|Billy Graham preaches in the early days of KTIS|
Today in the United States there are, by our estimate, over 3,400 evangelical Christian radio stations on the air. In fact, almost every religious station in the country airs evangelical messages and music.
None of this would have happened without Billy Graham and handful of other folks who brought evangelical broadcasting into the American mainstream.
Things weren’t always like this. It is hard to imagine that the Reverend Billy Graham was once considered an insurgent, an outcast, battling the established “big church.”
When Graham started his life’s work in the early 1940’s, evangelicals were facing growing hostility from mainline Protestant denominations. The “old church” feared that evangelicals would cut into their attendance and contributions. Nowhere was this more evident than in the national media.
At that time time, the Federal Council of Churches, a group that represented the major denominations, pushed for “standards” that kept evangelical voices off the air. For instance, the Council insisted that networks and stations air religious programming only from “responsible” organizations. And the Council determined who was “responsible” and who was not.
The Council enforced a blockade that kept evangelicals off the three big radio networks, NBC, CBS and Mutual Broadcasting System and their affiliated stations. The Council’s standards were also applied in the fast-growing television industry. Evangelicals had very few broadcast media options.
|Graham at ABC in 1953|
Graham helped organize a group of evangelicals to change these “red line” policies.
Eventually they achieved a breakthrough. In 1950 they succeeded in getting a new radio and television network, ABC, to air Graham’s program Hour of Decision.
Promotion by newspapers owned by William Randolph Hearst played a crucial role in making Graham a star.
Evangelical media used Graham’s fame to enter the halls of national power.
Reader Tip: Check out Mark Ward’s book Air of Salvation. In our opinion this is the definitive book about the rise of evangelical broadcasting. It is available on Amazon [link].
BILLY GRAHAM STARTS LOCAL EVANGELICAL-FORMATTED RADIO STATIONS
Defeating the mainstream denominations on the national stage was import but Graham and his associates had an even bigger impact on local religious broadcasting.
In the late 1940s, the FCC began approving the construction of hundreds of new AM stations (and a handful of FM stations) licensed to communities across the country. Before that time there had been programs featuring evangelical preachers but there were not many stations that specialized in full-time evangelical programming.
|Early photo of Graham on KTIS|
When Graham became the president of Northwestern Bible College in 1948, the school applied for a new station to serve the Twin Cities.
The FCC quickly approved the application. KTIS signed on 900 AM in February 1949.
As the story goes, Graham built the station with $44,000 raised by Northwestern College students. KTIS became an immediate success and was considered to be responsible for doubling the College’s enrollment by the early 1950s.
KTIS was nationally known as a success and it became a model for others. Graham’s sermons drew thousands of listeners. Over time, station’s like KTIS were established everywhere in the nation.
Graham left the College in 1952 but his successors continued buying and building new stations. Northwestern Bible College is known today as the University of Northwestern. It is the home of Northwestern Media, an entity set up by the University to administer a fast growing chain of stations and international distribution of digital media.
Reader Tip: Minnesota Public Radio reporter Chris Gilbert produced a terrific story about Graham and early years of KTIS [link].
GRAHAM’S LEGACY AT NORTHWESTERN CONTINUES TODAY
Northwest Media provides stations with two programming streams:
• LIFE branded stations (mainly on FM) feature a very successful Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) format.
The LIFE stations are among the most successful CCM stations in the nation.
Their ratings and revenue performance is very stable from year-to-year.
Note how LIFE stations in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Madison and Des Moines out-perform many commercial stations in those markets.
• FAITH branded stations (mainly on AM) offer a blend of preaching and Christian Talk show.
The audience for Christian Talk stations, sometimes called “Teaching” stations, has been declining in recent years.
FAITH stations are notable for their aggressive nontraditional revenue generation.