A Little Dial Shall Lead Them: The Agenda of Some Christian Stations Isn't Religion but Politics

By Moon, Jill | St. Louis Journalism Review, July-August 2005 | Go to article overview
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A Little Dial Shall Lead Them: The Agenda of Some Christian Stations Isn't Religion but Politics


Moon, Jill, St. Louis Journalism Review


Of the more than 35 radio stations in the St. Louis market, about half of them are either owned or heavily influenced by a religious organization. In fact, according to Arbitron data, the number of religious radio stations has increased by 14 percent nationwide during the last five years, and in St. Louis that percentage is probably greater.

The number of listeners for religious radio in the St. Louis market is large. But, taken all together, they still number about 100,000 fewer than those who listen to KMOX daily.

On the other hand, it's impossible to surf across either the AM or FM radio band in this area without being verbally accosted by people calling themselves Christian or even Christian ministers shouting that people who believe in abortion rights are murderers and Democrats are traitors.

"Religious organizations--even those that are conservative--have used new media effectively since Martin Luther first used the printing press in the 16th century," says Thomas A. Tweed, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

"What is happening now in radio is only a continuation of what religious organizations have done in using new media from the printing press to the Internet."

That may be so. But many people believe these radio stations are not pushing a Christian agenda so much as a radical, right-wing political agenda.

Take KJSL (630 AM), for example. It's owned by Crawford Broadcasting Company and offers extreme right-wing religious political fare. It bills itself as Christian Talk Radio and reflects Don Crawford's vow, made in 1992, to rise up against the liberal, humanist voices in America and to provide strong, Christian, patriotic news and views.

The station carries IRN News and Commentary, which focuses on such "outrages" as gay or women ministers in various Christian denominations. Its commentaries often rail against plots by the United Nations to take over the United States, conspiracies to promote gay lifestyles in the nation's public schools, and Democratic legislators' plans to disarm America.

On June 22, a newscaster on KJSL said the "magnitude of the war we are in is evident" and it is "the Kingdom of Satan against the Kingdom of God."

The station also airs "Unraveling the New World Order." Chuck Bates and his son, Larry, produce the show. They label most Democrats as socialists and communists, as well as unwitting traitors in the widening war against Muslim domination. Muslims are regularly castigated as depraved, warmongering and evil. Both regularly praise George W. Bush as a great example of a God-fearing, Christian President, who must be supported by all Christians.

This stuff is hardly the Sermon on the Mount.

"The Christian right are a mean spirited, determined group of people who try to impose a doctrinaire philosophy on everyone," says Dr. Robert Tabscott, a minister in St. Louis. "Any competent theologian or person who has participated in historic religious tradition recognizes the danger inherent in that."

But Dr. Frank Wright, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters in Washington, D.C., does not see religious radio as pushing a right-wing agenda.

"I don't think it's fair to label Christian radio as being used to advance one political agenda or another when all they are doing is arguing the positions the Church has held for the last 2,000 years," Wright says.

Both Wright and Tweed say historically religious radio's goal is not to report news but to spread the word of God. But Tweed says news on religious radio is a product of historical forces in the 1970s and '80s when the emerging right tried to compete with CNN.

Although commercial television, radio and print had commentary on public events, Pat Robertson and others began to emphasize news content more on their religious broadcasts, Tweed says. Before that it was unusual for Christian broadcasting networks to make news reporting a fundamental task, he says.

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