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The 700 Club

The Story Behind CBN’s Inaugural Broadcast

Jarrod Anderson - CBN Films Producer/Director

With some early donations, Pat got the FCC license for channel 27 with the call letters WYAH, the first three letters of the Hebrew name of God. With that, CBN became the first television station in America licensed to broadcast fifty percent or more religious programming.

The studio was far from being ready and Pat still owed RCA $5000, but that didn’t stop him from scheduling CBN’s inaugural broadcast for October 1, 1961.

“I didn’t have the money on the day we were supposed to go on that air,” remembers Pat. “And I opened the Bible and my eyes fell on the Psalm. It said, ‘the salvation of the Lord is at hand.’ And I thought, ‘it’s coming.’ And I just began to praise God. And on the way to church that day I encountered a friend. And I said, ‘come over to the station, we’re going on the air today.’ And he stopped by and fifteen minutes before one o’clock when we were supposed to go on the air. I said, ‘look I’m short $5000.’ And he bowed his head, put his head in his hand. He said, ‘I’ll let you have the five.’ And I said, ‘okay. We’re ready to go.’ Of course, the engineer didn’t believe we’d get it, so he wasn’t ready.”

By three o’clock in the afternoon, the engineer had cobbled together the broken equipment, and the Christian Broadcasting Network made its television debut.

It was a snowy black and white image of Pat Robertson preaching the gospel in front of a dry-rotted curtain and a cardboard cross.

“My church was there in that little station,” remembers employee Barbara Johnson. “It didn't look too impressive really to tell you the truth.”

“We had this tiny transmitter,” recalls Pat. “And I didn't know if we’re on the air, we didn't have a monitor.”

Barbara Johnson recalls, “my husband said, ‘I'll go down to the drugstore, they've got a TV, and I'll check and see.’ He came back and said, ‘We know you're at least getting to the corner,’ which was less than a block away. It wasn't very far.”

But it was a start. One that was riddled with challenges.

It was survival,” says Pat. “‘Can we get enough money to pay the bills? Are we reaching anybody? Can I get a new camera? Can I make that camera work? Will the transmitter stay on the air? Will, you know, it blow up in my face? And do I have the tubes to fill it?’ Always pressure, always pressure. You know, the Lord, when you’re walking by faith it isn’t necessarily easy.”

Terry Meeuwsen adds, “I often marvel when Pat tells the stories of the early beginnings, I think, ‘I don't think I would have had the chutzpah to do some of those things that he did.’ With great admiration, I say that.”

 

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