Call-in Radio Programs
Brother Mike Willis has asked me to write a few comments regarding the call-in type radio program. I've decided to follow the same general outline that I used for this topic in the '73 Florida College Lecture Series. For some five years I hosted such a program in Louisville, Kentucky. This was a Monday through Friday 30-minute program, aired at 2:30 each afternoon. Since moving to Owensboro, Kentucky, I have conducted the same type radio broadcast each Tuesday from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. This type program has demonstrated itself in many ways to be more fruitful, more appealing, and more prone to attract and hold attention than the straight preaching, conventional gospel broadcasts.
This type work was first brought to my attention by an article in the Gospel Guardian by Lowell Williams regarding their call-in program in Seattle, Washington. He referred to this medium as "a modern-day marketplace." Shortly after, I discussed the matter with Peter Wilson who participated on such a program in Portland, Oregon. He sent a sample tape of one of their broadcasts, and the elders of the South End congregation in Louisville decided to increase our radio time from 15 to 30 minutes and give the new idea a try.
There were three of us on that first program: Rodney Miller, Bobby Witherington, and myself. I cannot speak for the others, but I have never felt more inadequate, unnecessary, and just plain scared in my life than I felt awaiting that first call-in program! I had already decided that I would make it clear that we did not claim to know all the answers, and that we would quickly admit it if we did not know an answer. But then, I asked myself, "What if I don't know any of the answers?" or "What if we receive no questions?" Somehow we got through that one. We had plenty of questions, and we knew the answers! I have always started these programs by requesting that callers deal in principles, not personalities; that they be brief in their comments; and limit their calls to one per week. Most callers have complied with those ground rules.
Type Questions Received
Most of the calls that we receive contain the type questions that we are often told nobody's asking. Questions such as: "Why do you say there is just one church?" or "What about the thief on the cross if baptism is necessary?" or "Do you baptize in the name of Jesus?" or "Why don't you use instruments of music?" or "What do you mean, the Old Testament is no longer binding?" or "What does the Bible teach about falling from grace?" This type broadcast has reinforced my convictions that many people are still interested in such "doctrinal" questions.
Often, specific scriptures are quoted by callers which they believe will support their doctrines: `Don't you believe that according to Matthew 24, the second coming is imminent'"; "You say children of God may fall from grace. What about 1 John 3:9 (or John 10:28, or Romans 8:35-39)?" or "If instrumental music is not right in worship, please explain Psalm 150."
Sometimes people give vent to bitter feelings prompted by prejudice and emotions. How we deal with such calls is extremely important in view of the entire listening audience. For example, one lady asked why God put all the snakes and spiders and flies here.
"I don't really know," I confessed. "Do you reckon it was just to worry and aggravate us?'1 she asked. She then went into a rather lengthy description of how "aggravatin' " flies were, "especially," she emphasized, "the old green flies!" She made her point. I laughed, and took another call.
Brethren have often asked, "How do you keep your temper?" "I'd blow my stack," some have said. But we are not there to lose tempers, blow stacks, and let off steam. We are there to teach the word and try to save souls. Sometimes when a subject has been driven in the ground for some time, I may get tired of hearing the same old thing. But I must remember that people are listening, and the manner in which I react will make an impression for good or bad.
On many occasions, opportunities for direct dialogue are presented. Some callers do not want to argue their point, but some do. I have always found that a program is much more interesting to the listening audience when some dialogue between the callers and us takes place.
Timely questions and issues often arise. In recent years many callers have raised questions on such subjects as abortion, ecumenicity, law and order, ERA, etc. Several questions were asked regarding scriptural teaching on capital punishment during the Gilmore controversy in Utah. And then some incidents occur that are quite humorous. My "preacher's tales" have multiplied exceedingly as a result of many of the programs I have participated on. Such incidents do no harm. In fact, they increase the interest of the audience.
One of the great things about such programs is that we know people's questions on the Bible are being dealt with. They are making these questions known. The specific matters which need greater emphasis at any given time will necessarily receive attention, for they will be asked about more often. We should not grow weary of answering the same questions over and over. People steeped in religious error may have to hear something fifty times before they really begin to consider it.
The great interest in this type programming is reflected in the increase in mail. On our 15-minute daily broadcast in Louisville which consisted of straight preaching, we rarely received a letter. The same was true of the Sunday morning, 30-minute program here in Owensboro. But several letters are usually received each week in regard to our call-in program. Both in Louisville and here in Ownesboro, I have heard from several who tape the programs and listen, to them again, or play them to others.
Another valuable service such broadcasts offer is the edifying of Christians. While many members of the church do not listen to the straight-preaching programs (though they ought to), it has been my observation that almost all members who have the opportunity listen to this type broadcast. Many are strengthened in their convictions by being witness to this constant confrontation of truth and error. Several have successfully used such programs as a springboard for conversations with neighbors and co-workers.
Measurable Good Accomplished
Here, as in most cases, we cannot know all the good that has been done. But we do know of some. In Louisville, close to fifty people that I knew of, obeyed the gospel as a result of our radio efforts. These were baptized in different congregations in the city. Of the first of these were Junior and Susan Bronger. This couple came out of the Nazarene Church. Junior is now preaching the gospel at Willisburg, Kentucky.
While some of these have fallen away, many are more stable than the average convert. They knew what they were doing and were well taught on the differences between the church and denominations. They are also aware of such matters as institutionalism, Bible teaching on divorce, premillennialism, etc., for they have heard these matters discussed many times.
Here in Owensboro, the program has not yet borne a lot of visible results. Some good has been accomplished, however, in teaching tie liberals. Three families have renounced institutionalism, and I have had opportunity to study with others. In my estimation, the call-in format is the best approach to radio work. It truly constitutes a "modern-day marketplace." Used as a means to the end of reaching and teaching and persuading people, it is very rewarding.
Truth Magazine XXI: 28, pp. 437-438