Richard Rodriguez remembers Family Radio fondly. Growing up in the 1980s, he tuned in to the Christian network during his tumultuous teenage years. "Back then, Family Radio gave free broadcasting time to local churches for on-air Bible studies and devotionals," Rodriguez recalled. "I found comfort and inspiration."
But in the early 1990s, he began to tune out when the network began reporting that 1994 would be the end of the world. "I got sick and tired of muting the radio whenever those segments came on," Rodriguez said. "Convicted by the Lord, I just couldn't keep listening to music if the teaching is going sour. So I made the difficult decision of shutting off my local Family Radio."
The false teachings of Family Radio President Harold Camping also compelled Olivebridge, N.Y., affiliate WFSO to abandon the Family Radio broadcasting fold.
"Once Camping started saying God was done with all the churches and Satan ruled all the churches, we immediately covered up those segments of false teaching," said Dan Elmendorf, who runs WFSO from his home. He said that it was a tough decision to start declining Family Radio's funding and discontinuing its programming, but added, "We had no choice."
The decision for WFSO to go it alone was also affirmed by one of Camping's employees. "Someone inside Family Radio shared with us that he felt there was no reform possible to that ministry," said Elmendorf.
Since the break, Elmendorf and his colleagues have been building an alternative to Family Radio. Redeemer Broadcasting provides original programming as well as syndicated programs produced by ministries represented by Chuck Colson, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and Ravi Zacharias. Musically, Redeemer avoids anything that it considers "hard-driving" or has a "heavily syncopated beat."
On the business and spiritual side, Redeemer Broadcasting wants to take accountability seriously, with 28 board members from nine states, including broadcasters, pastors, and businessmen. Elmendorf said Redeemer's board doesn't exist simply to rubber-stamp his ideas. For instance, his board recently rejected a plan he had for expansion.
"We learned our lessons the hard way, having been involved with the disaster within Family Radio, where one man runs everything," Elmendorf said. In 1993, according to Elmendorf, a group of pastors approached Camping in the spirit of Matthew 18:15-17 ("If he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established").
"Harold refused to repent of his public sin," Elmendorf said, adding that Camping pushed vocal dissenters out of Family Radio. "He's basically surrounded himself only with people that agree with him."
Meanwhile, details of where Family Radio's millions of dollars it receives in donations goes is kept private, even from board members. Insiders tell Elmendorf that there are big pet projects in Africa and millions poured into TV programs. After the spending spree, there are reports that Family Radio is now left with only three months of operating budget. Calls to Family Radio controller Gary Cook went unanswered.
Elmendorf believes that change at Family Radio can only happen if employees and board members wrest control from Camping. Elmendorf stays in touch with many of Camping's current 225 employees and said that the majority do not agree with Camping's teaching, but many are older and afraid they won't find work if they leave.
"People must pay the price and lose their job if they understand the truth," said Gordon Lewis, senior professor of Christian theology and philosophy at Denver Seminary. Lewis wrote the book Confronting the Cults, yet he avoids labeling Camping and Family Radio a cult. "I don't bash people with a pejorative word. I want to help people understand the gospel of Christ, in faith alone."
As for radio stations that desire to leave Family Radio and make the switch to Redeemer Broadcasting, Elmendorf said that an infrastructure has been built so that these stations can easily plug-and-play with the new network.
Looking to the future, Elmendorf wants to extend WFSO's signal to the New York City metro area. Currently, with one station and three signal repeaters, it has a potential audience of 120,000 in upstate New York. By contrast, he estimates that WFME, a Family Radio station in New Jersey and New York, has the capability to reach 15 million listeners. WFSO's $500 per day operating costs are covered by church groups, listener support, and volunteers, so competing head-to-head is beyond their budget. In the meantime, the station streams online and offers podcasts.
Meanwhile, another ministry has made a $1 million bid to purchase Family Radio and its 66 affiliated stations. The Christian Post reports that A Bible Answer, which made a similar proposal earlier this year, has offered to assume ownership on Oct. 22, the day after Camping's latest prediction for the end of the world.