CHICAGO -- Lutheran Vespers, the radio ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), recently began airing on WHO-AM, Des Moines, Iowa, one of 31 "clear channel" radio stations in the United States. Clear channel stations broadcast their signals exclusively on their assigned AM frequencies at specific times, enabling listeners hundreds of miles away to hear its programs.
WHO can be heard at 1040 on the AM dial.
Lutheran Vespers (LV) is a weekly 30-minute radio program, featuring the Rev. Walt Wangerin Jr., as speaker. The program airs on 235 stations and reaches an estimated 3 million to 4 million listeners a year in the United States, Africa, Australia, Europe, Guam and Puerto Rico. ELCA missionaries also receive copies of the program.
LV airs on two other clear channel radio stations: WCCO-AM, Minneapolis; and KSL-AM, Salt Lake City, Utah.
"We're grateful whenever we add another station to the LV family," said Susan V. Greeley, Lutheran Vespers director/producer, ELCA Department for Communication. "But a station the size of WHO is a special blessing because it will reach the entire state of Iowa. That gives many more people the opportunity to hear the gospel even if the program isn't carried by their local radio station."
The program did not have an affiliate in Des Moines for two years until it began airing on WHO last December, said Barbara Andrews, associate director for marketing, ELCA Department for Communication. LV airs each Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m. on WHO. For some stations, that airtime may mean few listeners -- but not on WHO, said Van Harden, WHO program director and morning co-host. Because of its strong signal, "mornings are huge, which is true on weekends as well," he said.
After the first LV broadcast, the stations got "great feedback," Harden said. Some were first-time listeners, and others had heard of the program before, he said.
Wangerin's storytelling ability, combined with good communication skills, made the program attractive to WHO, Harden said. "The program is a perfect fit for us," he said. "It's a great program. He's painting his pictures on a great canvas at WHO. I hope it [Lutheran Vespers] is with us for a long time."
The shared financial support of the ELCA Mission Investment Fund, Chicago, and the ELCA Southeastern Iowa Synod, Iowa City, has made the program possible on WHO, Andrews said. Several ELCA congregations in the Des Moines area are likely to add financial support, she said. Shared, local financial support is "vital" to LV, because the ministry does not have the resources to pay for local airtime, Greeley said. "We provide the program to stations free of charge, but we need ministry partners to pay for the time," she added.
Wangerin's "OutSpoken for Lutheran Vespers" tour last fall, which included a rally in Des Moines, helped make LV possible on WHO said the Rev. Philip J. Hougen, bishop of the Southeastern Iowa Synod. Wangerin toured seven states in the Upper Midwest, promoting the program and raising funds for an LV endowment. He made several appearances in Iowa, including West Des Moines, Hougen said.
"We are very pleased and glad to be part of this," he said. "Our communication committee wanted to do this. It's amazing to me how many people have mentioned they've heard the program."
Hougen described LV as a program that is a "wonderful witness to the gospel and a wonderful representation of the ELCA." People who are familiar with the program tune in "so it can feed their souls," he said. Listeners not familiar with the program will hear Wangerin articulate the gospel in a way that is "Lutheran and solidly biblical," Hougen said.
"The Mission Investment Fund has many investors who live in Iowa," said the Rev. Arnold O. Pierson, Mission Investment Fund vice president, marketing. "We are grateful for the opportunity to provide some of the support that has enabled Lutheran Vespers to be heard by people throughout Iowa."
There have been other significant developments for LV, said Brenda Engelby, Lutheran Vespers associate director for promotion and placement, ELCA Department for Communication:
+ The program is now heard in New Zealand on the Radio Readers Network and on shortwave radio, Engelby said. "Normally, this is a reading service (newspapers, magazines, books) for the visually impaired, but they asked for LV, and they will actually be playing the program as we produce it." The program is sponsored by the NZ Radio For the Print Disabled, Inc., Engelby said.
+ Since September, LV has aired every Sunday on the Truckers Network, available through the ABC Radio Network in conjunction with Sirius Trucking Satellite Radio, channel 180. Truck drivers throughout the country can tune in to the program.
By Albert H. Lee