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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. However, with the preponderance of online religious broadcasting in the 21st century, many religious radio stations have transitioned to talk or pop music formats.

The main centers of religious broadcasting have been in Charleston, Huntington, and Beckley-Bluefield areas. The Charleston area is home to WXAF, WKVW, and WYNL (94.5 FM). Formerly, WJYP, WCAW, WMXE, and WOKU also featured religious broadcasting but now have transitioned to other formats. 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, which maintained the same format and dial position for nearly 50 years. It was founded and owned by the Mortensen family until being sold to Bristol Broadcasting in 2018. Other major stations in the area are WZZW, WJOE, WIRO, and WYMW. From 1985 to 2019, Huntington’s most famous radio and television preacher was Pastor Darrell Huffman, founder of the New Life Church. He had been carried on INSP (formerly PTL), a national religious television network. When he retired in 2019, his son, Joshua Huffman, took over his ministry.

In Beckley, WJLS AM was a Southern gospel music radio station. Brother Carlos Lewis’s Saturday morning radio show, Hour of Prayer, was one of the longest-running religious radio shows in the United States. WJLS now features a country music format. For more than 60 years, Beckley’s WWNR AM (now with a talk format) broadcast the Reverend Andrew Durgan’s Sweet Hour of Prayer on Sunday mornings. Durgan (1922-2009) was one of the first Black funeral directors in the state. Fellow minister Helen Dobson was West Virginia’s senior Black woman preacher, having more than 50 years of radio ministry to her credit.

Another well-known Beckley radio minister has been Sister Loretta Taylor, who is pastor of her own house of prayer. WAEY and WYRV also broadcast in the Beckley-Bluefield area. WAMN formerly hosted religious programming before switching formats. To the north in Fayette County is Oak Hill, home to WOAY AM, which has broadcast all-religious programming since the 1980s.

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 that were aired on other stations. Bava started his own magazine, Musical Echoes, a publishing company, and Cozy Records recording company in Tucker County.

Roane County native Squire Parsons has been one of the nation’s most renowned gospel songwriters and performers, and Kenova’s Michael W. Smith has been one of the most popular contemporary Christian performers.

This Article was written by Rebecca Dean

Last Revised on August 14, 2023

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Sources

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.

Tribe, Ivan M. & John W. Morris. Molly O'Day, Lynn Davis, and the Cumberland Mountain Folks: A Bio-Discography. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975.

Cite This Article

Dean, Rebecca "Religious Broadcasting." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 14 August 2023. Web. 14 April 2024.

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