Broadcasting, Radio and Television
Religious programs have been a part of the broadcasting environment since the early 1920s. Mennonites have offered both condemnation and praise of broadcasting. On one hand, radio and television programs were condemned as dangerous to spiritual life and as promoting materialism, immorality, and questionable theology. On the other hand, Mennonites recognized the potential for evangelism, inspiration, and nurture through broadcasting. The earliest radio programs produced by Mennonites in North America featured sermons and singing. Some were broadcasts of church services. Two of the earliest programs continue in the 1980s. In 1936 pioneer broadcaster, pastor William Detweiler began "The Calvary Hour." The program, carried on by his sons, could be heard on over 30 stations in North and South America in 1988. In 1939 Theodore Epp, a former General Conference Mennonite minister, founded Back to the Bible, Inc., an independent, nondenominational broadcast ministry based in Nebraska. The program, "Back to the Bible," was heard on nearly 600 stations around the world in 1988.
The second broadcast was established in 1940 by a Mennonite layman in Kitchener, Ontario. He offered a musical program by the "Nightingale Chorus" for shut-ins, but the program ended after six months. The Mennonite Conference of Ontario sponsored a "Mennonite Hour" broadcast in 1945, directed by a committee chaired by Oscar Burkholder. A Mennonite Brethren broadcast began in Saskatoon in 1940, followed by a General Conference program in 1948.
During the 1950s, Mennonite broadcast activity expanded. Three Mennonite colleges operated FM radio stations during the 1950s: Bethel College, Goshen College, and Eastern Mennonite College. Numerous local broadcasts were produced by General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren, and Mennonite Church (MC) congregations and colleges in the United States and Canada (Shelly, 1952; Rempel, 1952). These included Mennonite Brethren congregations in Kitchener and Virgil, Ontario. Western Canada had nine broadcasts by 1952, including two in Manitoba, five in Saskatchewan, one in Alberta and one in British Columbia. Four were by Mennonite Brethren congregations, four by General Conference congregations and one by the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren.
During the decade, various Mennonite conferences and mission boards became active in broadcasting. In 1951 the Mennonite Church (MC) authorized the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities to establish a national Mennonite broadcast. In association with Mennonite Crusader, Inc., a Harrisonburg, Virginia, group, Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc. (MBI) was founded to continue the operation of the "Mennonite Hour," with B. Charles Hostetter as speaker. (By 1988 Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc., had become Mennonite Board of Missions Media Ministries.) By the end of the decade of the 1950s, Mennonite Broadcasts was producing programs in English, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Navajo, German, French, and Russian. They also sponsored a weekly women's program, "Heart to Heart," established by Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus in 1950 and carried on by Ella May Miller from 1958 to 1977.
A new development in Canada, and the only one of its kind, was the establishment of a Mennonite-owned and operated radio station, CFAM, in Altona, Manitoba, by the Southern Manitoba Broadcasting Co. (A. J. Thiessen, president, D. K. Friesen, secretary-treasurer). It went on the air on 13 March 1957 and was intended to serve "the economic, cultural, and religious needs of Southern Manitoba." It furnished an outlet for religious broadcasting by Mennonites of various conferences. The Mennonite Radio Mission sponsored broadcasts in English, German and Low German.
The Canadian Mennonite Brethren also embraced a broadcast. In 1954 they officially sanctioned the "Gospel Light Hour," a broadcast begun at Mennonite Brethren Bible College in the late 1940s. Gospel Light (later known as Mennonite Brethren Communications, now known as Family Life Network) developed programs in English, German, Low German, and Russian for adults and children. Mennonite Brethren Communications continued in the 1990s under the direction of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba, and began to consider new forms of broadcasting, including the Internet.
The General Conference Mennonite Church expanded a local devotional broadcast in Newton, Kansas, called "Faith and Life," to a conference-wide project in 1953. The General Conference Mennonite Church effort was ultimately lodged with the Commission on Home Ministries. It became known as Faith and Life Radio and Television in the late 1960s, and as the Media Division in the 1980s. The Conference of Mennonites in Manitoba (later Mennonite Church Manitoba) also continued a Faith and Life Communications division in the 1990s. Despite significant reductions in media programming in 2003, Mennonite Church Manitoba continued to produce the weekly, half-hour high-German program, "Frohe Botschaft", as well as a monthly English radio program titled "Circle of God's People." "Frohe Botschaft" was broadcast in Manitoba, Mexico and Paraguay.
During the 1960s Mennonite organizations and independent producers concentrated on refining production techniques and expanding distribution of the programs. Many of the ongoing programs featured choirs or quartets in addition to speakers. Music and speaking tours in the churches were common, along with the distribution of printed messages and other literature to listeners through the mail. Staff sometimes purchased air time, often sought free time, or found local congregational or business sponsorship.
By the mid-1970s, the North American broadcast industry presented religious broadcasters with several challenges: free or sustaining time was hard to find or available only for undesirable hours; the cost of air time was increasing; broadcasters were interested in shorter programs; television presented a challenge that could no longer he ignored.
Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc. began experimenting with seasonal specials and radio spots in 1964. The first series of 30 to 60-second spots were designed to speak to the pressures and problems facing men. "Minutes for Women" spots, released in 1966, spoke to the needs of women and families. The "Choice" spots, developed by David Augsburger, grew out of this initial experimentation. "Choice" was designed to fit a 13-week block of station programming with daily spots, five days a week. These spots were well received because they were issue-oriented and fit the flow of commercial radio formats. In the 1970s "Choice" was used on 300-500 stations. In the late 1980s, Up to 1,000 stations used the program. The 11th edition of "Choice" was produced in 1988. Most "Choice" series were interdenominational productions with participation from the General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren, and Church of the Brethren.
Mennonites also experimented with television spots for the first time in the late 1960s. The Mennonite Church and the General Conference Mennonite Church together produced four 60-second spots on family life in 1969. By 1970 the Mennonite Brethren joined them to produce a second series of "Family Life" spots. In 1975 the Inter-Mennonite Media Group (IMMG) was formed to carry out inter-Mennonite broadcast activities. IMMG spearheaded the joint production of such multimedia campaigns as "Invitation to Live" (1976-77). In addition to radio and television spots, "Invitation to Live" messages were carried through posters, paperback books, newspaper advertisements, calendars, postcards, T-shirt transfers, pens, and stickers. A Media Handbook for congregations accompanied the media materials, offering ideas and suggestions for how congregations might use the materials in their local communities.
The 1970s were thus characterized by inter-Mennonite cooperation and a growing emphasis on spot production, along with the production of ongoing radio programs. The only ongoing television program from this era appears to be the children's program, "Third Story," produced by Mennonite Brethren Communications for release on Canadian television. With the exception of television spots, Mennonites have generally been unable to afford to do full-length television program production for commercial markets.
The 1970s were also characterized by growing concerns about the impact of television programs on traditional Mennonite values. These concerns were renewed in the 1980s with the penetration of video cassette recorders into Mennonite homes.
During the 1970s, philosophies of mission underwent a metamorphosis that had direct impact on broadcast activities by Mennonite mission boards in North America and beyond for the next decade. Concerns about cultural imperialism and indigenous leadership development led to increased sensitivity about exporting North American programs overseas and to production partnerships with local churches and conferences around the world. In 1977, for example, Europäische Mennonitische Radiomission was formed to carry responsibility for the German broadcasts conducted by the Mennonite Board of Missions (''Worte des Lebens" [Words of Life] founded in 1959; "Quelle des Lebens" [Fountain of Life] founded in 1976). The committee was formed with representation from the Swiss, German, and French (Alsace) conferences and the European Mennonite Bible School (Bienenberg) board. In 1988 it included members from Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches in West Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and France.
Mennonite Board of Missions Spanish broadcast ministries were initiated through missionary efforts in Puerto Rico in 1947 ("Luz y Verdad" [Light and Truth] founded in 1947; "Corazon a Corazon" [Heart to Heart] founded in 1964). In 1972 the 10 Latin American conferences took responsibility for the expanded broadcast and literature ministries with the organizing of junta Ejecutiva Latino-americana de Audiciones Menonitas (JELAM; Latin American Executive Council for Mennonite Broadcasts). JELAM produced and distributed internationally radio, television, and print materials until 1984. With a shift in conference activities, Agrupacion Menonita Latinoamerica de Comunicaciones (AMLAC; Latin American Mennonite Consortium for Communications) replaced JELAM in 1983 to provide resources and consultation for conferences and congregations who were involved in program production in their local communities. Programs were local and national instead of international. AMLAC holds regular conferences for Latin American communicators and published a newsletter, Informa to offer resources and to promote the use of media among Latin American churches.
With the 1980s came sweeping changes in the configuration of the communications scene. The diffusion of cable television offerings and the addition of home video recorders gave North American consumers more choices and more control over what they could watch. In the United States, radio and television were deregulated and broadcasters were no longer obligated to offer free time for public service programs and spots. Sponsored broadcast time became increasingly expensive. Instead of mass audiences, programs were targeted to specific audiences for specific purposes. The "electronic church" was rocked by a series of scandals, precipitating a decline in both viewers and in support, as well as a decline of the public image of religious broadcasting in general.
On the Mennonite front, both the General Conference Mennonite Church and Mennonite Brethren in the United States closed their media divisions because of budget squeezes and shifting institutional priorities. As a result, inter-Mennonite production activities declined, and IMMG was replaced with the Council on Church and Media (CCM) in 1985. CCM held an annual conference; served as a media thinktank and clearing house for ideas and plans; and brought together both audiovisual and print communicators from church agencies, schools, and publications. Increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques also influenced program planning and philosophy. Broadcast productions are now considered part of an overall communications strategy, often combining print and other communications media to accomplish specific tasks, including evangelism, training, nurture, inspiration, interpretation, promotion, and fundraising. In October 2007 CCM changed its name to Anabaptist Communications.
Internationally, MBM in 1988 produces just two international broadcasts. Both are Russian-language programs. All other Mennonite programs outside North America are produced by national church organizations in various regions of the world. MBM's focus internationally is now on training. consultation, and financing in partnership with local groups. For example, Indonesian Mennonites own and operate a radio station that serves their region of the world. Japanese Mennonites are involved with two ecumenical broadcast operations and have placed their first missionary in the Japanese department of the international station, HCJB, in Quito, Ecuador. Many national church media projects are inter-Mennonite in sponsorship. (Descriptions of current activity are found in the annual reports of the mission boards.) Domestically, MBM's focus has shifted from doing radio evangelism for the denomination to helping congregations use the media to enhance their local evangelism activities. Ongoing broadcasts have given way to the production of special packages that are designed to help congregations with local outreach. "Art McPhee in Touch," the program that succeeded the "Mennonite Hour," ceased production in 1984. "Your Time," the program that succeeded "Heart to Heart," ended production in 1987. Media staff in 1988 are devoting energies to training local congregations to use local media, to creating packages of spots and other resources for congregations to use in their local communications efforts, and to producing video resources for the church. Video recordings are perceived to be the medium of the future. Nevertheless, programs that identify who Mennonites are and what they believe continued to be produced for the public media.
The number of evangelistic radio programs produced by Mennonite mission agencies and Mennonite-affilated parachurch organizations has declined since flourishing in the 1950s. While a number remained in 1988, listed in MC Yearbook (1988-89), mission agencies have expanded their media activities beyond broadcasting, sometimes using radio for news and information, and sometimes combining broadcast activities with other media efforts in a multimedia approach. Denominational resources in the late 1970s and 1980s have emphasized church planting and church growth. Rather then producing programming in the name of the denomination, media agencies have reflected denominational priorities, increasingly becoming consultants and producers for local congregations. They attempt to match what is produced with the needs and priorities of the local congregational activities, both in North America and around the world. While radio production continues, denominations resources have shifted toward multimedia approaches with an increasing emphasis on the production of video resources. Ongoing broadcasts with an evangelistic emphasis are produced mainly by parachurch organizations with both formal and informal relationships to denominational agencies. The productions of Mennonite agencies have diversified in purpose, in audience, in language, and in form in the 1980s. -- Diane Zimmerman Umble
The Mennonite Church (MC)
Commercial radio broadcasting began in the United States in 1920. By the early 1930s numerous evangelical Christian groups were producing religious broadcasts. The first Mennonite radio broadcast program, so far as is known, was begun in November 1936 by William Detweiler (d. 1956), a Mennonite minister of Smithville, Ohio, and was called "Calvary Hour." It began as a weekly half-hour broadcast with one station at Canton, Ohio; in 1939 a station in Pennsylvania was added; finally 20 stations were included. It was still broadcasting in the late 1950s. The broadcast was managed by a family type incorporated board, with the two minister sons of the late William Detweiler continuing in their father's stead as the radio preachers. The second broadcast was established in 1940 at Kitchener, Ontario by a layman, who offered a musical program by a "Nightingale Chorus" for shut-ins, but which discontinued after about six months. By 1951 a total of 32 broadcasts had been started in local congregations, about one third by laymen; some 15 had been discontinued. Only one broadcast was sponsored by a conference, namely, the Ontario Mennonite Conference project begun in 1945. A Spanish language broadcast was begun at La Junta, Colorado, in 1945 by the local Mexican Mennonite Church; it was still on the air in the late 1950s. In August 1947 Lester Hershey started a Spanish broadcast from Puerto Rico, where he was engaged in mission work; it was still on the air in the late 1950s, affiliated with the Mennonite Hour. The 32 broadcasts started were sent over a total of 76 stations distributed as follows: Ohio, 13; Pennsylvania, 10; Ontario, 8; Illinois, 7; Maryland, 5; Puerto Rico, 4; Indiana, 3; Kansas, 3; Iowa, 3; Virginia, 3; Oregon, 2; New York, 2; Michigan, 2; and one each in Florida, Colorado, Missouri, Louisiana, Washington, Nebraska, California, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Haiti. Discontinuance of programs, which often were short-lived, was due chiefly to lack of financial support and difficulty in securing talent.
The year 1951 marked a significant change in radio broadcasting work in the Mennonite Church. By action of the General Council of the Mennonite General Conference in that year, the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities was urged to establish a national Mennonite broadcast under its supervision. By 1953 the board had established a national and international broadcast operated through the Mennonite Crusaders, Inc., a local group established at Harrisonburg, Virginia, in June 1951 to operate the Mennonite Hour, which had been established in March 1951 on the campus of Eastern Mennonite College, using a college musical group. The Mennonite Crusaders was supplanted by Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc. in 1956. B. Charles Hostetter has served as radio pastor since January 1952. The Mennonite Hour was broadcasting over 70 stations in early 1957, of which 56 were in the United States, and 2 in Canada, plus broadcasts in Ceylon, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Jamaica, Liberia, Panama, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Vietnam. The weekly listening audience was estimated at 5 million, with broadcasts in English, Spanish, and Japanese. Since then an Italian language broadcast in Italy and a Navajo Indian language broadcast in Arizona have been added, and plans are being made for German, French, and Russian broadcasts in Europe. The European headquarters is at Basel. Since 1958 Mennonite Broadcasts has sponsored the Heart-to-Heart program, a weekly women's broadcast by Ruth Stoltzfus, which she began in 1950. Mennonite Broadcasts is normally self-sustaining, being supported by the contributions of the listeners.
Partly because of the establishment and the development of the Mennonite Hour, most of the local broadcasts have been discontinued or have been replaced by local sponsorship of the Mennonite Hour. Except for the Calvary Hour, the Spanish broadcast at La Junta, and the Sunday School Hour at Sarasota, Florida, started respectively in 1936 and 1945 and 1946, no other Mennonite broadcast started before 1950 was still in existence in 1958. Seven other local broadcasts however were still operating, started respectively in 1950, 1951 (2), 1953 (2), and 1957 (2). The day of local broadcasts is pretty well past in the church.
Other Mennonite Bodies
The radio broadcasting work has not found extensive use in other Mennonite bodies in North America. In 1952 Andrew Shelly reported only five broadcasts in the General Conference Mennonite Church in the United States, two of which were Bethel College and Freeman College, and one was the Mountain Lake Mennonite Home. Shelly reported only two broadcasts by Mennonite Brethren (MB) Churches— Buhler, Kansas, and Delft, Minnesota. Grace Bible Institute at Omaha, Nebraska, also had a broadcast. Ed. J. Peters, a Mennonite Brethren layman, owned and operated a private station at Wasco, California, broadcasting only good musical and religious programs. The Mennonite Brethren churches at Kitchener and Virgil, Ontario, also had broadcasts. Tabor College now broadcasts "The Chapel Hour" over at least 10 stations.
Bethel College has presented weekly "Chapel Meditations" over KFH, Wichita, every Sunday since 1951, consisting of meditations presented by Erland Waltner and at present by D. C. Wedel, and choir music by the Mennonite Singers under the direction of W. H. Hohmann. The General Conference Mennonite Church has been conducting a radio ministry twice daily since 1953 over KJRG, Newton, Kansas. The First Mennonite Church of Newton has been broadcasting its Sunday worship services over KJRG for a number of years. Other churches, as for example the First Mennonite Church of Beatrice, Nebraska, are also broadcasting their worship services.
J. G. Rempel's report of 1952 on Mennonite radio broadcasts in Western Canada reported somewhat more broadcasting in that area by both General Conference (GCM) Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren (MB) groups. He listed nine programs in the Western provinces -- Manitoba, two; Saskatchewan, five; Alberta, one; British Columbia, one; by conferences: GCM, four; MB, four; and Evangelical Mennonite Brethren, one. Several Mennonite programs in this area were integrated into nondenominational broadcasts or were sponsored by the Canadian Sunday School Mission.
Numerous individual Mennonites were appearing on nondenominational broadcasts. The first Western Canadian Mennonite program was the MB broadcast from Saskatoon in 1940, the second the GCM program in the same city in 1948.
A radically new development in Canada, and the only one of its kind anywhere, was the establishment of a Mennonite-owned and operated radio station, CFAM at Altona, Manitoba, by the Southern Manitoba Broadcasting Co. (A. J. Thiessen, pres. D. K. Friesen, sec.-treas.). It went on the air on 13 March 1957. It is intended to serve "the economic, cultural, and religious needs of Southern Manitoba." It furnishes a good outlet for a considerable amount of religious broadcasting by Mennonites of several branches in the area. The Mennonite Radio Mission, the radio arm of the Manitoba Mennonite Conference (GCM), sponsors several broadcasts in three languages, English, German, and Low German. Several of the Mennonite programs in other provinces broadcast in two languages and some in Low German also. A group in Steinbach has also applied for a broadcast license.
In 1957 the Mennonite Brethren started a Russian language broadcast over a station in Winnipeg, designed to reach Russia. The MB broadcast is under the name "The Gospel Light Hour" in German, English, and Russian. Reports by letter from Russia indicate that both Russian and German religious broadcasts are being received by Mennonites in Russia.
The Janz Brothers, a small MB group, originally attached to the Prairie Bible Institute at Three Hills, Alberta, have been broadcasting in German with headquarters in Basel and in Canada. They operate on an independent basis. Theodore Epp, a former General Conference Mennonite minister in Nebraska, has been broadcasting on a large scale through the Back to the Bible Hour, Inc., with headquarters at Omaha. This is also independent and nondenominational. Eastern Mennonite College (1957, 10 watt power) and Goshen College (1958, 250 watt power) operate local FM stations broadcasting over a radius of about 15 miles, 2-3 hours daily, partly as an opportunity for student experience.
The purpose of the Mennonite religious broadcasts has been uniformly primarily evangelistic, but also edificatory and devotional, and intended to reach the general public as well as Mennonites. Without doubt much has been accomplished, especially by the stronger programs, but probably little direct increase in membership of the Mennonite church can be attributed to the broadcasts.
The first reaction of the more conservative Mennonites to the use of the radio and radio broad casting was rather negative. A number of more conservative conferences in the Mennonite Church (MC) in the East at one time had regulations forbidding the use of the radio in the home. This attitude has now changed, although one conference still maintains an official ban. -- Harold S. Bender
See also Radio
Epp, Frank H. "Radio As It Should Be," Mennonite Life 14 (January 1959): 39-40.
Gospel Herald (11 March 1985): 202; (25 June 1985): 448; (28 October 1986): 736-38.
Holsinger, Justus G. La Obra Menonita en Puerto Rico/Mennonite Work in Puerto Rico, 1943-1981.
MC Yearbook. Scottdale, MPH, biennially.
Mennonite (26 March 1985): 130-31.
Mennonite Board of Missions Annual report. Elkhart, IN: MBM, annually.
Metzler, James. Saigon to Shalom. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985.
Nightingale, David. "Radio and Literature in World Missions," in The Church in Mission, ed. A. J. Klassen. Fresno: MB Board of Christian Literature, 1967: 329-44.
Pellman, Hubert R. Mennonite Broadcasts: the First 25 Years. Harrisonburg, VA: Mennonite Broadcasts, 1979.
Rempel, J. G. "Mennonites on the Air in Western Canada." Mennonite Life 7 (1952): 125-27.
Shelly, Andrew R. "Mennonites on the Air." Mennonite Life 7 (April 1952): 65-70.
Souder, Eugene K. "Ventures in Radio Broadcasting." Mennonite Life 18 (January 1963): 35-38.
Toews, John A. History of the Mennonite Brethren Church. 1975, index.
Wittlinger, Carlton O. Piety and Obedience. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978: 509-12.
Mennonite Church Canada Church Matters
Mennonite Church USA Third Way Media
Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches Media Centre
Anabaptist Communications website
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 244-246; vol. 5, pp. 101-103. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Bender, Harold S. and Diane Zimmerman Umble. "Broadcasting, Radio and Television." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. February 2012. Web. 24 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B761ME.html.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. and Diane Zimmerman Umble. (February 2012). Broadcasting, Radio and Television. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B761ME.html.