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The History of GBS

You may not know just how GBS came into being or what the Lord has graciously enabled us to do over the past 40 years, so we will begin with a quite brief account of the history of the work from the beginnings in 1950, and then go on to bring you up to date with what we are doing at the present time. Finally, a look at what the future may hold and at the potential there is for Christian broadcasting in the days ahead.

The Past

The Gospel Broadcasting System was formed out of a group of Christian amateur radio enthusiasts, under the inspiration and guidance of the late Pastor Harold Bogle of the Liverpool City Mission. The original purpose was for these men to use their technical interest to assist in some way in the then quite new work of Missionary Broadcasting which was being pioneered almost exclusively by American Christians. This small group, known as "The Christian Radio Amateurs Fellowship", began by supplying small items of radio equipment to the new Missionary Radio Station in the Philippines - The Far East Broadcasting Company.  They also set-up an amateur radio station in a small room at the then A.C. Mitchell Memorial Hall in Norris Green, Liverpool, where Mr. Bogle was the Pastor. Although the law did not permit them to broadcast religious messages of any kind, they were able, by means of follow-up correspondence with Italian amateurs contacted on the air, to put many of these in touch with the Spezia Mission in Italy, who then sent them Christian literature.  This small group was founded in 1950, and it was not long before Pastor Bogle and his colleagues began to realise the vast potential of using radio to reach out with the Gospel. The aim of this newly formed group was to use radio and literature to proclaim Christ as Redeemer and Lord, and to establish a radio station for this purpose.

It was not possible under the UK legislation at that time to set up a broadcasting station in Britain, so approaches were made to the authorities in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon, and the Faroe Isles with a view to establishing a Christian broadcasting station. Enquiries were also made regarding Eritrea, Japan and Brazil, but this was not to be, the Lord having a different plan for GBS.  As a result of the contacts with the The Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC), the Fellowship was invited to represent that work in the north of England. They also asked if it would be possible to provide programmes in Cantonese and Mandarin for broadcasting to China.  The Lord was beginning to indicate what the future ministry of this small group would be. But how could they supply programmes in those languages? They had no knowledge of any Chinese Christian locally who might help. It was around this time that Gladys Aylward, who had served the Lord for many years in China, and was back in this country and living in the area, attended a meeting at which C.R.A.F. was representing the work of FEBC, and at which the need for programmes for China was made known.  With her was a Chinese believer, Oliver Hsu, who had come out of China with her, and who spoke both Cantonese and Mandarin, but very little English! From this "chance" meeting came the first radio programmes to be produced by the Fellowship. Oliver Hsu did this work for two years, and he was described by FEBC staff as "A Chinese Billy Graham!" Pastor Bogle and members of the fellowship were meeting regularly to pray for the work of missionary broadcasting, and to seek the will of the Lord for their own ministry. For a brief time programmes were also made in Arabic for broadcasting from Radio ELWA in Liberia, but both these and the Chinese programmes came to an end and a new opening was needed. It was around this time, in 1955, that a decision was taken to change the name of the Fellowship to "The Gospel Broadcasting System" so as to better reflect the aims and objects of the group.  So, in January 1956, GBS was incorporated as a small company, limited by the guarantee of its members, and registered as a charity.

It was through the regular prayer meetings, that were being held at the S.I.M. "Transit House" in Liverpool, that the Lord indicated the way in which the work would develop.  In those days many overseas missionaries passed through the Port of Liverpool on their way to and from the mission field and it was from some of these that the idea for a new programme in English came.  They said that although they were able to listen to Christian programmes from stations like FEBC, Manila and ELWA, Liberia, most of them were produced in the USA.  It would be good to hear a programme in "English" English that would be a voice from home and a means of feeding and encouragement. This came as another a challenge to GBS, so the decision was made to produce a programme that would minister to British missionaries overseas.  All this time the small group was also seeking to purchase suitable equipment and to make the work known more widely.  All this being done as a "part-time" work for the Lord.  The late Pastor Harold Carter, then Superintendent of the Liverpool City Mission, was invited to prepare a series of talks for a pilot programme series called "Search the Scriptures", and eventually a tape was sent to Manila for their consideration.  Nothing was heard from FEBC for almost a year. The early GBS group, still learning the art of broadcasting, thought that perhaps their efforts were not good enough! It appears, however, that although the tape had been received in the Philippines, because of staff changes it had not been listened to. During 1959 the tape was rediscovered and auditioned, and as a result GBS was requested to go ahead and produce a series of programmes to be broadcast to S. Asia and India. And so it was on 11th. February 1960, that "Search the Scriptures" went on the air for the first time via international short-wave radio.  It was a 30 minute programme consisting of music and a talk, given initially by Harold Carter and then by other able communicators. Broadcasts of "Search the Scriptures" from Manila produced a good response from listeners, especially from India, and from Malaya, and others countries in S.E. Asia, and occasionally from further afield. Listeners were sent copies of a booklet called "100 Days Bible Study".  It was soon evident that "Search the Scriptures" was not only ministering to British missionaries, but also to English speaking national Christians in the countries being reached.  Another milestone was reached in 1964 when broadcasts commenced from the Missionary Radio Station in Liberia - Radio ELWA.  To start with, "Search the Scriptures" was released on the medium wave service of ELWA, which covered the whole of Liberia. Eventually we went on their short-wave service which reached further afield, and then via their international service which increased the coverage to countries such as Ghana and Nigeria. The broadcasts from FEBC, Manila, continued until 1967 when financial constraints made it necessary for us to discontinue on that station and to concentrate our efforts on the broadcasts from Radio ELWA. Also in 1967, the programme was reduced to 15 minutes in length because of increasing costs and because a full half-hour is long for a programme going out by short-wave radio where reception conditions can be variable.  The response from listeners in West Africa was very encouraging, indicating a great thirst for the Word of God. From Ghana and Nigeria particularly we received requests for Bibles and Christian literature and it was during the 1970’s that we produced the first printed version of the talks given on the programme. During that period we were also able to send out to listeners many copies of the Emmaus Bible School correspondence course - "What the Bible Teaches."  The answers to these courses were marked for us by the Emmaus representatives in Nigeria. The year 1978 saw the Gospel Broadcasting System on the air in the Western Hemisphere for the first time.

For a period of four years "Search the Scriptures" was broadcast from a small Missionary Radio station in Puerto Rico - Radio WIVV. This station reached many of the small islands of the northern and central Caribbean area.  In 1985, for just two years, the programme was back on FEBC from the Philippines. Broadcasts from ELWA in Liberia continued without a break between December 1964 and April 1990 when sadly the station was destroyed during the civil war in that country. This meant that for the first time in 30 years, GBS was ‘off the air.’After much prayer, and contact with Trans World Radio, we recommenced our broadcasts from their station in Swaziland to southern Africa in May of 1991.  At that time the name of our programme was changed to "Discovery" as they already had a programme called "Search the Scriptures".  Since 1991 the Lord has blessed greatly, with broadcasts now also going out each week from FEBA, Seychelles to India, The Voice of Hope Lebanon, to the Middle East, and from United Christian Broadcasters to UK, Ireland and Europe via the ASTRA satellite and local stations in Ireland.  In addition, TWR, Swaziland broadcasts are also being relayed by local stations in southern Africa.

Until 1962, when we moved to our first simple, purpose-built, studio in a large house in Oxton, all "Search the Scriptures"programmes were produced in the living room at the home of Bert and Mary Ralfs. We remained in the first studio until 1970 when a new one was built in Birkenhead.  This new studio was dedicated on 21st. February 1970 and was located on the floor below our present and much improved facility which was opened in 1977.  The construction of these studios was undertaken in the main by Bert Ralfs and by Duncan Fisher with Keith Stuffins acting as a labourer!  There have been a number of comings and goings in the GBS Team since the early days.  Pastor Bogle went to be with the Lord in 1977, Mrs. Mary Ralfs in March 1991, to be joined by her husband in 1998.  Others have joined us for a while as committee members or speakers and have moved on to service elsewhere.  From time to time we have been able to make programmes for Hospital Radio, and in 1991 we supplied a number of ‘Radio Cracker’ stations with GBS recorded music, a series of 5 minute evangelistic programmes for ladies, called "Take Five" and a short series of Christmas programmes by Will Rankin called "Why Christmas?"  In addition to the "Discovery" programmes, GBS is also producing a series of evangelistic "mini-programmes" called "It Happened to Me".  These are scripted by Mrs. Sylvia Brown and seek to introduce the listener to the reality of faith in the Lord Jesus using real experiences to bring the message home.  Each talk lasts around three minutes. In the past, GBS members have worked with Radio Worldwide (W.E.C.), writing and presenting programmes for them. Will Rankin, who is a keen naturalist, did a series called "Nature Trail" and between 1967 and 1982.   Sidney Bowen (now with the Lord) and Keith Stuffins wrote and presented around 400 fifteen minute programmes for stamp collectors called "The Hobby of Kings."  Both of these programmes were heard around the world on both Missionary and Commercial radio stations and they resulted in many hundreds of letters and the opportunity to send out thousands of pieces of Christian literature by way of follow-up.  How good is our God in allowing us the privilege of serving Him in such an exciting and essential work!  What a privilege to be co-labourers with Him and with one another in ‘Proclaiming Christ as Redeemer and Lord.’  But now we must come to ...

The Present

GBS Radio activity is centred in 3 main areas: 

First: The production of programmes.
Over the years the aim of the programme has changed somewhat, our target audience now being more new Christians or those with little Bible knowledge, rather than mature believers.  Obviously, the most important part of the programme is the Bible-teaching talk and we are therefore greatly indebted to the men who spend a great deal of time in the preparation, writing and presentation of the scripts.  We are always conscious of the fact that in most cases those who do this for us, and first of all for the Lord, although they a re experienced public speakers, they probably have had no previous experience in preparing talks for radio or of presenting them at the microphone in a studio. With this in mind GBS has produced a small paper called "Hints and Tips for Script Writers and Presenters." This paper sets out the main points to consider when starting to write a radio script and when speaking at the microphone.  "Hints and Tips" is now given to all those who come to help us in this way.  We ask you to pray for all those who undertake this important ministry.  The GBS Team count it a privilege to work with them and to provide them with the opportunity to widen the scope of their ministry, and in so doing bring instruction and encouragement to the listeners to "Discovery".  The talks are recorded at our studio, the speakers usually recording 6 or 7 of the series of 13 at one session.  Programmes are produced, using these talks along with suitable music and linking announcements, by one of the team.   It used to take up to 1 hour to produce one fifteen minute programme and many hours were spent each week in programme production and copying.  All this has changed with the introduction of computers, mini discs and CDs.

Second: Booklet production
The production and sending out of these programmes is of course only part of the work of GBS.  The aim of our ministry, as far as "Discovery" is concerned, is to encourage our listeners to study the Bible for themselves.  For many, who may not possess a Bible of their own, what they hear over the radio may be their only means of instruction and help for their Christian lives.  So during each programme we invite listeners to write to us for a free printed copy of the studies given on the air.  In this way they are able to go over again the teaching heard or perhaps catch-up on any of the series that they missed. GBS produces booklets from the scripts of each series of programmes.  Each series covers 13 weeks, so there are 13 studies in each booklet.  These booklets are sent free to listeners on request.  At times the programme will also give a clear evangelistic message, and listeners will be invited to write-in for a free Gospel of John.  For this we use copies of "Love is the Bridge" which is produced by the Pocket Testament League.

Third: Follow-up of letters
Listeners’ letters are the only means that we have of knowing who is listening and if the programme is achieving its objectives.  Because "Discovery" is at present only heard once a week over each station, we do not necessarily expect to be swamped with letters.  We do however receive several hundred each year from new listeners and from some who are writing for a second or even third time. Invariably these letters express thanks for the messages given and a keenness to know more.  

The internet has also brought us further opportunities - for reading the talks, or listening to the broadcasts - either on line or by using the download facility.  At present these facilities are restricted to the English language, but we hope in the not to distant future to add other languages.  If you have translation skills and would be willing to give of some of your time, please contact us.

The Future

Finally, let us share with you something concerning the future of Christian broadcasting and how it may effect GBS Radio.  The Gospel Broadcasting System was in its original concept a ‘Missionary Radio’work, and it still is.  That is, we are committed to using radio to reach out into all the world to "Proclaim Christ, Redeemer and Lord".  To date this has meant using the facilities of Christian owned and operated stations overseas.  Today the situation in the world is changing so quickly that it almost takes the breath away.

Before 1990, the only way to reach Eastern European countries and the former Soviet Union was to send the programmes in by means of short-wave radio from such stations as TWR, HCJB, FEBC and other Christian transmitters around the world.  Now all of these organisations have their own offices or studio facilities in these countries and programmes are being produced there by national believers with the help of radio experts from the west.  Christians are now using the facilities of the huge Russian radio network to broadcast these programmes within the country.  Even Radio Moscow, for 60 years the international voice of Soviet communism, is opening its doors to evangelical broadcasters - albeit in order to gain hard currency!  "This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes."  We need to pray, however, for believers in these former communists countries for the same doors are open to many false cults and ideas. These are things which are new to them. This does not mean the end of international missionary radio.

 You will be aware of changes in the law in this country which make it possible, in a way not dreamt of when GBS came into being, for Christians to not only produce programmes for local radio, but to actually own and operate such stations.  We should praise our God for men and women who, by their persistence and zeal, and because of their love for the Gospel, have ensured that the new legislation, which sets the pattern in this country for a long time to come, permits Christians such freedoms to broadcast their own programmes.  This is a major challenge for the FUTURE of the GBS ministry, a challenge that demands much prayer and much wisdom.  This is the challenge that we want to leave with you: our own country needs to hear the claims of Christ more than ever before. The vast majority of people never go near a church and so radio may be the way that SOME will hear.  There are a great number of churchgoers who also need Christ, and there are many believers who need the teaching and encouragement that perhaps they cannot get locally. All these could be reached by a Christian network.  Such an outreach requires considerable effort and wisdom in the production of programmes that will both attract listeners and communicate the Christian message.  The challenge, then, for GBS is "Can we be involved?" or even "Can we afford NOT to be involved."

To engage in a widening of our work in this way would create the need for more workers. We also need new workers who can ensure the continuance of the present work.  So please pray with us and for us as we look to the future.  The GBS ministry started in Mandarin and Cantonese - it would be wonderful if "Discovery" could be heard in languages other than English! To be equipped for any expansion in programming means that we had to built yet another new studio facility to keep pace with modern technology.  Please pray with us about the challenges we face!  As we look at the past 40 years we can truly say that in all this time, although there have been difficulties, we have seen the Lord guide us and provide for the needs of the work.  We have been encouraged by thousands of letters in response to the programmes, and by the prayers and support of the Lord’s people.  Please continue to pray for the working of the Lord through The Gospel Broadcasting System - GBS.