From the early 1930s to 1980s, radio and television ministries blossomed and flourished in America. By the 1930s, radio developed a reality that was unknown at the time. Father Charles Coughlin ushered in a weekly broadcast on social justice. These themes reached a rather small audience since radio was in its infancy. It however recognized then that radio could reach a much larger audience. It had joined forces with other media like religious newsletters, newspapers, and magazines.
With technological developments and Federal Communications Act of 1934, more radio sets were sold and the audience was larger. This paved the way for Rex Humbard, who built a ministry on radio and TV in 1952, known as the “Program Cathedral of Tomorrow.” His operation grew to the point that it distributed programs to more than 600 stations. He envisioned the future when he invested in a 5,000 seating mega-church.
There was trial and error during religious ministries’ growth. Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900), Irish author, playwright, poet, and one of London’s popular writers, remarked, “Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes.” Humbard gained experience and vision through planning, trial, and error, during the infancy of Christian media’s growth.
Bishop Fulton Sheen – An Evangelist’s Dream
The 1950s through 1960s, TV had become an evangelist’s dream. This was especially so, if a preacher was compatible with the medium. At this time, TV preachers would have learned a great deal from past radio ministries. TV demanded compelling images which were the backbone of the medium. There arose televangelists to fit such a role.
After World War 11, Roman Catholic bishop Fulton Sheen was most successful in his ministry. He and his professional staff inaugurated the program, “Life Is Worth Living” and later the “Bishop Sheen Program.” Although TV was most expensive he was able to attract a large enough audience to sustain these programs. His producer-director was skilled in integrating live pictures of the televangelist, with video footage, audio, special effects, and graphics.
Bishop Sheen’s message was simple and he implored his flock to have faith. His topics emphasized the working of the Holy Spirit, heaven, eternal damnation, judgment day, healing, wealth, prosperity, and being a born again Christian. Much of what he was preaching could well be likened to Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226), Italian Catholic friar and preacher, founder of the Order of Friars Minor, who encouraged his followers to: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Bishop Sheen always envisioned us as going beyond ourselves in knowing Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, other successful evangelists followed Bishop Sheen
Billy Graham celebrated his “Hour of Decision” shows and international crusades.
Oral Roberts built Oral Roberts University (1963) and the City of Faith Medical and Research Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known for “The Hour of Power.”
Pat Roberson created the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) – “700 Club” with CBN University (1971), and “Flying Hospital.”
Robert Schuller, author of Christian self-help books was known for the “Hour of Power.”
Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University (1971),“Old Time Gospel Hour,” put in motion the “Moral Majority.”
Jimmy Lee Swaggart of the “Jimmy Swaggart Telecast” founded the Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
By the end of 1980s, there were an estimated 1,370 radio and more than 200 religious TV stations in America.