American evangelicalism turned 50 this year. At least, the National Association of Evangelicals celebrated its fiftieth anniversary (while many other evangelical organizations have passed the half-century mark). To symbolize this golden anniversary, the CT editors chose cover photographs of two of evangelicalism’s most prominent broadcasters: Charles E. Fuller and James Dobson.
Nearly 60 years ago Charles Fuller resigned from his pastorate to devote himself solely to broadcasting. It was a rough week for the nation when Fuller launched his program: President Roosevelt closed the nation’s banks, and an earthquake killed 115 people in Long Beach, California. Perhaps the events made listeners receptive to the message. By the time ten years had passed, Fuller was heard on all 152 of the Mutual Radio Network’s stations and had become Mutual’s largest paying customer, buying 50 percent more time than the secular company in second place.
Fuller typified the new evangelicalism: entrepreneurial, eager to engage the culture, and aiming for excellence.
Evangelicalism is still best known for its media voices. And family advocate James Dobson is perhaps its most influential representative. He, too, is entrepreneurial, culture-engaging, and committed to quality. His influence is likewise broad: He is heard daily on about 1,900 stations and translators in North America and another 3,500 worldwide.
Yet, 50 years have brought a curious reversal: Fuller preached an intensely religious message about sin and salvation on secular stations. Dobson preaches his biblically based but nonsectarian family values in what one scholar has called “the Christian radio ghetto.” This ironic twist is the byproduct of the curious history of the ambivalent relationship between radio and religion and the market segmentation of FM radio.
DAVID NEFF, Managing Editor
Cover photographs courtesy of Billy Graham Center Archives and Focus on the Family.
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