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  • Writer's pictureJoel Caballero

The History of the Christian Music Charts

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Now you're probably wondering, "How are the songs charted and made?" "What makes them different from songs that chart on the Billboard Hot 100?" "Where did you get your chart information?"This article is about the history of the Christian music charts.

According to author Jeffrey Lee Brothers in his book Hot Hits: AC Charts 1978 – 2001, "When CCM Magazine published music charts, it received data from a specific number of radio stations regarding the number of times a song was played. This airplay data was then assigned points and weights based on the cumulative number of plays per song. The result was a weekly chart that ranked the most played, and presumably, most popular songs. The AC (Adult contemporary) charts have long covered the most radio stations in the Christian music industry. The charts themselves have gone through several changes over the years. When CCM first published its radio hits charts, AC was not a recognized format. What is today considered adult contemporary was then covered under the title of contemporary hits. On September 30, 1981 CCM published its first AC chart, but only for a year. CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio) and AC merged again on October 6, 1982 until CCM split them again on May 6, 1985 to reflect the current formats."

So now here is the history of how the Christian music charts were made, once again from author Jeffrey Lee Brothers' Hot Hits: AC Charts 1978 – 2001:

From July 1978 to September 1986, charts were derived essentially the same way, however, they were published monthly. In 1983, MusicLine was launched publishing their charts monthly. On September 30, 1986 MusicLine charts became bi-weekly and was renamed The MusicLine Update. It published Christian Album charts as well as four radio charts: CHR (Christian Hit Radio)/Pop, AC (Adult Contemporary), Inspirational/Praise and Rock. While the magazine focused on the contemporary Christian music industry-related content that was previously included in CCM Magazine, CCM Magazine retained the consumer-related content. In 1988, The MusicLine Update was renamed The CCM Update. On June 15, 1992, The CCM Update began publishing their charts weekly. In 1999, Salem Media Group acquires CCM Magazine and then on April 15, 2002, Salem closed The CCM Update. At that point, CCM turned over its data and charts to Radio & Records, which continued to publish weekly charts until July 2006. Billboard magazine has since 2003 taken over the Christian charts with their Hot Christian Songs, Christian Airplay and Christian AC Airplay.

Billboard, at the time, focused only on Christian album sales in the 1980s and 1990s with the Top Christian Albums chart. They did not have a music songs chart for Christian music during those periods until 2003. Radio and Records is also a trade publication magazine like Billboard, except they cover radio airplay charts. In April 2002, The CCM Update was covering the Christian music radio charts by way of Radio & Records (R&R) as well as Christian music industry news up until 2008. Before R&R folded for good a couple of years later, they still continued publishing the Christian music charts but without The CCM Update attachment.

Billboard magazine still continues to publish their Christian music charts to this day.

These are the books I use for chart information when I do articles on the Christian artists you see:

Jeffrey Lee Brothers has published two books from CCM Magazine:Hot Hits: Christian Hit Radio : 20 Years of Charts, Artist Bios, and More is a good reference book but is is hard to find. I was one of the fortunate ones to get this book by mail. The book covers 20 years from 1978 to 1997 of Contemporary (or Christian) Hit Radio, which is Christian music's version of Top 40 radio.

The other book is called Hot Hits: Adult Contemporary Charts 1978 -2001. This is more or less the same book as the Christian Hit Radio book, except it covers the AC charts from 1978 to 2001 and is more extensive. This book is available at Amazon.

Now this book is pretty much an extension of Hot Hits: Christian Hit Radio called Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music by Mark Allan Powell. Like the Hot Hits books, it covers the CHR years from 1978 to 2001, more than 1,000 pages so it's a big book and is available at Amazon.

For music chart information to cover the early 2000s, I go to a website called World Radio History where they have back issues of music trade magazines of Billboard and Radio & Records (R&R) in pdf format. You can check it out here.

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