Despite claims by some that radio is dying, it remains at heart of FEBC’s pioneering ministry, even as it uses new-tech pathways to share the gospel
LA MIRADA, Calif. – As it marks 70 years of proclaiming the gospel to some of the farthest corners of the world, FEBC (Far East Broadcasting Company, www.febc.org), the pioneering Christian broadcaster, is in a Mark Twain moment.
Just as the celebrated humorist once noted that a report of his death had been “greatly exaggerated,” so the ministry—whose vision statement is “Until All Have Heard”—affirms that its long-time radio focus is not only alive and well, but thriving, even as many claim the traditional medium’s impact is in decline.
While FEBC is creatively using new forms of communication like streaming, social media, and smartphones to open up new avenues for sharing the good news of Jesus, it declares that radio still rocks. The format remains its effective core in reaching countless listeners for whom shortwave, AM and FM programming continues to be their gateway to the life-changing gospel.
“Whatever others may say, there is simply no question that radio is alive and well, and remains absolutely key to our mission—broadcasting the gospel to those who desperately need to hear it,” says FEBC USA President and CEO Ed Cannon.
First broadcasting from a radio station in Manila, Philippines, FEBC has since expanded to almost 150 transmitters and stations that between them can reach some 3 billion people, with a focus on those with little or no access to the gospel. Almost 900 hours of programming are offered daily, in 113 languages and dialects and some 50 countries. Last year, FEBC received 2.25 million letters, texts and emails from listeners, as well as 5 million online responses.
Much of the widespread chatter about radio’s diminishing power centers on the waning commercial FM music audience in the United States, where many listeners have gravitated to online streaming services, social media, and podcasts.
But it’s a very different picture in ministry broadcasting in other parts of the world where, outside of radio, some have no other way of hearing about Jesus. That may be because they live in remote places where there is no television and internet access is limited. Financial limitations also prevent many from using their cell phones to download content.
Meanwhile, government restrictions on publishing, and crackdowns on churches in countries such as Russia and China, leave radio as the easiest and most cost-effective way of presenting the gospel to nonbelievers and discipling believers.
Illustrative of radio’s enduring central role in FEBC’s work is the opening in 2016 of two new stations in predominantly Buddhist Mongolia. Since beginning its work there 12 years ago, FEBC has launched ten stations, with plans for 20.
Another example is FEBC’s ongoing distribution of fixed-dial radios to people in hard-to-reach places. Hundreds of thousands have been given away over the years, with several thousand smuggled or floated by balloon into repressive Communist North Korea over the past couple of years.
Even where FEBC is using other forms of communication to broadcast, radio remains the fuel that drives the train. When FEBC’s long-time radio stations in Russia were forced to close, it began streaming on social media.
“All these different forms of social media are essentially radio, except it is going out over the internet or a cell phone,” says Cannon. In some cases, FEBC films a radio broadcast in-studio and streams that programming online in another country where they speak the same language, to further extend its reach.
The ongoing emphasis on radio is not about living in the past, however. Using technology to overcome barriers for people to hear the gospel has been FEBC’s focus since it was founded in 1945, with broadcasts starting three years later. “Over the years we have pursued ways to be innovative,” says Cannon.
Those efforts include adopting sim cards to share content, satellite broadcasting, distributing speaker boxes for groups of people to be able to listen to broadcasts, and providing cell phone charger stations in remote areas with local hot spots that provide access to downloadable content.
“We have always looked for ways to use new tools, but our core mission remains the same,” says Cannon, “to use radio to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who do not know him.”
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FEBC (Far East Broadcasting Radio, www.febc.org) was founded in 1945 to share the gospel in China. Today, more than 900 staff and almost 2,000 volunteers produce around 850 hours of programming each day, broadcast across Asia, Russia, Ukraine, the Indian Sub-continent, the Middle East and Africa. Programs in 113 languages air from 149 stations.
PHOTO CUTLINE: Christian radio still reaches people like this mother from the Philippines who don’t have access to other forms of broadcast. Each year, FEBC distributes thousands of preset radios airing Gospel music, Christian teaching, biblical encouragement, and health advice.