Moody Radio in Chicago Celebrates 90 Years
A pioneer in Christian broadcasting continuing its legacy.
Nine decades after WMBI in Chicago blazed onto the air July 28, 1926, Moody Radio continues its legacy of Christian broadcasting.
What began as a single station in the pioneering days of radio technology has grown to include over 65 owned and operated properties and a network of more than 1,500 additional outlets. Moody Radio reaches more than 1.1 million listeners weekly in 196 countries across the globe.“Very few stations in America have reached the 90-year milestone,” said Collin Lambert, vice president of Moody Radio. “And of those that do, there are almost no stations whose format and message have stayed the same. Moody Radio is an exception to the rule.”
One of the earliest recorded station IDs for Moody Radio, made in the 1930s.
WMBI: Radio Pioneer
Radio was still in its infancy in 1925 when Moody Bible Institute began to consider its use for broadcasting the gospel. One strong supporter who helped develop the station was Henry Coleman Crowell, son of Henry P. Crowell, Quaker Oats founder and chair of Moody’s Board of Trustees for 40 years.
“Moody has been a media pioneer, willing to take risks with untested methods, like mass paperbacks in the 1890s, and new technologies, such as radio broadcasting,” said Greg Thornton, senior vice president of Media for Moody Global Ministries. “Every one of these innovative media efforts had the goal of reaching more people with the gospel.”
WMBI made its debut broadcast from a make-shift studio on the first floor of Moody Bible Institute’s 152 Building in Chicago. Using carbon microphones in a studio padded with mattresses on the walls, Dr. James M. Gray, then president of Moody Bible Institute, gave the inaugural address followed by live performances from studio musicians. Wendell Loveless, a U.S. Marine veteran who later became a prolific hymn writer and pastor, was appointed as WMBI’s first program director (1926–1947).
Listen to a 1976 interview with Wendell P. Loveless by then news director, Walter Carlson,
as part of WMBI’s 50th anniversary. His interview recalls the earliest days of WMBI’s history.
In 1927 WMBI erected a 5,000-watt transmitter in Addison, Ill., to boost the fledgling station’s 500-watt signal. This enabled WMBI to expand coverage to 36 hours per week, with midnight broadcasts reaching greater distances. Letters and donations for the non-commercial station came from listeners as far as Brazil, New Zealand, Alaska and India.
From its inception, WMBI created and distributed original content. In addition to Bible teaching, drama, and music, the station drew audiences for programs like Know Your Bible (KYB) Club, the Shut-in Hour, and Radio School of the Bible, which offered Bible and theological training from Moody Bible Institute faculty. In 1927, the station offered programs in three languages, German, Scandinavian and Yiddish-Hebrew.
In February 1939, the station moved to its present location. The original studios, still being used today, hold the distinction of being the oldest operating radio studios in Chicago.
“Moody Radio has been on mission since its inception in 1926,” Lambert says. “Music and speaking styles have changed, programs and hosts have varied, and culture has seen great upheaval, yet Moody Radio’s commitment to helping people take the next step in their walk with Christ has remained a priority.” “Beyond that,” Lambert added, “we find ways to encourage people as they mature to become the hands and feet of Christ in their communities.”
Moody Radio Today
Today, Moody Radio has expanded across the United States and more than 13 hours of original content is produced each day featuring Christian preachers, authors and Bible teachers, including In the Market with Janet Parshall, Chris Fabry Live, Equipped with Chris Brooks, Open Line with Michael Rydelnik, Radical with David Platt, and other programs.
Chris Brooks, host of Moody Radio's newest national weekday program, Equipped with Chris Brooks
Moody Radio listeners can access programming via the web and apps. Each year, seven million programs are downloaded, a number that continues to rise. Urban Praise, one of Moody Radio’s six internet stations, was named Internet Station of the Year in 2015 by the Stellar Gospel Music Awards.
In 2011 Moody Radio launched the only fully operational Christian Spanish-language radio station in Chicago, Radio Moody (WMBI 1110 AM). In 2015 Radio Moody expanded to four additional stations in East Moline, Ill. (WDLM 960 AM); Smyrna, Tenn. (WFCM 710 AM); Spokane, Wash. (KMBI 1330 AM); and Anderson, Ind. (WGNR 1470 AM).
Listeners can follow celebratory activities for Moody Radio Chicago’s 90th anniversary, including “Throwback Thursdays” on Moody Radio Chicago’s Facebook page.
Moody Radio vice president, Collin Lambert, and Phil Shappard, Moody Radio’s national operations manager, will be guests on Equipped with Chris Brooks Thursday, July 28, from noon to 1 p.m. (Central). They will look back at the rich history of WMBI as well as discuss how Moody Radio Chicago is innovating for the future.
In addition, the station is offering a WMBI Family Flyaway contest beginning July 28, 2016, and it is brought to you by Bradish Associates. One radio listener will win a trip for four to the Night of Joy concert series in Orlando, Fla., this September. Information about the sweepstakes will be announced on Moody Radio Chicago’s Karl and June Morning Show. The grand prize winner will be selected and announced during Karl and June Morning Show on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016.
“What an incredible blessing it is to be able to celebrate 90 years of ministry in Chicago,” concluded Lambert. “We are grateful to the Lord for sustaining the ministry of Moody Radio, and we are grateful for our listeners who partner with us and keep us in prayer so we can continue to help people take the next step in their faith journey.”
For more information about Moody Radio Chicago, please visit www.moodyradio.org/chicago.