Skip to main content

Global Radio Broadcasting and the Dynamics of American Evangelicalism


During the middle decades of the twentieth century, American evangelicals broadened their global outlook and operations, becoming the largest private radio broadcasters in the world. As they expanded overseas after World War II, American evangelicals encountered a world in crisis due to the Cold War, population growth, and processes of decolonization, affecting Western missions. Evangelical broadcasting advocates promoted mass media as a means to address the shifting demographic, political, and religious balance between the global North and South. Global radio broadcasting demonstrated a dynamic tension within American evangelicalism between innovative and conservative impulses, which was particularly evident in the area of reception.

Hide All

1 Carpenter Joel, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 177 , cited in Miller-Davenport Sarah, “‘Their Blood Shall Not Be Shed in Vain’: American Evangelical Missionaries and the Search for God and Country in Post-World War II Asia,” Journal of American History, 99 (March 2013), 1109–32, 1109.

2 Oldenziel Ruth, “Islands: The United States as a Networked Empire,” in Hecht G., ed., Entangled Geographies: Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011), 1341 .

3 Westad Odd Arne, The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times (Cambridge: Cambidge University Press, 2005).

4 Spohrer Jennifer, “Threat or Beacon? Recasting International Broadcasting in Europe after World War II,” in Badenoch Alexander, Fickers Andreas, and Henrich-Franke Christian, eds., Broadcasting and the Cold War: Airy Curtains in the European Ether (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2013), 2950 .

5 On religion in the Cold War see Whitfield Stephen, The Culture of the Cold War, 2nd edn (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Herzog Jonathan, The Spiritual–Industrial Complex: America's Religious Battle against Communism in the Early Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Stevens Jason, God-Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America's Cold War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

6 King David, “The New Internationalists: World Vision and the Revival of American Evangelical Humanitarianism, 1950–2010,” Religions, 3 (2012), 922–49, 940.

7 Ibid., 936. See also David King, “Seeking a Global Vision: The Evolution of World Vision and American Evangelicalism,” PhD dissertation, Emory University, 2012.

8 David King, “World Vision: Religious Identity in the Discourse and Practice of Global Relief and Development,” Review of Faith and International Affairs, Fall 2011, 21–28, 23. World Vision had an annual budget of $2.6 billion c.2011, operated in almost 100 countries, and employed 40,000 people worldwide. See King, “The New Internationalists.”

9 King provides impressive data on the growth of evangelical r & d and humanitarian organizations during the closing decades of the twentieth century. By 2012, six of seven of the largest evangelical mission agencies were r & d organizations and four evangelical agencies ranked among the top ten largest INGOS. Other specialized evangelical agencies include the Christian Children's Fund, the Medical Assistance Program, and the Institute for International Development, as well as the humanitarian International Justice Mission. Measured in purely monetary terms, evangelical commitments abroad outweighed their more publicized involvement with domestic politics: “For every dollar evangelicals spent on political organizations, they invested twelve dollars toward foreign missions and international aid.” King, “The New Internationalists,” 924.

10 According to Robert Wuthnow, American churches spent over $3.7 billion in the first decade of the twenty-first century on overseas ministries – an increase of 45% over the previous decade. Wuthnow Robert, Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011).

11 According to Robert Wuthnow (ibid., pp. 1, 23), American churches supported 42,787 missionaries in 2001, a 16% increase over the previous decade. In addition, American agencies support 65,000 non-USA citizens and foreign nationals. The number of short-term missionary volunteers rose over the final decades of the twentieth century and reached an all-time high in the early 2000s: 350,000 workers (for two weeks to a year) and a million workers (for under two weeks). Joshua Yates reports even higher figures for the number of American missionaries c.2000: between 67,000 and 118,000. See Joshua Yates, “American Evangelicals: The Overlooked Globalizers and Their Unintended Gospel of Modernity,” Hedgehog Review, Summer 2002, 74, 66–90.

12 In addition to r & d and humanitarian organizations, examples of major contemporary evangelical parachurch and mission organizations with significant global operations include Campus Crusade for Christ (progenitors of the Jesus Film project), Christian Broadcasting Network and Trinity Broadcasting Network (cable satellite networks), Focus on the Family, Fuller School of World Mission (the largest missions school in the world, founder of the church growth movement), and Youth with A Mission (short-term missions). See Yates.

13 FEBC, Far East Broadcaster, December 1948, “Call of the Orient,” Binder 1-A, FEBC Archives (hereafter “FEBC”), 15700 Imperial Highway, La Mirada, CA. All Far East Broadcaster references are authored by FEBC and are from the same binder.

14 Quoted in Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Radio in Mission: A Handbook on the Use of Radio in World Evangelization, contr. Gray Frances (Lausanne: Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 1989), 7 .

15 Carpenter Joel, “Propagating the Faith Once Delivered: The Fundamentalist Missionary Enterprise, 1920–1945,” in Carpenter Joel and Shenk Wilbert, eds., Earthen Vessels: American Evangelicals and Foreign Missions, 1880–1980 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 92–132, 128–30.

16 Hangen Tona, Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture in America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

17 Marsden George Fundamentalism and American Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Carpenter, Revive Us Again.

18 Sutton Mathew Avery, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007); and Sutton , “Was FDR the Antichrist? The Birth of Fundamentalist Antiliberalism in a Global Age,” Journal of American History, 98, 4 (March 2012), 1052–74.

19 Schultze Quentin, Christianity and the Mass Media in America: Toward a Democratic Accommodation (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2005), 62 .

20 Carpenter, Revive Us Again; Hangen.

21 Schultze, 143. See also Carpenter Joel, “Fundamentalist Institutions and the Rise of Evangelical Protestantism, 1929–1942,” Church History, 49, 1 (March 1980), 6275 .

22 Sweeney Douglas, The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 173–74.

23 Carpenter, Revive Us Again, 131.

24 The reference is to Hutchinson Mark and Wolffe John, A Short History of Global Evangelicalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 163 .

25 Schultze, 48–49.

26 Carpenter Joel, “Preface” to Carpenter, ed., Missionary Innovation and Expansion (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988), xiixviii, xvi.

27 Joel Carpenter, Revive Us Again, 30–31.

28 Hutchison William R., Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987), 177 . Joel Carpenter disputes this data, arguing that by the mid-1930s missionaries affiliated with conservative agencies already made up 40% of the overall missionary force. Joel A. Carpenter, “Appendix: The Evangelical Missionary Force in the 1930s,” in Carpenter and Shenk, Earthen Vessels, 335–42.

29 Kane J. Herbert, A Concise History of Christian World Mission: A Panoramic View from Pentecost to the Present (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 102 ; and Shenk Wilbert, “Missions,” in Goff Philip, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Religion in America (Malden, MA and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 228–41.

30 Lundestad Geir, East, West, North, South: International Relations since 1945 (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2014); and Lundestad , The Rise and Decline of the American “Empire”: Power and Its Limits in Comparative Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

31 Lundestad, East, West, North, South, 4; Go Julian, “Waves of Empire: US Hegemony and Imperialistic Activity from the Shores of Tripoli to Iraq, 1787–2003,” International Sociology, 22 (Jan. 2007), 2528 .

32 Ruth Oldenziel, “Islands,” 14.

33 Ibid., 13, 34. On the VOA's global network see Stoneman Timothy, “A ‘Bold New Vision’: The VOA Ring Plan and Global Broadcasting in the Early Cold War,” Technology and Culture, 50, 1 (April 2009), 316–44.

34 Sweeney, The American Evangelical Story, 174.

35 Berg Jerome S., Broadcasting on the Short Waves: 1945 to Today (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008).

36 Clarence Jones cited in The Alliance Witness, 11 April 1956, C&MA National Archives, Colorado Springs, CO.

37 Darroch M. A., Missions’ Race against Time (Chicago: Moody Monthly, c. 1954).

38 Glasser Arthur F., “The Mission Field Today,” in Changing World – Unchanging Christ: A Missionary Compendium (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1955), 3242 .

39 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), “Hour of Decision” report, 2 Dec. 1960, Billy Graham Center Archives (BGCA), Wheaton, IL.

40 Ibid.

41 Paul E. Haines, “Radio to Speed the Light,” Far East Broadcaster, June 1946, FEBC.

42 FEGC field report (1948?) in Miller-Davenport, “Their Blood Shall Not Be Shed in Vain,” 1118.

43 Quoted in BGEA, 31.

44 International Christian Broadcasters, ICB bulletin, editorial, June 1963, 3.

45 Hobsbawm Eric, The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991 (London: Abacus, 1994), 345 .

46 Carpenter Joel and Sanneh Lamin, eds., The Changing Face of Christianity: Africa, the West, and the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 5 ; Robert Dana, “Shifting Southward: Global Christianity since 1945,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 24, 2 (April 2000), 5058 ; Isichei Elizabeth, The Religious Traditions of Africa: A History (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004), 171–72.

47 Schultze, Christianity and the Mass Media in America, 145.

48 Reuben Larson, “Barriers Bridged by Radio,” Christian Life, May 1953.

49 Jones Clarence, Radio: The New Missionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1946), 114 .

50 Oral interview with Robert Bowman, Dec. 2003, FEBC, La Mirada, CA.

51 Quoted in Schultze, 67–69.

52 Ibid., 141, 146–47.

53 HCJB set the tone from the start in 1931. In its station contract, HCJB's organizers agreed to allow the government airtime for agricultural, weather, and political information, as well as free access to one-fifth of the stations's airtime upon demand. In addition, HCJB regularly played Ecuadorian cultural programming and music and closed each day's broadcast with the Ecuadorian national anthem.

54 As a typical example of public-relations programming by evangelical broadcasters, FEBC in the early 1960s provided regular airtime on its shortwave service to various offices and agencies in the Philippine government: the Presidential Press, Radio & TV Office, Education Department, Social Security System, Philippine Constabulary, and State University College of Agriculture. FEBC prepared ten newscasts per day in the Philippines, along with its own magazine-format news program and special events coverage. It aired short medical programs from English-speaking doctors, as well as informational material from the USIS, WHO, and SEATO. See “Public Service Programs on FEBC Stations” and “Public Service Programs,” RHB Files, Manila Important Material, FEBC.

55 The asymmetry of power with broadcasters in the mission field did not negate the agency of local listeners. Recent scholarship highlights the embodied character of listening and stresses how the context and conditions of audiences frame the listening experience. With respect to evangelical broadcasting, foreign listeners retained control in numerous areas of reception, from set volume to antenna operation and battery replacement. Audiences also determined the ultimate effectiveness of evangelical broadcasts, which required a degree of consent to produce conversion. As David Morley notes, however, active-audience theory was not initially designed to negate the media power of foreign broadcasters, such as American evangelicals, but rather to allow for a more complex conceptualization of how such media power operates. See Morley David, “Globalisation and Cultural Imperialism Re-considered: Old Questions in New Guises,” in Curran James P. and Morley David G., eds., Media and Cultural Theory (Milton Park and New York: Routledge, 2006), 3043 ; and Morley , “Unanswered Questions in Audience Research,” Communication Review, 9, 2 (2006), 101121 ; Lacey Kate, Listening Publics: The Politics and Experience of Listening in the Media Age (Malden, MA and Oxford : Wiley-Blackwell, 2013); and Goody Alex, “Radio at Home: BBC Drama and Domestic Listeners, 1935–1942,” Modernist Cultures, 10, 1 (2015), 6282 .

56 Schultze.

57 Ibid, 162.

58 While a genealogically distinct branch of evangelicalism emphasizing the experience of the Holy Spirit, Pentecostalism formed part of the broad evangelical movement that shared roots and general tendencies. FEBC's directors stressed their nondenominational affinities with conservative evangelical preachers and deliberately downplayed theological distinctives in pursuit of the common task of worldwide evangelization. See Robbins Joel, “The Globalization of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity,” Annual Review of Anthropology, 33 (2004), 117–43; and Johnson Todd W., “The Global Demographics of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal,” Soc, 46 (2009), 479–83.

59 Other examples include the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade in the Philippines and Japan, the New Tribes Mission, and the Mission Aviation Fellowship. See Miller-Davenport, “Their Blood Shall Not Be Shed in Vain.” On the role of veterans see Richard V. Pierard, “Pax Americana and the Evangelical Missionary Advance,” in Carpenter and Shenk, Earthen Vessels, 170–75.

60 Enrique Elizabeth, Appropriation of Colonial Broadcasting: A History of Early Radio in the Philippines, 1922–1946 (Diliman, Quezon City: The University of the Philippines Press, 2009), 36, 177.

61 Brands H. W., Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

62 Kumberley John, “Bamboo Missionary Broadcaster: Gospel vs. Chairman Mao,” Popular Electronics, 32, 2 (Feb. 1970), 6168, 61.

63 Ibid.

64 George Codding, Broadcasting without Barriers (Paris: UNESCO, 1959).

65 UNESCO, Statistics on Radio and Television, 1950–1960 (Paris: UNESCO, 1963), 53 , Table 2. The exact figure is 1,059 inhabitants according to UNESCO data calculated by Mercier Claude, La réception radiophonique à bon marché (Paris: UNESCO, 1950), 13 .

66 For brief accounts of FEBC's receiver distribution program see Ledyard Gleason H., Sky Waves: The Incredible Far East Broadcasting Company Story (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963); and James Calvin King, “A Survey and Analysis of the Major International Evangelical Short Wave Broadcasters Trans World Radio, HCJB and the Far East Broadcasting Company,” PhD thesis, University of Michigan, 1973.

67 By comparison, the average sale price for a Philips receiver in the same period was 350 florins. On Philips data for 1947–49 see Mercier, 124. Sources: Oral interview with Norman Blake, Dec. 2003, FEBC, La Mirada, CA; W. Woodard, “F. E. Radio Plays Big Part in Spreading the Gospel,” Japan Times (undated), FEBC; Ledyard; Far East Broadcaster, Jan., Feb. 1950.

68 In 1959, evangelical engineers custom-built a portable transistor receiver, the “Villager,” that measured four by six by eleven inches. Here again typically, the speaker (six inches, with a 6.8 oz magnet) largely dictated the size and weight of the radio.

69 On state broadcasters’ attempts to delimit audiences by controlling the process of reception see Lekgoathi Sekibakiba Peter, “‘You are Listening to Radio Lebowa of the South African Broadcasting Corporation’: Vernacular Radio, Bantusan Identity and Listenership, 1960–1994,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 35, 3 (Sept. 2009), 575–94; and Christoph Classen, “Jamming the RIAS: Technical Measures against Western Broadcasting in East Germany (GFR) 1945–1989,” in Badenoch, Fickers, and Henrich-Franke, Broadcasting and the Cold War, 321–47, 341–43.

70 Ledyard.

71 John Broger, “FEBC: A Modern Miracle,” Pentecostal Evangel, 12 Aug. 1950, 11–13, 5, Flowers Pentecostal Heritage Center, Springfield, MO.

72 Far East Broadcaster Dec. 1950(?), FEBC.

73 See Far East Broadcaster, Aug. 1952.

74 Far East Broadcaster, March 1949, Oct. 1951, Aug. 1952, FEBC.

75 Far East Broadcaster, July 1952, FEBC.

76 Far East Broadcaster, Feb. 1950.

77 Letter from Cruz, 17 Oct. 1956; interview between Carol Alcott and Robert Bowman, “CBS News report,” undated, “CBS News: Carol Allcott,” Bowman Files, FEBC.

78 Letter from Montejo to the director (FEBC), 5 March 1966, Box 5, Bowman Files, FEBC; and letter from Montejo to the director (FEBC), 6 Feb. 1969, Box 5, Bowman Files, FEBC.

79 Montejo, letter from director, 5 March 1966, FEBC.

80 Arvid Veidmark cites USIS figures in “Radio Survey of the Philippines Islands,” July 27–August 15, 1953, “Arvid Veidmark (Power of Attorney),” FEBC.

81 With 300,000 radios, and an average of 22.5 persons per set, the total radio audience in the Philippines can be estimated at 6.75 million listeners. Veidmark.

82 Ledyard, Sky Waves; Far East Broadcaster, Jan. 1950, FEBC.

83 Far East Broadcaster, Jan. 1950, FEBC.

84 In his oral interview, Blake stated that FEBC did not complete a written contract. Ledyard; Blake, oral interview.

85 FEBC published reports of the following PM audience sizes: 30, 78, 75, 90, and 200. Far East Broadcaster, Aug. 1950, July 1952, Nov. 1952. See also “‘P.M.’ Holders’ Reports,” and “Excerpts fropm ‘Portable Missionary’ Holders’ Reports,” undated, Box 5, Bowman Files, FEBC.

86 Broger, “FEBC: A Modern Miracle”.

87 For a discussion of contemporary radio clubs in an African context see Mhagama Peter, “Radio Listening Clubs in Malawi as Alternative Public Spheres,” Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast & Audio Media, 13, 1–2 (2015), 105–20.

88 Crusade magazine, Nov. 1959.

89 Roughly one-third of PM Clubs filed monthly reports. “Use of Pretuned Radios Boosts Manila Audience,” Southland Daily News, 4 April 1964, 10, “Press Releases: News Clippings,” FEBC.

90 Ledyard.

91 “Extension Department Monthly Report,” June 1962, Jan. 1968, Aug. 1969, FEBC.

92 Douglas Susan, Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004).

93 Far East Broadcaster, March 1950, FEBC.

94 Broger.

95 Laureana N. Garcia letter in Far East Broadcaster, March 1950, FEBC.

96 Far East Broadcaster, Aug. 1950, FEBC.

97 Ledyard; King, A Survey, 153–54.

98 From 1950 to 1955, FEBC imported 150–200 radios from the United States. The Philippine governments kept import duties low.

99 King, 153–54.

100 FEBC, extension department monthly report, Aug. 1969, FEBC.

101 “KGEI Mail Excerpts, PM Reports,” March–April 1966, FEBC.

102 Cited in André-Jean Tudesq, “Introduction a la Radiodiffusion aux tournants des siecles,” available at Groupe de recherches et d’études sur la radio, at, accessed 8 Oct. 2015.

103 Cover of Far East Broadcaster, undated (July 1955?), FEBC.

104 Broger, “FEBC: A Modern Miracle,” 13.

105 Go, “Waves of Empire”.

106 See, accessed 9 Aug. 2012.

107 Bob Pierce of World Vision “introduced the concept of ‘child sponsorship’” in publicity campaigns for his original work among Korean orphanages in the 1950s. “The image of the innocent child” was effective in fund-raising, in part, because it “bypassed theological debates.” In the late 1970s, “World Vision's appeals offered hard facts and statistics, but they made sure that hunger had a face. Playing to emotion and asking for immediate response, the hungry child became the face of World Vision.” Fellow evangelical r & d organizations Food for the Hungry and Compassion International run similar child sponsorship programs today. King, “The New Internationalists,” 928, 935.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 41 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 147 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 10th October 2017 - 26th February 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.