Why does ‘Real Life’ feature agnostic and atheist guests?

Every now and then we receive a letter or email from a supporter with a query: Why was there no mention of God on tonight’s CBA’s programme? And why does CBA have non-Christians as guests?

Our brief from Newstalk ZB is that we must interview a wide variety of guests… Christian and non-Christian… and that they be well-known (or ‘house-hold names’). We have the opportunity to talk with all of them about God, but not all of them are coming from a Christian perspective, and some specifically ask not to. Interestingly – many people who have not been known for their Christian commitment have come out with some very strong and positive statements about their faith in God.

Our audience is mostly non-Christian, so we need to keep them interested, and for them, hearing a Christian interview another Christian about faith, week after week, may well become a turn off. It is also less robust and convincing than hearing John interview people from various backgrounds.
John himself put this very well (2009):

“For the last five years I have hosted Real Life for CBA, which is broadcast live on Sunday nights on the Newstalk ZB network. For the last ten survey periods it has been the top rating programme nationwide – people really are listening in large numbers, which is both exciting and humbling. Each week I interview one high profile individual for the whole hour. We aim to get past current activities, beyond the life story and into what they believe. Sometimes, sadly, it just reveals how bleak and empty their hearts really are. But after 230 guests on Real Life, three-quarters of them have admitted on air to having some form of faith. Sometimes it is only a vestigial remnant, and other times it’s far from orthodox but, never-the-less, the majority of people on the programme alluded to a spiritual dimension in their life. And because we have created a platform where spiritual things can be talked about, if my guests do have a truly Christ-centred life then their testimony comes across very clearly.”

Commercial radio is a high-pressured, competitive industry and if a programme doesn’t capture and hold an audience then the station cannot afford to carry it. We can’t expect them to broadcast our material just because it is ‘worthy’; it has to be, first and foremost, good radio that will attract (rather than alienate) listeners and advertisers.