Industry News

Moody Radio Chicago Celebrates 90 Years

Nine decades after 90.1 FM Moody Radio WMBIChicago 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.”

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).

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 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.”

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