By Judy Ryder
“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:6
Fact: 92% of America’s population tunes into AM or FM radio at least once a day, making it the most listened to media, with the audience split among a huge number of choices.
Therefore, it will be no small accomplishment when WARV Life Changing Radio (1590AM/92.7FM in Warwick and Providence, RI) celebrates its 40th anniversary on Thursday, October 4, 2018. Alistaire Begg will speak at a morning get-together with area pastors, and again as featured speaker at the evening banquet held in the Crowne Plaza, Warwick, RI, from 6:30 p. m. – 9:00 p. m. Also present will be Ed Cannon, President of Far East Broadcasting. Highlights include an overhead depicting WARV’s early days, and presentation of awards to some of WARV’s stalwarts such as Eleanor and Linc Hubbard, Through the Bible Radio, and Pastor Henry McRae. Tickets purchased online cost $45 until September 1, and $50 thereafter.
Bill Blount, President of Life Changing Radio, bought WARV in July, 1978 at the age of 25. By 2011, he had bought four more AM and five more FM stations. The stations are located in Milford-New Haven, CT (WFIF 1500AM/101.9FM); Worcester-Springfield, MA (WVNE 760AM/101.5FM); Portland-Augusta, ME (WBCI 105.9FM); Manchester-Nashua, NH (WDER 1320AM/92.1FM); and Hartford, CT (WSDK 1550AM/95.3FM).
Bill is the youngest child of the late Ruth and F. Nelson Blount, the Founder of Steamtown USA and the former owner of Edaville Railroad, Green Mountain Railroad, and Blount Seafood Corporation (Warren, RI). Nelson would have enormous influence on the spiritual lives of his wife and five children prior to his tragic premature death at age 49. A hard-driving, successful businessman, by age 30 he had become a millionaire, and by age 35, a multimillionaire. Still, there was a God-sized hole in his heart that money and success could not fill. Living in affluent Barrington, RI amid the typical social and business connections afforded by wealth and accomplishment, Nelson remained unsettled in his spirit, and recoiled at the possibility of his children being brought up as spoiled little rich kids. Finally, he and Ruth moved their family to Stag Farm, a 1,000 acre property in Dublin, NH. (Years later their homesite would be bequeathed for the establishment of the present Dublin Christian Academy, from which Bill graduated in 1972.)
Some time later, businessman Ted DeMoss led Nelson, age 45, to the Lord. Nelson’s salvation experience quickly resulted in friends, family, and business associates being amazed to see a new Nelson witnessing to them with the zeal and fervor of one suddenly on fire for the Lord. Eventually, Nelson’s wife and all five children became born again including Bill who remembers giving his heart to the Lord at the age of 11, as he knelt alone in his bedroom. (Dr. John DeBrine, then pastor of Ruggles Street Baptist Church in Boston, later baptized the whole family and became influential in directing Bill towards a career in religious broadcasting.)
On September 1, 1967, while listening to the radio in a car driven by a friend’s mother, Bill, age 13, first learned of the delayed discovery of his beloved father’s body the day after his new plane crashed near home. The news was shocking and heartbreaking. Yet, additional unsettling times lay just ahead. When Bill was 16, doctors diagnosed a mole on his knee as melanoma. While awaiting surgery, the family and elders of the church prayed over him. Understanding that the Lord was in complete control, Bill trusted Him to be faithful even if it should mean the loss of his leg…or his life. Following surgery, no more cancer was found and Bill believed that because God had spared him, He wanted to use him in some capacity.
After preparing for his career at Bob Jones University, where he earned his B. A. in Radio/TV Production, Bill took their specialized business program equivalent to a Masters, then worked at BJU’s TV station and as a cameraman for a Greenville (SC) TV station. Since college days, he’d known he wanted to combine business with ministry. After moving back to RI in 1977, Bill was hired by the Bococks, owners for two years of WARV 1590AM (formerly WYNG), who had already begun shifting the station’s format to religious broadcasting. FCC regulations required ownership of a station for three years before selling; Bill was hired during the third year of the Bococks’ ownership. In July, 1978, at age 25, Bill bought WARV for $320,000, using a combination of personal savings, a seven-year note from the Bococks for monthly payments, and a loan from Industrial Bank.
Bill’s finances were so tight that first year, he actually counted pennies when deciding whether a letter or phone call would be cheaper. By contrast, he now owns six stations, each having its individual website, in addition to the recently reformatted master website, www.lifechangingradio.com. He has added FM translators (repeaters) to all five AM stations, which simulcast and operate 24 hours a day, and continually makes improvements to the translators including increased power and coverage. Over-the-internet streaming of all the radio stations can be heard world-wide. An on-demand video player is available on the website of many of their national radio ministries. A smart phone app is available on both Apple and Android platforms, and interface with “Alexa” is coming soon. Weekly E-newsletters report historical news, the latest news from Life Changing Radio, movie reviews, and upcoming promotions. WARV and all the companies are for-profit, commercial businesses; listeners support their favorite programs with direct donations.
Bill attributes his considerable success in the field of religious broadcasting to his initial conviction that God will bless His own Word: if people tune into it, God’s Word can change their lives. Thus he adopted the slogan “Life Changing Radio”. His achievements have led to a listing in “Who’s Who in America: Who’s Who in the East”. For 3 years he chaired the National Religious Broadcasters (composed of 1,200 media organizations in Washington, D. C., and reaching over 16,000,000 people per week with the gospel as preached by Charles Stanley, John MacArthur, et al. Besides pastors, advertising agencies, film companies, TV and radio divisions, and other movers and shakers are all under its roof.) For 16 years Bill has been on NRB’s Executive Committee, and currently serves on its Board of Directors. In connection with NRB he has spoken and led workshops for International Broadcasters in England, Wales, Romania, Austria, Israel, Russia, and India. (Once, as a member of a small group visiting Israel he was invited to meet with Netanyahu, Bill arrived while Hamas was bombing Israel, and had only 15 seconds to take shelter.)
Bill’s combined business/ministry life is impressive. For example, in the last 20 years under the aegis of the Bible League, he has helped WARV and its sister stations raise more than $1,000,000 to send world-wide over 250,000 Bibles, specifically printed in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Cambodian, etc. During 16 international trips, he has clandestinely interviewed persecuted Christians to discover their great need for Bibles in areas where few are available. He sees, listens, then becomes a story-teller, enabling those back home to realize the importance of supporting persecuted Christians. He’s visited China 6 times (3 times while smuggling Bibles, twice getting caught), Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Indonesia, North Korea, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Singapore, Japan, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ukraine, and Russia. With Trans World Radio he’s traveled to 10 countries raising funds for European Broadcasting, and with Far East Broadcasting/Reach International to 5 countries. In a just-completed campaign, WARV and its sister stations raised $20,000 from listeners helping to distribute 570 “Radio Packs” costing $35 apiece. Each Radio Pack holds a small hand-cranked radio tuned to Christian frequency, a gospel of John and/or simple gospel tracts, socks, a protein bar, and an American dollar bill. In an ongoing project, South Korean churches working in conjunction with Far East Broadcasting direct helium-filled balloons containing these Radio Packs into otherwise inaccessible areas of North Korea.
Bill relates hair-raising stories about smuggling Bibles into communist countries. In the early 1990’s on his first trip to China with Bible League, Bill was the only one stopped by Shanghai police. Bible League’s policy, explained in advance to each participant, is to abandon anyone who gets caught; they’re totally on their own and can expect no assistance. Hauled to one side, Bill instantly got his first taste of feeling the penalty for being a Christian under the dark scrutiny of communist oppressors. After seizing his four suitcases containing Bibles, yet allowing him to take two copies (which, being printed in Chinese, he couldn’t read), the police gave him a receipt. Placed in an airport locker, the Bibles could be reclaimed by presenting that receipt on his way home. Later, however, Bill daringly gave the receipt to an underground Christian worker, hoping Christians would get them after all, though he never heard the outcome. (On his third trip to China, Bill’s Bibles were confiscated again, but Bill was not detained.) Another dramatic incident on the first trip to China was meeting secretly with some underground Chinese Christian leaders who had experienced being caught, beaten and tortured. After a day of interviewing, he remembers feeling distinctly unworthy even to be in the same room with such faithful Christian heroes.
On another dangerous trip to Nigeria, Bible League hired military Nigerians armed with machine guns to keep everyone safe. With Muslims in the North and Christians in the South, all the fighting was occurring in the middle, where they were. Bill remembers coming within 30 seconds of having their van tipped over by angry rioting mobs. When the driver momentarily hesitated, the guards screamed, “GO! GO! GO!”, thereby sparing their lives.
Easily the scariest, most macabre incidents happened to Bill in North Korea. On this trip to China and N. Korea, participants had first visited S. Korea’s DMZ line in order to see the difference between the two countries, one of which is that every morning at 4:00, 5:00, and 6:00 a. m., multiple thousands of South Korean Christians go to church. This day, only 6 of the group would venture into N. Korea. Previously, upon arriving in China, Bill had met “Peter”, a smuggler of Bibles and food into N. Korea via underground networks. Young Korean-Americans in China as missionaries served as translators. Peter had said, ominously: “I wish you were never here. I don’t want to take you into N. Korea, so ask no questions about who you’ll meet, or where we’re going… and, by the way, they hate Americans!” The next day, Bill and “Scott” traveled with Peter to a Chinese farm on the border of N. Korea, where the farmer’s wife was a Christian. The farmer employed 10 unsaved North Koreans who worked illegally for one year before being paid, then smuggled themselves back into N. Korea. If caught by the Chinese police, their fate would be execution by the N. Korean military at the N. Korean border. As they approached, Bill and Scott noticed these men standing in the field, looking nervous. With Peter translating, they met a N. Korean father and son. The father asked, “Are you Christians? Because we hear Christians try to help the N. Korean people.” Also, “Why is America trying to starve N. Korean people? We hear the American Navy sinks ships bringing food and supplies for N. Koreans.” Despite Bill’s assurance that was untrue, the father wasn’t buying it. Meanwhile, his son stared at Bill and Scott with abject hatred. Before returning to China, the farmer and his wife honored their guests with a dinner “treat” of green beans and hard-boiled eggs to be eaten with filthy chopsticks and washed down by ginseng wine which, having been fermented for 10 years, tasted like ammonia. Although gruesomely unpalatable, Bill admits it probably prevented them from getting sick.
The following day, September 11, 2001 (“9/11”), under the guise of “bringing school supplies”, they went into N. Korea to view military installations on both sides of the Tumen River – one in China, one in N. Korea. On the Chinese side they were warned against making any sudden moves or “they’ll kill you”. They drove in a van with two N. Koreans: a security person and a police person (spying on each other) commanding, “Take no pictures unless I say so!” When their heads were turned, Bill managed to take some anyway. After dropping off supplies at a school, they went to a Performance Center where 8 or 9 girls sang and danced flawlessly. When finished they raised their hands in worship, praise and thanksgiving to their gods: Kim Il Sung (now dead) as God the Father, and Kim Jong Il as God the Son. Then 8 or 9 boys carrying carved guns came in shooting, yelling, and pretending to kill Americans, according to the translator, before also worshiping the Kims. Returning to China for dinner, the group learned from the restaurant owner that the World Trade towers had been destroyed. They ended up at the house of American Korean missionaries watching replays on S. Korean satellite TV while the missionaries translated. All flights to America having been canceled, they had to stay in Beijing for 7 to 10 days until they could fly to Osaka, Japan and finally LA on a JAL 747 carrying only14 passengers besides the crew, all in first class.
In addition to traveling under dangerous circumstances and sponsoring with his wife, Debbie, dozens of children from Brazil, Bolivia, and Kenya under Compassion International, Bill enjoys risky hobbies: motorcycling, flying, and scuba-diving. A family enterprise, Life Changing Radio employs Debbie as Vice-President (since their 1983 wedding, broadcast on live radio from Quidnesset Baptist Church), the Blounts’ two adult children, Joshua and Shayne, and Joshua’s wife, Katie. Besides changing the Blounts’ lives in incalculable ways, Life Changing Radio has produced countless stories about others “just happening” to be listening during intense personal crises. One person, having never before tuned into WARV, was considering jumping off the Braga Bridge, but didn’t. A truck driver listening to the ME station became a believer and is now a pastor. Many report saved marriages and finding Christ. Evidently, people are still listening to God’s Word, He is still blessing His Word, and lives are still being changed, affirming Bill’s initial conviction when buying WARV 40 years ago.
“Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” (I Thessalonians 5:24)