Chapter 6: Turn Your Radio On

The Guinness Book of World Records cites the fact that there are more radio broadcasting stations in the United States than in any other country of the world. By 1977 there were more than eight thousand, broadcasting an astounding variety of general and private interest programming. A study of American radio reveals programs in languages from Czechoslovak to Navajo, and music from Krishna chants to disco rock. 

   Even as late as 1974, of the more than eight thousand stations in the United States, only four hundred to five hundred devoted eighteen hours or more a week to religious programming. However, of that limited number of religious stations, not one single station devoted its entire broadcast day to young people and their music.

   Many young Christians had grown up with transistor earplugs as standard equipment and rock and roll as their language. They were without one single radio station in the United States which communicated exclusively to them. If they wanted programs relative to their Christian faith, they had to tune in to stations programming music and shows geared either to senior citizens or grade-school children. It was either "churchy music" or kindergarten stories. Very few programs related to teenagers. If those same Christian youth wanted lively music to which they could relate, the top 40 stations were the only answer. Christian programming did not provide their kind of music.

   Unfortunately there was no happy middle ground for those young people. They wanted to listen to their favorite kind of music, but they wanted to sustain their walk with the Lord, too. The adultsthe ones who operated, advertised on, and financially supported the Christian stationssaid "no way" to the forms of music

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they misunderstood and literally despised in many cases. What those often well-meaning adults didn't realize was that by so dogmatically renouncing rock with "no ifs, ands, or buts," they were giving young people a blatant black or white alternative: rock or religion.

   The rock choice was a much easier one to make for many youths. They loved rock, their friends loved rock, and rock was on the radio in the car, at home, even at school. "Why sit through stale 'shut-in shows' and 'old-fogey' music?" was their opinion.

   Meanwhile, non-Christian youth were searching for meaning in their life which they didn't find in church music. The broadcasters, just as much as most church leaders, failed to hear the warnings:

The church is often represented in our day as hating youth and its smell, sights and sound. The world of today's culture is exploding with smell, tastes, colors and action which call men to be alive. The church comes from another age and yet is now. This must be so. The message of the Christian faith cannot depend for its essence on the cultural needs of the time. However, the relationship between the faith of the past and the life of the present cannot remain broken if there is to be a living faith.

   For many Christian youth, they saw and tasted a music form which was bland and old-fashioned. So they turned back to rock, and often its evil elementsthe suggestive lyrics and psychedelic, drug-steeped content.

   The youth were wrong to abandon God because His message wasn't couched in their form of media. But there had to be concerned ministers who would step past their own prejudices and realize the immense mission field which existed in the world of rock and roll.

   Scott Ross was such a minister, though not in the traditional sense of the word. Ross had an extreme burden to see young people touched with God's love and power. In the late 1960s the young disc jockey, who worked at one of the rock stations in New York City, became a Christian. His faith and his desire to share it with a lost generation took him in 1967 to the Christian Broadcasting Network in Portsmouth, Virginia, where he attempted to mix contemporary Christian music with the more traditional records being aired.

   Pat Robertson, the head of the Christian Broadcasting Network, recalls meeting Scott at a 1968 Full Gospel Business Men's meeting in Baltimore:

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At the close of the meeting this longhaired, moustached young man came up to speak to me. Despite the fact that he was dressed in a wild psychedelic shirt with tight pants and boots, I liked the sparkle in his eyes and the contagious smile he flashed through his moustache. He introduced himself as Scott Ross and said he was a radio announcer who had accepted Jesus Christ and been baptized in the Holy Spirit just a short time before.

   I liked him immediately and later in the summer contacted him asking him if he would like to go to work for us directing programs toward teenagers.

   Scott's flashiness and radical ideas caused a considerable stir at CBN. His plans for WXRI-FM, the CBN radio station in Portsmouth, included a gospel-rock show. Said Ross:

These dudes on the beach aren't going to listen to the Haven of Rest Quartette when they're groovin' on the Jefferson Airplane and the Beatles. You've gotta start where they are and bring them up to where we are.

   It was an uphill struggle all the way. Scott's methods were not well-received. He managed to start his own show, but it just didn't work.

   ''I went on with a radio program I hoped would reach contemporaries," Scott later explained. "I tried to play rock music, but the most I could get away with were folk records. I played Peter, Paul & Mary and 'Jesus Met the Woman at the Well,' and all of their songs of that type. Then people would call up and call them 'commies,' and they'd say to get them off the air. It was really, really difficult.

   "In August of 1968,'' Scott continued, "CBN was given five radio stations in upstate New York. I felt the burden for them. Pat Robertson and I had prayed about it, and we felt that I was supposed to go up there and help format those stations. The whole idea was to have a format of deejays on the air playing contemporary music, mixed in with as much good Jesus music as we could find. At that time, that was maybe five albums! We also felt we should speak to the issues out of scriptural perspectives, without coming off as back-to-back preachers.

   "Pat thought it was a good concept. He had given me the ball, and I had run with it. They probably were the first radio stations of their type anywhere in the world.

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We started moving toward it in the fall of 1968, and went on the air in January of 1969."

   Before the year was out, troubles began. According to Scott, "Then the Christians started making so much of a hassle that the stations began to back off, because they were afraid of offending the constituency too much and there would be no one to support the station.

   Scott recalls that the adults were doing most of the complaining. "The young people were with us! After about four months on the air there, I went to speak at a particular breakfast. I expected to speak to a couple of hundred people and a few thousand people showed up! We did a concert in Syracuse around the same time, and seven thousand people showed up. We were stirring things up. It wasn't just the music. It was the Holy Spirit. The Lord was doing it. People were coming to the Lord in droves. I went on the air with my show early in the evening and sometimes we went on till four or five o'clock in the morning, as an open-ended show. People came to the Lord, phones rang and rang, and we took calls on the air. It was exciting!''

   But the hassles continued. Scott and Pat Robertson got together to discuss the situation. Pat, while in South America, had experienced a vision from the Lord concerning a program which Scott could do as a syndicated show. Simultaneously Scott had also been thinking and praying along the same lines. ''Pat really believed in what the Lord had called me to do,'' Scott remembers. ''He literally laid his ministry on the line to give me the opportunity to pursue what the Lord was telling me to do when no one else would allow it.''

   With Pat's help, ''The Scott Ross Show'' became the fulfillment of their dream. By early 1970 the show was on sixteen radio stations. The list grew at a rapid pace. Young people were getting their first taste of Jesus-music radio, with a show featuring a combination of top secular hits and Jesus rock.

   One of his most notable programs in the early days was one in which Scott did a report on Jesus Christ Superstar. ''There was a show,'' he recalls, referring to the rock opera and Broadway play,'' that was unique in itself. It was bringing the Lord right into the midst of the whole music scene. Many people obviously had theological problems with it, but we approached it from the direction that His name is above every other name under heaven and earth: Jesus Christ. Period. You put it on the marquee, and they've got to deal with it, because that's His name.

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   ''We straightened people out as far as the theology of it was concerned, and we had Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber on the air. It was a powerful segment for 'The Scott Ross Show,' and we made it available to the stations as a religious program.''

   Meanwhile, Larry Black who had worked the afternoon shift on the CBN New York network, went on the road selling ''The Scott Ross Show,'' which within several years would be broadcast on 175 stations nationwide—the most extensive syndicated contemporary Christian show in America.

   The year 1970 was the premiere year of another nationally syndicated Jesus music show, the year I began broadcasting ''A Joyful Noise.'' The dream of broadcasting a show of Christian pop music had been born while I worked with chapel youth groups in the service overseas. I had found a few songs which alluded to God, such as ''Hymn'' and ''Tramp on the Street'' on Peter, Paul & Mary's Late Again album, and was excited about the possibility that there might be more songs of that type.

   As soon as I returned home from the service, I began visiting record sections of department stores, scavenging for any Christian folk or rock music I could find. In April I contacted a friend who worked for a rock-and-roll station in the Tampa area, where I lived. I asked him if he would assist me in producing a sample show in which I would feature the best pop songs about God I could find.

   We both found it an exciting prospect. The first step was getting the records to play. At the radio station where my friend worked, there were two giant cardboard boxes full of ''trash'' records—the hundreds of 45 singles which WFSO chose not to broadcast. They were generally saved to give away as contest prizes. For me, they were much more important than any contest prize I could ever win. I hoped there would be a few God-oriented records among the box-loads, because they were just what I needed.

   The search went on for hours. Each title of each song was scrutinized for any reference, direct or indirect, to God. Surprisingly, they began showing up. ''Good Morning, God,'' ''Streets of Gold''—they weren't ''biggies'' like the smash hits they were playing in the radio studio one door down, but who cared? They were building a repertoire for my first show! ''Down on My Knees,'' ''God Grows His Own''—likely and unlikely titles from a stack of rock records.

   Then I picked up two Capitol singles which were in a stack together. The first was by Pat Boone, entitled ''Now I'm Saved,'' and the second was one by a singer named Larry Norman, entitled

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''Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation.'' Pretty bold Christian titles for pop records on a label such as Capitol!

   I ran into the production room and reviewed each likely candidate I found. By the time I got to Larry Norman, I knew I had latched onto something. Never before had I heard such a raspy, rock-and-roll, and totally unchurchy voice singing such an obviously Christian song. As heretical as my reasoning would seem to some people, I knew I had found just the right ingredients of a shocking new form of Christian radio!

   I was anxious to record my first show with these records no one had wanted. I put them with the hit Jesus songs I already had—''Jesus Is a Soul Man,'' ''Jesus Is Just Alright,'' ''Oh Happy Day,'' and a few others—and recorded the first show.

   In the true spirit of rock-and-roll disc jockey I wanted to shock everyone. Not in a negative way, but in a way which would open everyone's eyes to the reality that there could be dynamic rock music about the Maker. I had searched the Scriptures for references which might be appropriate for beginning the show. In that study I found more than thirty references in the Bible which entreat us to ''make a joyful noise unto the Lord.'' With rock music we had the noise; what was missing was joy!

   Psalm 95:1 was my choice for the opening: ''Make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation.'' I read the verse in a straight tone, fully expecting half the rock-and-roller listeners to cry ''Yuk!'' and reach for the radio knob. But what came next was the shocker. With a wailing guitar and crashing drum came a rock version of ''The Lord's Prayer'' (one of those giveaway singles), and ''A Joyful Noise'' had already lived up to its title.

   Through the help of Herb Hunt at rock station WLCY in St. Petersburg, ''A Joyful Noise'' hit the air on a Sunday morning only a few weeks later. The first all-Jesus-rock radio show, featuring nothing but songs about the Lord and his teachings, was a reality.

   Other rock stations got word of the show. Residents of Wichita, Oklahoma City, Denver, Nashville, Richmond, and Indianapolis were soon hearing Jesus-rock music on their favorite rock stations each Sunday morning. There were so few records at the start, each week I would play many of the same ones, rotating them into a different order to make the show sound fresh. For a while ''A Joyful Noise'' featured the top 10 Jesus-music records each week, only because there were only ten Jesus-music records.

   Any discussion of pioneer Jesus-music radio should include the early broadcasting ventures of people such as Scott Campbell. Scott

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began a show of contemporary Christian music in 1968 on KARI in Blaine, Washington. KARI was a Christian station, and Scott recalls, ''I played everything I could get my hands on that was good, contemporary Christian music.''

   In other areas around the U.S., other innovative Christian deejays and programmers such as Scott began playing as much contemporary music as the station managers would allow. Some of them often sat through long lectures in the manager's offices for their enthusiastic updating of the standard musical fare. Others were just plain fired.

   A sad irony developed. Religious station programmers, unsure of rock music, avoided nearly all of it, regardless of lyrical content. Rock station programmers, hardly concerned about the harmful effects of rock music, turned out to be some of the first broadcasters of Jesus music, via the Jesus rock of popular performers and the authentic Jesus music on syndicated shows such as ''A Joyful Noise'' and ''The Scott Ross Show.''

   As was traditional, the church fell one step behind by not opening itself more to the question of whether rock could be an efficient medium of the gospel. It would be 1975 before the first all-Jesus-music radio station would hit the air.

Chapter Seven  ||  Table of Contents