Fifty years ago this week, a Sunday-evening service at Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was broadcast over station KDKA. This broadcast marked the advent of religious radio, following by two months the start of commercial broadcasting, also through KDKA. Religious radio has had its ups and downs since then but in the overall picture shows steady growth. Today there are more religious broadcasts than ever, and the great majority of them are sponsored by evangelicals.

As evangelicals pass this milepost, they might well ask what kind of return they are getting on their investment in broadcasting. Thousands of people are expending time, talent, and energy in Christian radio work, and many millions of dollars are spent each year. Is this great outlay getting results?

To listen to some programs in North America is to begin to wonder. One cheerful “evangelist” spends ten minutes each morning plugging a hair restorer. Another so-called clergyman can hardly get off politics long enough to put a word in for Jesus Christ. The “fairness doctrine” imposed on radio stations by the Federal Communications Commission has reduced the number of polemical preachers, but some are still at it, attacking people by name under the guise of the Gospel.

Perhaps the complaint most often heard about religious broadcasters is that they are constantly pleading for money for themselves. A listener to a Christian radio station may during a single morning be subjected to thirty or more appeals. Are these appeals for money to send missionaries overseas? Seldom. For money to train ministers and lay evangelists? Rarely. For money to feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, clothe the naked? Only occasionally. The listener may begin to feel that ...

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