I really love LoveLudes. How did that show come together?
Gerard: When we talk about radio the way it’s supposed to be, the one thing that not too many folks in radio have done is create one platform with multiple genres. I just believe that when people put their ipods on, they don’t just have one genre of music, they have all genres of music. If they don’t, it’s usually because they haven’t been exposed to certain things. The LoveLudes concept is really something that I think is long overdue because no matter what your religious or ethnic background is, you love, you wanna be loved, you’ve been in love, you’ve fallen out of love, you’ve been hurt by love. So, love has impacted you in some kind of way. Certainly on the Christian side of it there’s not a lot of music that addresses it. The purpose of life music is to have music that addresses where you are, regardless of the genre.
Tre Thomas is an incredible artist in his own right. He had the idea for the show and I was all for it. He basically runs the whole thing and does all of the music selections and concepts behind it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard because no matter what the musical selections are, they always have a theme and it’s always designed to really help you where you are. He will often have a topic that we’ll talk about in the chat room and it never ceases to amaze me how somebody is always helped. It has really reached another segment of the audience that we’ve always wanted to reach. I’m so proud of what Tre has been doing.
Mimi: Speaking of new things, can you tell us more about your new partnership?
Gerard: Absolutely. We are so excited about this new partnership with M-Brio Music and M.E.X. Magazine. They are one of the largest and fastest-growing Christian websites in the UK. This partnership is a lot bigger than I realized. Their audience is huge and they’ve created a new digital magazine, M.E.X. magazine, which does a great job of fusing what’s really hot in the world of Christian and gospel music in the UK and the US. As part of the partnership, we are now providing the top 10 countdown for that magazine, which is incredible. On the flip side, we’re going to be coming together to produce a new show called UK FIYAH, which will give us the exclusive portal to what’s going on in the UK. So, we’ll be the first ones in the US to actually get the really hot music coming from the UK.
We are excited about that because is it expands the visibility of both our brands in these different markets. What Adam and Matt Brooks are doing in London is amazing. I told you earlier about how I just thought this was gonna be a two-hour, twice a week situation and to be at a point now where we have an international partnership is just amazing. I’m honored to be connected to those guys. The show will be starting later this month and issue four of the magazine is available now so you can check it out.
Mimi: As you know, we’re seeing more artists releasing their music independently. How do you see Bonnerfide Radio fitting into the indie movement?
Gerard: We have been fortunate to get in with so many independent artists in multiple genres. We’re always going to push what’s happening in the independent music scene because we have garnered, thankfully, the reputation of being the first ones with the new, innovative, and up to the minute music. So, a lot of folks are looking to us to figure out what’s hot and then they’re patterning what they’re doing after what we’re doing. Many artists will come to us and world premiere their single before it goes to terrestrial radio. I think people are going to look to us to find out what’s hot, what’s next, what’s new, and then it will fall into their programming. I’m way ok with that because at the end of the day, the artist wins, the genre wins, and the music wins. I really want us to be a place where independent artists know that they can come and their music can be heard.
Mimi: You forgot one group. The listeners win too.
Gerard: Yeah, a lot of people are saying that people don’t buy music anymore. That’s just not true. We have a connection with Amazon and iTunes where people can purchase music directly from our site. People hear the music and they immediately go buy. The consumer will always be the most important part of the industry because if what we do doesn’t provoke them to respond, then there is no industry. So, you’re right, the consumer ends up winning in this.
Mimi: I have the classic desert island question for you. If you had to part with all of your music except three albums, which three would you have to keep?
Gerard: Oh man… (laughing) Ok, let me think about this. I guess the first one would have to be Michael Jackson – Off the Wall. I gotta have that. Oooh this is hard. I’ll say the second one would be Donald Lawrence and Company – The Law of Confession. There’s just so much to that one. Kim Burrell’s Live in Concert album is still epic.
Mimi: Can you suggest a good b-side song that you wish more people knew about?
Gerard: Ooh, let me see if I can grab two. Number one is S.O.S. from VaShawn Mitchell. Vanessa Bell Armstrong redid it on her last album. I’ve told VaShawn this tons of times but that’s the song that literally saved my life. It’s on an album called Believe in Your Dreams. A lot of people know him for Nobody Greater but he did like three or four records before that and that’s one of those gems. If you have a dream or you have things you wanna do, that’s a great record to listen to.
I figured I’d go on both sides of the coin for this and the other one is The Reason from Musiq Soulchild’s Soulstar album. I don’t know how Musiq does it, but he’s one of a few artists who always says what I’m thinking and can’t really say. We understand that God is the reason why we’re here, but I think that particular song really speaks to the virtue of having important people in your world and celebrating them. So, I would pick those two songs. I know there are a million others but those are right off the top of the brain. (laughing)
Mimi: Is there anything else you want us to know?
Gerard: I just want to encourage people to believe in your dreams. Sometimes it may be an unusual journey to get there, but the thing is, go. Sometimes we have great things inside of us but we’re too scared to embrace them. I just want to encourage people to go after whatever is in your heart to do because if that’s the thing that causes you to have early mornings and late nights, and it’s something you’re passionate about, it will ultimately be the thing that fuels your life and leaves your legacy. So, by all means go after your dream no matter what it is and it will make a difference in the world.
Thanks Gerard for a great chat! I’ll keep you posted about the debut of UK FIYAH but in the meantime, join me in spreading the word about Bonnerfide Radio. Those of you who have an iPod, iPhone, or iPad, can download the Bonnerfide app from the Apple store and listen while you’re on the go.