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Billy Graham and the emergence of Christian media.

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From the start, Billy Graham was a media magnet and he knew how to use the power of media. Even most liberals and progressives (although there were exceptions like William Edelen and the Gaylor family/FFRF) could not shoot down this man who wore his faith on the sleeve and actually respected Graham.

Did you know that without Billy Graham, Christian media as we know it today might not have taken off and flourished? In his time and prime there was a Federal Council of Churches that consisted of mostly mainline churches and basically fought to keep “evangelical voices” off the air on both radio and even TV when it was brand new (follow the attendance and the money). When Graham became president of Northwestern Bible College in 1948, he through the college applied for one of the construction permits that the Federal Communications Commission approved of in the 1940’s. Northwest Bible College got the green light from the FCC and a year later KTIS AM signed on in the Twin Cities. Today Northwestern Media owns 18 radio stations (9 FM, 9 AM) and in honor of what Graham did continues to be the media outreach of what is now called the University of Northwestern. You can read more about Graham and Northwestern Media here.

Soon after Northwestern Media and Graham’s inroads into mainstream media, others quickly followed. Most notably Percy Crawford who began his TV program “Youth on the March” on the fleeting ABC Network who also carried Graham’s “Hour of Decision” on their radio network. In 1958 Crawford started his namesake radio company to buy up radio stations and carry full-time Christian formatted programming. Percy Crawford would pass away in October 1960, but his son Don and later grandson Don Jr. would carry on his legacy to this day. While Moody Bible Institute was in radio since 1925, their respected radio network did not talk off until 1958. The same year that the Crawford Broadcasting Company started.

Another important Christian broadcaster Dick Bott grew up in a Christian home and while no stranger to Christian evangelism choose a different path. After marrying his wife, Bott got involved in her father’s radio station selling ads that would air on the respected station. He would later buy and operate a secular station in Salinas/Monterey, California which Bott would eventually sell off. Bott was compelled to build a radio station on consistent Christian programming but with integrity and accountability. Bott bought a country music station in the Kansas City metropolitan area and quickly changed the format and call letters. The station that was KANS-AM became KCCV 760 AM “Kansas City’s Christian Voice” in 1962. It and its FM simulcast sister with the same call letters are still the flagship stations of the now “Bott Radio Network” which consists of now 118 stations that it owns. In 1966 Warren Bolthouse stated Family Life Broadcasting (aka Family Life Radio or FLR) which today owns 43 stations and is now based on Tucson, Arizona.

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Lester Sumrall made his inroads into Christian media stating with WHME-FM in South Bend, Indiana and later into TV with the acquisition of WHMB-TV in Indianapolis and later the sign on of WHME-TV in South Bend. These three stations laid the groundwork for LeSea Broadcasting. Paul and Jan Crouch started their own TV programming with would become known as the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in 1973. The Bible Broadcasting Network signed on in 1971 with a single station in Norfolk, Virginia growing to 49 full power stations.

An FM rock station in Orange County, California KYMS 106.3 which could not compete with the more powerful rock signals of KMET (now KTWV) and KLOS in the greater Los Angeles area found its niche with the emerging Jesus people in 1975. In addition to Christian teaching and talk programs, KYMS also played the fleeting “Jesus Music” that was popular with that respected audience and while KYMS was not the very first Contemporary Christian Music station (that honor went to a station in Lincoln, Nebraska), it was the first one that was successful. KYMS’s run as a Contemporary Christian station would last for 20 years. WHME-FM would jump on this music and eventually spinning it off on a station of its own in the 1990’s. Northwestern Media’s FM stations and FLR would also adopt a CCM format in due time.

Radio broadcaster Bob Anthony also caught on to this emerging genre and would be one of the founders of Educational Media Foundation which signed on a single FM station in Santa Rosa, California in 1982 playing Contemporary Christian music. Today EMF owns and operates over 245 radio stations with its Christian music services K-Love and Air1. Another radio company devoted to Christian programming also was started up around this time. This for-profit company was founded by Stuart Epperson and Edward G. Atsinger III and they still head up this company we know today as Salem Media Group. In the late 1980’s Bob and Felice Augsburg started up what would become know as WayMedia and it’s Way-Fm brand which originally targeted Christian youth with Christian Music that appealed to that respected audience.

The list is almost endless with so many other Christian broadcasters over the years and many not as big as the ones I listed. For better and for worse the Christian media we take for granted, even in the new media likely would not have happened had it not been for Billy Graham.

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