This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #256, on the subject of Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.
If you have no idea who Harry Thomas is, you are certainly forgiven. I saw what I take to be his one independently-released album, and may have heard something from it, maybe once. I met him in the early eighties; we had two friends in common. Harry isn’t really important for his music, though; he is important for everyone else’s music.
Sometime in the early 1970s Harry started a radio program called Come Alive, and an associated organization called Come Alive Ministries. It was a popular show in some ways, and causes me to digress because it illustrates a significant problem with Christian radio.
WNNN had Harry’s program before I arrived. As I have mentioned, I came to the station in the wake of a massive restructuring when new owners acquired the business and were persuaded that the only people who listened to “religious broadcasting” were retirees older than themselves. The previous programming staff were grateful to have Harry’s program at all; the new ownership wanted to know why he didn’t pay for airtime–and therein lies the problem.
Before I was born, radio worked with programs, frequently live radio dramas, sometimes prerecorded ones, and other types of shows. People tuned in to hear their favorite programs–much as it was with television when I was a kid, that people knew when their shows were going to air and made sure they watched the right station. That stopped being true of radio stations, replaced by a model in which the station format was the show–that is, you tuned to this station for rock music, that station for classical music, the other for continuous news. You expect to find the kind of programming you want by going to the station that has it.
Christian radio is still largely on the old model, but with a twist. People who want to put a program on the radio pay the radio station for air time, and ask their listeners to support the program. In most cases the program also has a second revenue stream, such as a church congregation that believes this will bring people to their services, or a line of books or tapes for sale to listeners, or conferences or meetings which raise money. It is very like vanity publishing, that people who want to be on the radio pay to be on the radio and hope that it will bring money to cover the costs. Yet radio doesn’t really work that way–people who turn on the radio and don’t hear the particular kind of programming they seek change the station.
Harry’s program was a Christian contemporary/rock music program, and it was apparently good–good enough that secular rock stations were paying him for permission to air it. It worked for them, because it was officially a religious program but had a sound similar enough to their format that it wouldn’t drive away listeners the way, say, a Sunday morning church service would. So Harry was being paid to release his program to secular radio stations, while Christian stations like mine wouldn’t air it because he wouldn’t buy air time.
All of which suggests that the programs on Christian radio stations are there not because people want to hear them but because people are willing to pay to play them. I sometimes listen to preachers when my local radio station goes away from the good music to the teaching and preaching, because I know some of them, and because, well, I’m a professional Bible teacher, and once in a while I learn something, even if it’s only what obvious mistakes others are making.
So Harry had a good show.
He then arranged a small outdoor concert, and it worked, so in 1979–the year I reached the radio station–he went one step bigger and launched Creation, a Christian rock festival now believed to be the longest continuously running festival series and the largest, with the original now known as Creation Northeast and a second on the opposite side of the country known as Creation Northwest.
I said I had two friends in common with Harry. One was the Reverend Jim Bracken, founder of Mission Teens, a rehab not far from the radio station. I think he must have taken me to Harry’s home in Medford once. The other was a college classmate, Big Brother Archie Bradley, who worked Harry’s security department and got me on staff for Creation ’83, when I met and interviewed several artists. I’ve talked about that before, and will do so again.
I hear ads for the upcoming Creation festival, June 27th, and I wanted to post this before that happened. I don’t expect to be there. However, researching this article has made me aware that Harry Thomas, now in his seventies and quite infirm, has recently been arrested and charged with sexual misconduct involving minors. The details have all been kept secret, and his attorney has submitted a not guilty plea, while his ministries have all suspended his involvement for the present.
As their church website says, pray for all those involved.
We’ll get back to the musicians next time.
The series to this point has included:
- #232: Larry Norman, Visitor;
- #234: Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
- #236: Reign of the Imperials;
- #238: Love Song by Love Song.
- #240: Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
- #242: Disciple Andraé Crouch.
- #244: Missed The Archers.
- #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
- #248: The Hawkins Family.
- #250: Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
- #252: Petra Means Rock.
- #254: Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.