Feature

Church of the Air

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“I see ’em all in the steel-framed circles of my microphone. There’s the husband who won’t go to church with the wife. And there’s the gang at Billy’s billiard hall. I take off my coat and preach to them ’til the perspiration pours down my face.” Dr. Robert Roger (R. R.) Brown (1885–1964), a pioneer in Christian broadcasting, was known for his gifted speaking, passion for music, love of lost people and good-humored joking about himself, others and the world around him.

Brown responded to an altar call at a tent meeting when he was 18 years old and enrolled at the Missionary Training Institute (now Nyack [N.Y.] College). Immediately after graduation in 1910, he was placed by A. B. Simpson at Beaver Falls (Penn.) Alliance Church. While serving there, Brown gained a reputation as a worship leader and choir director at C&MA revivals held throughout the area.

By 1920, Brown was superintendent of the Western District and had moved to a church in Chicago that thrived under his leadership and the gifted ministry of A. W. Tozer and others. But Brown soon received a call to Omaha, Nebraska, where he resided for the remaining 41 years of his life.

Because of his background in music, R. R. Brown was a natural for radio ministry. Licensed commercial broadcasting was just a few years old when Brown first stepped in front of the microphone on the nineteenth floor of the Woodmen of the World Building, where station WOW had set up a studio. He said that since he couldn’t quite trust the new equipment to amplify his voice, he would move in on the mic and “carry on loud enough to be heard all over Omaha!”

Station WOW was soon recognized as the first nondenominational church on the air, and Brown was called the “Dean of Broadcasting,” reaching about 500,000 people across 18 states at the height of his show’s popularity. The entire radio ministry was financed by good-will offerings to the station, leaving Brown’s church, the Omaha Gospel Tabernacle, free to give generously to Alliance missions; with an average attendance of just under 700 people, the church donated more than 1 million dollars throughout those 40 years.Youth were drawn to Brown’s humor and magnetic personality, and as a result of his services at the Omaha Gospel Tabernacle and the radio broadcasts, hundreds of missionaries were placed on foreign fields.

The Gospel Tabernacle eventually became Christ Community Church of the C&MA. While R. R. Brown died on February 20, 1964, after serving for 53 years in full-time ministry, his legacy lives on in many areas of ministry, including the work of his great grandson, Phil Vischer (see p. 6). The Okoboji Lakes Bible and Missionary Conference, founded by Brown, still meets each summer in Arnolds Park, Iowa.

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