LIMA — Three hundred thousand prayers. Scott Young has done the math, and by his calculations the staff at WTGN radio has received 300,000 prayer requests over the 50 years that the station has been airing its Prayer Time program. That is a lot of prayers, and even though it is impossible to know how many of them has been answered, it is probably safe to say that one of the first — a prayer that Lima would embrace and susttain its first full-time Christian radio station — was both heard and abundantly answered.
WTGN signed on for the first time on Sept. 27, 1966. And to mark the 50th anniversary of the event, the station is hosting a gala celebration at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at Veterans Memorial Civic Center.
“We signed on in 1966 and at that time there was no other Christian radio in Lima at all,” said Scott Young, who started out as an on-air personality in 1978 and today serves as the station’s general manager. “There were a couple of half-hour programs on a local station and if the weather was just right you could get a station out of Springfield, Ohio.”
But Miamisburg pastor Peter Courlas saw a need and he rallied Lima businessmen Stanley Tam and Art Arthur to raise the necessary capital and wade through the paperwork to make WTGN a reality.
At the time, of course, AM radio was king, and WTGN was assigned the frequency of 97.7 on the FM band. As hard as it is to believe today, getting people to tune in to FM broadcasts was one of the first challenges the station’s founders had to face.
“In 1966 a lot of people didn’t even have FM radios,” Young told me. “People just had AM and that was it. So when [the station] first signed on, some people were making donations and they would give them an FM radio so they could listen to the station they were donating to. When I came here in 1978 I had to put an FM converter in my 1974 Dodge Dart that only had an AM radio in it, so I could listen to the radio station I was going to work at.”
Today WTGN not only broadcasts locally at 97.7, but has translators that extend its reach into Findlay and Kenton, and with online streaming at WTGN.org, the station’s reach is now in fact global.
“The fact that we’re here 50 years later, still non-commercial, still committed to the same gospel message, that’s big,” said Young. “Whether it’s your wedding anniversary or something else, that’s a big deal.”
Hence the decision to turn the 50th anniversary celebration into an event to remember, with Christian comedian Ken Davis and southern Gospel star Ivan Parker topping the bill.
Over the years, Young noted, the station has changed in subtle ways, reflecting the rising influence of Christian radio around the country. In the early going, the station balanced its teaching and music programming, alternating a half-hour of each through most of the day. And the music itself was a far cry from the electric intensity of the so-called “praise and worship” music that now dominates Christian broadcasts.
“It has changed a lot,” Young said. “There’s no question about that. When we started we were playing The White Sisters and The 16 Singing Men and The Bill Gaither Trio a lot. And we still do play the Gaither Vocal Band occasionally. But now it’s like Mercy Me and Casting Crowns and Chris Tomlin. A lot more praise and worship. Some of it has been good. It’s acceptable maybe to more people.”
At the same time, since contemporary Christian music is becoming ever more popular, and because WTGN is no longer to sole Christian broadcaster in the area, the station’s programmers have adjusted the schedule to allow for longer blocks of commercial-free musical programming.
Whatever the listeners’ tastes in Christian music, however. Young is emphatic about the importance of the message in everything WTGN broadcasts.
“We don’t play watered down songs. We really try to play songs that are biblically based. And we try to look at the artists themselves and see what their lives are like offstage. If they’re living a pretty consistent Christian experience then we’re leaning much more towards them. We’re trying to be relevant to people in 2016, but we try to do that without compromising the message.”
At 62, having spent almost 38 years at WTGN, Young feels that he has been blessed many times over.
“I don’t know if I could have written a better job description for me,” he said. “I love radio. But I love Jesus. And I get to combine both of those things every day on my job. When I tell you that, I smile. I smile when I say that.”
Reach Dayton Fandray at [email protected]