Burning Brightly and Flaming Out–The Once-Present Mainline

The mainline once burned brightly with media
efforts but then flamed out when funding did not sustain these
(I am posting a series of thoughts on the disengagement of the mainline denominations from mainstream media over the past thirty years that results in the absence of the mainline voice from the public dialogue. This is the seventh installment.)

The mainline had a presence in major media at the end of the 1960’s and into the seventies.

The Presbyterian Church hired the preeminent satirist Stan Freberg, son of a Baptist minister and one of the most creative minds ever to venture into radio, to produce a gentle, cutting edge spot needling people about attending worship. The Mennonite Church under the leadership of David Augsburger produced a series of radio spots about human relationships that garnered wide airplay and offered a humane and spiritual understanding of human interaction. The Methodist Church produced (prior to union with the Evangelical United Brethren which resulted in a name change to United Methodist), an award-winning national radio talk show that pioneered nationwide toll-free call-in. The show, Night Call, won significant national awards and demonstrated the viability of this untried format. It required the development of new equipment as well as programming. The church’s communications agency held sixteen patents related to the show. But it ran out of money and was dropped after a run of barely a year.

An ambitious attempt to operate the ecumenical Odyssey Channel, which became VISN, which became Faith and Values, outside the economic model of sponsored media was doomed from the start. Funds to run the network were never secure and the denominations, gutted by staff and program cutbacks, could not sustain quality programming. Odyssey and its successors proved conclusively that the mainline could not operate in the marketplace as it existed at the time. The funding model was unsustainable and the channel was eventually sold.

Like asteroids burning brightly and flaming out when they hit the atmosphere, these efforts marked highpoints in mainline engagement with media in the 70s and 80s, and equally important, they were among the last major efforts to sustain on-going national presence.

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