The Impact of Religious Radio and Television Programs on American Life -- By: Haddon W. Robinson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 123:490 (Apr 1966)
Article: The Impact of Religious Radio and Television Programs on American Life
Author: Haddon W. Robinson

The Impact of Religious Radio and Television Programs
on American Life

Haddon W. Robinson

Large sums of money are spent each year in the production and transmission of religious radio and television programs. This expenditure is usually justified on the assumption that radio and television are able to influence masses of people which the churches have been unable to reach. Parker, Barry, and Smythe asked thirty religious broadcasters to define the audience that they were attempting to touch. The replies revealed that “most religious programs are conceived of as a means whereby a religious in-group can make some contact with the multitude outside the fold.”1 Cyrus Mack, director of the Broadcasting and Film Commission of the National Council of Churches, expressed the sentiments of many broadcasters when he maintained that “the unchurched audience cannot be reached by religion at all except through mass media.”2 Radio and television appear to be a means for religious groups to reach beyond the four walls of their buildings and to touch all the men and women in the surrounding community.

Yet, Parker, Barry and Smythe concluded that few religious broadcasts had any clear picture of the audience which their program actually reached.3 Certainly, no single program can possibly be acceptable to all listeners or viewers. The

program selected by one man may be turned off by another. Our backgrounds vary, and as Griswold observes, “the heritage of one is not the heritage of all.”4 If religious broadcasters are to follow the example of John Wesley in making the whole world their parish, then they are compelled to think about audience response. The actual and potential audiences must be analyzed. Parker, Inman, and Snyder stressed the need for audience analysis in planning radio programs: “Religious radio programs cannot be planned in a vacuum. The producer of a radio program cannot ignore (1) the degree of willingness of a listener to tune in to a religious program, what his emotional and intellectual concerns are, what he wants from the radio, what is going on in his life with which the program can make connection; or (2) the kind of communication the listener will eagerly take in, not merely put up with. To this degree at least, the producer must modify his idea of what he thinks is ‘good.’ A great deal of planning, based upon knowledge, not guesstimation, of the listener’s needs and desires is, therefore, necessary before any religious program or series of programs is finally written and produced o...

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