- The beginning of religious broadcasting can be pinpointed to January 2, 1921, when the evening vesper services of the Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was aired on KDKA, the first radio station to receive a commercial license. The program was a success, and similar programs popped up on other stations around the country. In 1923, Aimee Semple McPherson became the first person to receive an FCC license to open her own religious station, KFSG, in Los Angeles. McPherson also became the first woman to deliver a sermon on the air. Two years later, Paul Rader (1879-1938), a minister with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Chicago, moved to acquire his own station, WJBT. Over the next two years, some 50 religious stations came into operation. Most of these did not survive the formation of the Federal Radio Commission in 1927 and its regulation of the formerly chaotic radio world.Christian radio ministries matured in the midst of the often bitter conflict between Fundamentalism and Modernism. Modernists used their majority in the Federal Council of Churches to try to control religious broadcasting. in the 1930s, they convinced the major national networks, NBC and CBS, to stop selling airtime to any religious groups, and instead offer free airtime to mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish groups. Fundamentalist ministers and evangelists were limited to purchasing time on local radio stations and, in the late 1930s, the Mutual Broadcasting System.Mutual devoted a significant amount of time to paid religious broadcasting after Charles E. Fuller signed the first contract for time in 1937. By 1942, Fuller's Old Fashioned Revival Hour was carried on 456 stations. Pressure on Mutual in the early 1940s to stop selling time was a factor in the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in 1942. One of its first actions was to create the National Religious Broadcasters in 1944. Nevertheless, Mutual caved in to the pressure and drove religious broadcasting back to the independent local stations, where it built an important presence.After World War ii, religious broadcasting ministries went international. A pioneering Christian radio effort had been established in 1931 in Quinto, Ecuador, when HCIJ, the "Voice of the Andes," went on the air. The postwar period saw the formation of the Far East Broadcasting Company (1945) in Manila, the Philippines, and the "The Voice of Tangiers" (Morocco, 1954), which evolved into Trans World Radio (1960). These three stations beamed Christian programming internationally in an increasing number of languages. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 opened up new possibilities for broadcasting in the former Soviet union.in the early 1950s, television became the new medium for religious broadcasting. The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., which succeeded the Federal Council in 1950, moved to pressure the new television networks to follow the exclusionary policies of the radio networks. Nevertheless, in 1953, Rex Humbard began televising services from his church in Akron, Ohio, and the following year Pentecostal evangelist Oral Roberts began his popular broadcasts, which included preaching and healing. Humbard and Roberts had as their major competition a Roman Catholic priest and later bishop, Fulton J. Sheen, who developed a prime-time television program, Life Is Worth Living (1952-58), that drew a large Protestant audience by avoiding exclusively Catholic topics.In 1957, Billy Graham began broadcasting his crusades on prime-time television, usually at the beginning or end of the annual television season. For more than 40 years, millions tuned in to listen to the singing of George Beverly Shea (b. 1909) and the oratory of Graham.in 1959, little noticed at the time, Marion Gordon "Pat" Robertson purchased a television station in Portsmouth, Virginia, and several years later launched the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN). He gained a significant audience share after Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker began their appearances (1965). Robertson launched his 700 Club, a Christian talk show, and through the 1970s other Christian stations linked with him. By the end of the decade, CBN had emerged as a genuine network. Programming expanded in the 1980s, when CBN was joined by the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and LeSea Broadcasting, both with bases in Pentecostalism. Although religious broadcasting continued on the weekend on secular stations, more and more programs shifted to the religious networks.At the same time, NBC and CBS moved to curtail the free time they had allotted to religious broadcasting. In any case, liberal Protestant churches had become increasingly skeptical about the use of television. Many leaders saw it competing with church attendance, and criticized the popular programs as slick and shallow. Others thought the financial resources that would be needed to build a real presence on television would be better placed in other ministries. Nevertheless, in 1988, a coalition of liberal Protestants and Catholics developed a new network, the Faith and Values Channel.Christian television has given celebrity status to some of its leading figures - Robertson, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Robert Shuler, Jan and Paul Crouch - and helped make stars of many Christian musicians. It weathered a major storm beginning in the late 1980s with a set of scandals that drove a number of leading figures - including Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Robert Tilton, W. V. Grant Jr., Larry Lea, and Peter Popoff - off the air. CBN and TBN recovered and today through the facilities of satellite and cable are broadcast around the world.Religious broadcasting has been a welcoming medium for women in leadership roles. Beginning with Aimee Semple McPherson, such people as Evelyn Wyatt on radio and more recently Gloria Copeland, Anne Gimenez, Marilyn Hickey, and Joyce Meyer on television have found a means to reach an expansive audience with their ministries.Overall, however, both radio and television remain predominantly male domains.In the 1980s, sociologist Jeffrey Hadden coined the term TELEVANGELISM to reflect how Evangelical and Pentecostal groups were using television as a primary arm of their outreach to the public. Scholars such as Hadden and leaders of the larger liberal Protestant churches also expressed concerns about the role of televangelists in creating and sustaining the Religious Right and promoting conservative political issues.See also Evangelicalism.Further reading:■ Ben Armstrong, The Electronic Church (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 1979)■ Jeffrey K. Hadden and Charles E. Swann. Prime Time Preachers: The Rising Power of Televangelism (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley 1981)■ Ben Armstrong and A. D. Shupe, Televangelism (New York: Holt, 1988)■ J. Gordon Melton, Philip Charles Lucas, and Jon R. Stone, Prime Time Religion: An Encyclopedia of Religious Broadcasting (Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1997).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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