KEAR offices on May 12, 2011
(All photos by J. Waits)
When I started my radio station field trip series I had intended to focus solely on college radio stations, but I pretty quickly made some exceptions when I ran across interesting commercial and community radio stations. Last week, I took an even greater detour when I decided that I needed to visit Christian radio station KEAR-AM, which is at the helm of the Family Radio network of religious stations. After hearing a Family Radio broadcast I became intrigued by its General Manager's proclamation that May 21, 2011 would be Judgment Day and that October 21, 2011 would mark the end of the world. When I first heard Family Radio General Manager Harold Camping over the airwaves a few weeks ago, I had no idea that his station was based in Oakland, California. When I realized that it was so near by, I knew that I had to tour before the predicted Armageddon.
One of Harold Camping's books in the Family Radio offices on May 12, 2011
(Photo: J. Waits)
So, on Thursday, May 12, 2011, I ventured out to Family Radio headquarters in order to tour the station, interview Harold Camping, and learn more about the inner-workings of the massive Christian radio network (see Radio Survivor for my full report on Camping's take on Judgment Day). I began my visit by attending a taping of a Harold Camping-led "Family Bible Study," which was being recorded for television and radio. As a studio audience and camera crews from Nightline and Univision watched, Camping flipped through Bible passages and talked about the nearness of Judgment Day.
Although Family Radio began in 1958 with one radio station (KEAR-FM at the time in San Francisco), it has since expanded to 60+ radio stations across the United States, 50+ translators, a shortwave station in Florida, and television stations in San Francisco and New York. Programming originates out of their Oakland headquarters, with operators in their Network Control department monitoring the patchwork quilt of signals 24 hours a day.
(Photo: J. Waits)
Harold Camping was one of the founders of the network in 1958 when he worked with a group of people to purchase KEAR-FM in San Francisco. When I interviewed him last Thursday, May 12, 2011, he told me that didn't have an interest in radio before that time. He graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a degree in engineering and had a career in the construction business. When I spoke with Camping, he relayed to me the beginnings of Family Radio:
Jennifer Waits: So you were saying you had no interest in radio before?
Harold Camping: Right. That was not my interest. I was interested in dairy cattle and I was interested in math and interested in physics and science, but not radio.
Jennifer: What got you thinking about starting up a radio network?
Mr. Camping: Someone came to my office...and he wanted to find some Christian businessmen to buy a radio station and share the gospel. And, oh, to share the gospel, that's what got my interest. So, I agreed that provided we have a non-profit corporation so that nobody could ever realize any gains for themselves. And so, we formed a non-profit corporation called Family Stations, Incorporated. I became President and he became Vice-President. I had another young man working for me and we made him the third member to be legally a qualified corporation. And I put this man on my payroll...and he found a station here in San Francisco and we bought it and that was the beginning of Family Radio.
Jennifer: And what do you now love about radio?
Mr. Camping: I've been enmeshed in it for 52 years. I've been able to supervise the construction of radio and supervise the construction of TV. We built a 350 kilowatt station in Taiwan and a 600 kilowatt station in Taiwan to carry our programming to China and to the Philippines and so on.
Jennifer: So, you've been doing Open Forum for 50 years. How did that show start?
Mr. Camping: That started because at that time we were not getting any help from any churches and although we had paid very little to whatever employees we had, we were running out of money. So we had the idea that if I would be behind the mic as President and answer questions about finances or about music policy, that might encourage people to begin to give. So, we opened the telephone lines and I did my first program and they didn't ask any questions about finances or music, but they asked counseling questions and Bible questions. And I found that I enjoyed that very much and I was somewhat qualified because I had been doing quite a bit of study in the Bible and doing some private counseling. And so that began Open Forum.
It's clear when walking through Family Radio headquarters that the company is much more than a network of radio stations. They have their own print shop, which produces books and literature related to their beliefs. The Internet department maintains the website and creates Family Radio ads for placement on Facebook, Google and Microsoft websites.
KEAR-AM Studio in Oakland on May 12, 2011
(Photo: J. Waits)
Family Radio airs a mix of programming, including the popular live call-in show "Open Forum" (which has been on the air for 50 years) hosted by Camping 7 nights a week (it was 5 nights a week until a few weeks ago), children's programming, programs on "Positive Parenting," shows about Creationism and intelligent design, religious music shows, and the other live show, "Prayer Time," which broadcasts prayer requests from listeners (ranging from someone's desire for "a new transmission" to requests for prayers for cancer-stricken relatives). Most programmers and producers at Family Radio craft their shows remotely, so when I visited I didn't get the opportunity to see any live programming in action. I did see a producer working in one of the 8 control rooms and got the opportunity to check out the set up.
A portion of the vinyl library at Family Radio
(Photo: J. Waits)
The walls outside the production studios were filled with long-forgotten vinyl LPs that are no longer played. Although I saw numerous turntables, apparently vinyl records are now a relic at Family Radio after an archiving project a decade ago paved the way for the digital library of about 8000 pieces of music that is currently in use today. Beyond the vinyl LPs that I spotted outside the studios, in a Music Department office, and in a packed-to-the-gills closet, there's apparently more music housed in an off-site storage facility. In addition to the music shows that air today, Family Radio used to have a classical show on Sundays.
The music in Family Radio's digital archive is categorized across a number of different types of music, including organ, piano, orchestra, instrumental, male solo, female solo, choirs, male chorus, duets, trios, and quartets. I was told by a member of the Music Department that all music is carefully screened by several different reviewers on staff. In addition to screening music for its lyrical content to verify its take on the gospel and theology, the staff also ensure that music adheres to Family Radio's overall air sound, which was described to me as being "traditional" and "more of the hymn type" style of sacred music. A Family Radio staff member told me, "we don't have drums" or "anything with a beat," although she acknowledged that "it can be a little upbeat...but not loud percussion." And, as I listened to the station today, I did hear a slightly upbeat song with male harmonizing vocals that reminded me of the Beach Boys. So, it's true that they do mix it up a bit musically.
Closet at Family Radio Chock Full of Vinyl and CDs
(Photo: J. Waits)
Although listeners often call the network to ask about music that's been played, it's not Family Radio's policy to announce artist names over the airwaves. They will gladly provide that information to callers, but I was told that as a rule, "we don't promote people" over the air, which means that they don't do on-air back announces of the pieces that have been played. For the most part the music that they play is old, as evidenced by some of the titles that I spotted in their vinyl library. The old-fashioned music that I heard while listening to Family Radio on several occasions was actually kind of alluring in that it was so vintage. In that respect, it did sound like nothing else on radio and brought to mind my own memories of my grandparents glued to broadcasts of the Lawrence Welk show. Oddly enough, one of the albums that I saw on my visit featured Norma Zimmer, the "Champagne Lady" from the Lawrence Welk show. Stranger still, unbeknownst to me, Norma Zimmer died 2 days before my visit and her album happened to catch my attention while I was scanning through the record library at Family Radio. I hope that's not a sign...
Norma Zimmer LP at Family Radio
When I took this photo I had no idea that she had died 2 days before!
(Photo: J. Waits)
To learn more about Family Radio's take on Judgment Day, see my article on Radio Survivor, which also includes more from my interview with Family Radio's General Manager Harold Camping.
Equipment in Network Control at Family Radio
(Photo: J. Waits)
Previous Spinning Indie Radio Station Field Trips:
Field Trip to WECB at Emerson College
College Radio Field Trip 2 - Cal Poly's KCPR
College Radio Field Trip 3 - Notre Dame's WVFI
Radio Station Field Trip 4 - WFMU in Jersey City
Radio Station Field Trip 5 - East Village Radio in NYC
Radio Station Field Trip 6 - WNYU in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 7 - Northwestern's WNUR
Radio Station Field Trip 8 - Stanford's KZSU
Radio Station Field Trip 9 - University of San Francisco's KUSF
Radio Station Field Trip 10 - Santa Clara University Station KSCU
Radio Station Field Trip 11 - UC Berkeley's KALX
Radio Station Field Trip 12 - KSJS at San Jose State University
Radio Station Field Trip 13 - WBAR at Barnard College
Radio Station Field Trip 14 - KFJC at Foothill College
Radio Station Field Trip 15 - UC Santa Cruz Station KZSC
Radio Station Field Trip 16 - Haverford College Station WHRC
Radio Station Field Trip 17 - FCCFree Radio in San Francisco
Radio Station Field Trip 18 - Flirt FM in Galway, Ireland
Radio Station Field Trip 19 - RXP 101.9 FM in New York City
Radio Station Field Trip 20- WGBK at Glenbrook South High School
Radio Station Field Trip 21 - KPDO in Pescadero, California
Radio Station Field Trip 22 - KZYX in Philo, California
Radio Station Field Trip 23 - San Francisco's Pirate Cat Radio
Radio Station Field Trip 10.5 - KSCU's New Digs at Santa Clara University (2010)
Radio Station Field Trip 24 - Radio Valencia in San Francisco