When I visited Family Radio’s headquarters last Thursday, May 12, 2011, I was not only interested in President and General Manager Harold Camping’s thoughts about Judgment Day; but I also had a lot of questions about the inner-workings of the Christian radio network.
Obviously Family Radio has attracted worldwide attention and media interest for Camping’s well-publicized (Family Radio even had a billboard in Dubai) claim that Judgment Day is certain to arrive this Saturday, May 21, 2011. But, the history and day-to-day operations of Family Radio have attracted less attention.
As I toured Family Radio and chatted with Camping on Thursday, I kept thinking about pragmatic questions about not only the future of the radio network, but also about specific programming details for May 21st and beyond. Although Camping has argued that Judgment Day will begin at 6pm local time on May 21st, on Open Forum yesterday he wavered a bit, saying, “It is not guaranteed…the precise hour…we don’t have the same kind of proof [as we do for the date of May 21]. He said there is a “high likelihood” that Judgment Day will begin at 6pm on May 21 and reiterated that Judgment Day “is absolutely…going to be May 21…the Bible guarantees it.”
Despite his unwavering certainty about the May 21st date, when I interviewed Camping he did admit to me that Family Radio does have some post-May 21st programming prepared. However, he argued that it was really just for the benefit of Family Radio staff members who are not “true believers” in the coming Judgment Day.
Here’s a bit more of my interview with Harold Camping, in which he touches upon the origins of both Family Radio (which began in 1958) and the popular Open Forum call-in talk show that he has been hosting for 50 years. I’m not sure when the final live edition of Open Forum will air, but it’s possible that it will be on Thursday, May 19th, as Friday is a paid holiday for Family Radio staff.
Jennifer Waits: So you were saying you had no interest in radio before?
Harold Camping: Right. That was not my interest. I was interested in dairy cattle and I was interested in math and interested in physics and science, but not radio.
Jennifer: What got you thinking about starting up a radio network?
Mr. Camping: Someone came to my office…and he wanted to find some Christian businessmen to buy a radio station and share the gospel. And, oh, to share the gospel, that’s what got my interest. So, I agreed that provided we have a non-profit corporation so that nobody could ever realize any gains for themselves. And so, we formed a non-profit corporation called Family Stations, Incorporated. I became President and he became Vice-President. I had another young man working for me and we made him the third member to be legally a qualified corporation. And I put this man on my payroll…and he found a station here in San Francisco and we bought it and that was the beginning of Family Radio.
Jennifer: And what do you now love about radio?
Mr. Camping: I’ve been enmeshed in it for 52 years. I’ve been able to supervise the construction of radio and supervise the construction of TV. We built a 350 kilowatt station in Taiwan and a 600 kilowatt station in Taiwan to carry our programming to China and to the Philippines and so on.
Jennifer: So, you’ve been doing Open Forum for 50 years. How did that show start?
Mr. Camping: That started because at that time we were not getting any help from any churches and although we had paid very little to whatever employees we had, we were running out of money. So we had the idea that if I would be behind the mic as President and answer questions about finances or about music policy, that might encourage people to begin to give. So, we opened the telephone lines and I did my first program and they didn’t ask any questions about finances or music, but they asked counseling questions and Bible questions. And I found that I enjoyed that very much and I was somewhat qualified because I had been doing quite a bit of study in the Bible and doing some private counseling. And so that began Open Forum.