As they developed, the mass media of radio and television provided communication for religious as well as secular messages, partly displacing the itinerant preachers who once traveled the roads and trails of West Virginia to evangelize. The tradition continues today, featuring preaching, especially on Sundays, as well as live and recorded music and talk.
The main centers of religious broadcasting are in Charleston, Huntington, and the Beckley-Bluefield area. Charleston is home to Praise 101, WJYP AM Christian broadcasting, featuring praise, worship, and light gospel music. Stations WCAW, WMXE, WOKU, and WXAF also broadcast religious programs in Charleston in 2005.
Bishop T. D. Jakes, one of America’s most successful broadcast preachers, got his start in the Charleston area. Jakes began his ministry in Montgomery and expanded into television on WCHS and WVAH in Charleston. In 1996 he relocated to Texas, where he heads a highly successful church and a national media ministry.
Chief among Huntington’s religious stations is WEMM, with more than 30 years of commercial-free religious broadcasting with the same ownership, format, and dial position. Another major station is JOY Radio 1600 and 1420 AM. Huntington’s most famous radio and television preacher is Pastor Darryl Huffman of the New Life Church; he is carried on INSP, a national religious network.
In Beckley, WJLS AM is a Southern gospel music radio station. Brother Carlos Lewis has a Saturday morning radio show, Hour of Prayer, that is one of the longest-running religious radio shows in the United States. Beckley’s WWNR AM has broadcast the Reverend Andrew Durgan’s Sweet Hour of Prayer on Sunday mornings for more than 50 years. Durgan was the first black funeral director in the state. Fellow minister Helen Dobson is West Virginia’s senior black woman preacher, having more than 50 years of radio ministry to her credit.
Another well-known Beckley radio minister is Sister Loretta Taylor, who is pastor of her own house of prayer. Family members including children and grandchildren accompany her to WJLS on a weekly basis. WAEY, WAMN, WGTH, WPIB, and WYRV also broadcast in the Beckley-Bluefield area. To the north in Fayette County is Oak Hill, home to WOAY AM, all religious programming.
The history of West Virginia religious broadcasting is deeply interwoven with gospel music. Molly O’Day, a national recording star at mid-century, began performing over Charleston’s WCHS in the early 1940s. She and husband Lynn Davis carried on a radio ministry from Huntington for many years after 1950. Rex and Eleanor Parker and their gospel group, the Merrymakers, aired live daily broadcasts out of WOAY Oak Hill and WHIS Bluefield following World War II. The broadcasts were carried simultaneously by stations in Princeton, Welch, and Pineville.
Like the Parkers, John Bava, a coal miner and preacher, remained dedicated to old-style gospel music played live in the studio. He was possibly the most significant performer and preacher to broadcast over WDNE Elkins; his gospel group, the Country Cousins, also taped many shows from WMMN Fairmont which were aired on other stations. Bava started his own magazine, Musical Echoes, a publishing company, and a recording company.
This Article was written by Rebecca Dean
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Tribe, Ivan M. Mountaineer Jamboree: Country Music in West Virginia. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984.
Dorgan, Howard. The Airwaves of Zion: Radio & Religion in Appalachia. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.
Armstrong, Ben. The Electric Church. New York: Thomas Lenson Publishers, 1989.