The Rise of Religious Radio

NPR liberals are horrified. Across the country, thousands of radio listeners are tuning out conservative-basher Nina Totenberg, and tuning in conservative heroine Phyllis Schlafly.

The growing Christian radio audience is bidding "adieu" to "Morning Edition" and saying "Amen" to gospel music hour. They’re giving the boot to "Car Talk’s" Click and Clack and greeting each daybreak with evangelical teachings and preachings.

Christian radio is on the rise. And as always, the government-subsidized left is whining about this unexpected competition to its secular media monopoly.

For years, National Public Radio (NPR) has gotten away with smearing religious groups and individuals, as it did earlier this year when NPR reporter David Kestenbaum falsely suggested that the Traditional Values Coalition, a Christian political action group, was responsible for the anthrax letters sent to Sens. Tom Daschle, (D.-S.D.), and Patrick Leahy, (D.-Vt.). Now, religious groups are fighting back by taking over NPR’s turf.

American Family Radio, based in Tupelo, Miss., now operates more than 200 stations nationwide-and has applications pending with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for hundreds more noncommercial radio outlets.

The booming popularity of contemporary Christian and gospel music has played a major role in Christian radio’s growth. Christian and gospel album sales rose 13.5% last year, while other music suffered a 3% decline, according to Business Week. K-LOVE Radio, which broadcasts popular Christian artists such as Jars of Clay, Jaci Velasquez, Point of Grace and Michael W. Smith, owns or operates nearly 60 Christian stations nationwide, from Arkansas to California.

These religious upstarts are knocking off NPR stations from the airwaves left and right (or rather, left and left). The New York Times, taking note of what it views as an alarming trend, singled out Lake Charles, La., as a community of 95,000 people that now constitutes "the most populous place in the country where ‘All Things Considered’ cannot be heard." Oh, the horror!

The religious radio revolution is the result of plain old hard work and sharp business acumen. Unlike NPR and its nearly 300 member affiliates across the country, which have grown fat and lazy while feasting on federal taxpayer handouts since birth, Christian entrepreneurs have been diligently raising private capital to purchase "full-power" stations on the low end of the FM dial, which is reserved for non-commercial, educational stations.

A provision buried in federal broadcasting law gives full-power stations the power to bump small "translator" stations-such as local NPR affiliates that retransmit programming from larger, distant sources-off the air.

Caught napping, NPR radio executives and their media cheerleaders are crying foul. Left-wing radio host Laura Flanders, who hosts a San Francisco talk show, attacked evangelical programming as "vitriol." A Variety magazine editorial lambasted Christian radio as "strident." "It is, like, nuts," complained one NPR general manager to The New York Times.

What’s nuts is for the publicly subsidized radio chieftains to lament the unfairness of hardball private competition while they continue to draw on taxpayer funds to fight back. NPR supporters have formed a new national nonprofit group created specifically to head off Christian radio challengers.

The organization, Public Radio Capital, aggressively drums up funds through tax-exempt bonds and tax-deductible contributions, and is giving local public stations a hand up-with initial "investments" from the federally backed Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

In Tacoma, Wash., Public Radio Capital pitched in $5 million to buy a noncommercial FM station from a local college; public stations in the region will pitch in funds to help operate it. Public radio bureaucrats have also secured grant money from the Commerce Department to compete in Louisiana.

It is a classic David-and-Goliath battle, one that smug NPR liberals never anticipated and now deeply resent. "NPR has a mentality of ‘we own the non-commercial educational band’ on the dial," noted Rick Snavely, general manager of the Family Life Network, in a recent Buffalo (N.Y.) News profile of Catholic and Christian radio stations. "But it belongs to the public."

Amen. It’s time for the secular hogs of the public airwaves to stop squealing. Praise the Lord and crank up the volume.