Broadcasting Good News for 60 Years
BGEA pioneers use of radio, TV & film to spread Gospel
February 27, 2010 - Throughout its history, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has made use of every available technology to further the message of the Gospel.
Billy Graham was the first evangelist to use television to reach people on a national scope, beginning with ABC broadcasts of the 1951 "Hour of Decision" program. The next notable venture in television programming was in 1957, when ABC broadcast the New York City Crusade live from Madison Square Garden.
According to ABC Television, Graham was reaching seven million viewers with every program – more Americans than had heard all the sermons he’d ever preached to that time.
In 1995, utilizing emerging satellite technology, Graham became the first evangelist in history to give a “global invitation” from the San Juan, Puerto Rico Crusade that reached live audiences in 185 countries and territories.
BGEA was a pioneer in religious motion pictures as well, starting a production company, World Wide Pictures, at a time when Christian-based films were virtually unheard of. Today these films continue to entertain, inspire and take the Good News of Christ well beyond the church walls, translated into 45 languages and used in a variety of ways around the world.
BGEA continues to produce quality Christian broadcast programming, including The Hour of Decision weekly radio program, one of the radio industry's earliest and longest-running programs, at nearly 60 years.
Evangelistic television programs, which started as broadcasts of Crusades, now include stirring produced content with stories of changed lives through BGEA ministries.
Our websites carry the Good News of Jesus Christ to millions of people around the world any time of the day or night. We utilize Facebook and Twitter to share prayer requests and updates from Festivals, and respond to tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti.
Read an excerpt from Billy Graham's autobiography in which he shares how he made the decision to get involved in radio broadcasting:
Some months before, in Boston, I heard over the radio that Dr. Walter A. Maier, the great Lutheran theologian and radio preacher from St. Louis, had died of a heart attack. I was so jolted that I knelt in my hotel room and prayed that God might raise up someone to take his place on the radio.
In those days, radio was still king; television’s impact was just beginning to be felt. There were only a few evangelical programs on national radio, and none seemed to have a wide audience among nonbelievers. Dr. Maier and Charles Fuller were virtually the only preachers on national radio at the time.
Early that summer, while I was preaching at a conference led by Walter Smyth in New Jersey, Cliff and I stopped for lunch one day at a roadside diner and were greeted by a big, smiling man whose eyes grew large as he studied me.
“Hallelujah!” he shouted, grabbing and pumping my hand. “What an answer to prayer! I was just sitting here praying that I might meet Billy Graham, and in you walk! I didn’t even know you were on the East Coast.”
He introduced himself as Dr. Theodore Elsner, a preacher from Philadelphia.
“I have a great burden on my heart,” he said. “It’s a message that I believe is from the Lord. Billy, you must go on national radio. You know Dr. Maier is dead, and you’re the man God could use to touch America through radio.”
I did not know what to think.
Dr. Elsner urged me to contact Fred Dienert, his son-in-law, and Walter Bennett, a Christian who was also a radio agent. Impressed though I was by this abrupt meeting, I did not look up either Mr. Dienert or Mr. Bennett; indeed, I pretty much forgot the whole idea. I was so busy that I could not imagine adding anything else to my plate.
A few weeks later I was speaking at a conference in Michigan. Two well-dressed strangers approached and introduced themselves as Fred Dienert and Walter Bennett. I did not know whether Dr. Elsner had spoken with them since he had met me, but their mission was to interest me in a national radio program.
I was still president of Northwestern Schools, still active with YFC, and spinning in a whirlwind of national interest in our evangelistic Crusades. I told Fred and Walter that I appreciated their interest but simply could not do a radio program at the time. My closest advisers—Cliff, Bev, and Grady—concurred: it was out of the question.
George Beverly Shea, Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows
Now, in Portland, these two extremely persistent men repeatedly lay in ambush to catch me. All they wanted, they claimed, was five minutes of my time. I got so irritated with their pestering that sometimes I took a back elevator to avoid them. I finally told Grady to let them know I was not interested in their scheme to get me into broadcasting. Leave me alone was my message.
But as I came out of the hotel one night, there they were.
“We want to say good-bye,” one of them said. “We’re leaving tonight for Chicago.”
“All right, fellows,” I said laughingly, “if before midnight tonight I should get $25,000 for the purpose of a radio broadcast, I’ll take that as an answer to prayer and be willing to do a national broadcast.”
The thought was so incredible to them that they laughed along with me before heading for the airport.
More than 17,000 people were at the meeting that night. Just before introducing my friend Bob Pierce for a brief report on his travels in the Far East, I told them about the burden Walter and Fred had for broadcasting the Gospel, and the $25,000 condition I had laid down. The audience joined in my laugh.
After Bob spoke, I preached and then extended the Invitation to receive Christ. Afterward, in the little room set aside for me in the tabernacle, a number of people dropped by to greet me. Several of them said they believed God had spoken to them during the service about helping us go on national radio. They began to leave cash, checks, and pledges. I couldn’t believe it!
“Billy,” said Frank Phillips when everybody had left, “people have given us $24,000 tonight for radio!”
Their confidence and generosity were enough to make me weep. But how could this be God’s answer? It was $1,000 short. I told Grady, Cliff, Ruth, and Frank that maybe the Devil could give us that much to mislead us. We agreed to say nothing to anyone else about the funds and went out to eat.
It was our custom to have supper after the service. That night we went to a little Japanese sukiyaki place across the street. (Ruth continued to cultivate my taste for Oriental food.) We got back to the hotel about eleven-thirty.
“There are two letters here for you, Mr. Graham,” said the desk clerk. Postmarked two days earlier, they were from people I hardly knew—businessmen Howard Butt and Bill Mead. Both said they believed we should go on the radio and that they wanted to be the first to contribute. And each enclosed a $500 check!
Stunned, I bowed my head and said a silent prayer. Emotion so overcame me that I could not think straight. Clearly, the funds had come from God. Then, when I turned to go to the elevator, who should be standing in the lobby but Walter and Fred! They had been at the airport, they said, but something had told them not to get on the plane.
I put my hands on a shoulder of each man. “Sign us up for radio for at least thirteen weeks,” I told them. “God has answered prayer. We have the $25,000. We’ll take this as a step of faith.”