[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
#43 Stuart W. Epperson. Radio transformer b.1935
Unless you live in the world of religious broadcasting it will be difficult to grasp how totally Stu Epperson and his Salem Communications have changed Christian radio throughout America. He did this by taking a new approach and pumping life into the expansive but often toothless religious radio industry. The new idea: acquire radio stations with high-powered signals on the commercial radio band spectrum, unlike most Christian broadcasters who tend to purchase many low-power translators.
Epperson started Salem Communications with his brother-in-law Ed Atsinger in 1972 and today Salem is the dominant player in the Christian radio industry (Epperson is the chairman; Atsinger the CEO). Today, Salem Communications, a for-profit corporation traded on NASDAQ, operates about 100 stations, 65 of which are in the top 25 markets.
Salem is the fifth largest U.S. radio station owner after Clear Channel, Cumulus, Citadel, and Entercom. Salem owns slightly more AM than FM stations, and covers one-third of the U.S population; the programming targets audiences interested in Christian and family-themed content and conservative values. Epperson, Atsinger, and other family members control about 85 percent of the company.
The innovation and product expansion have continued. On the radio side, Salem now operates stations that provide traditional Christian teaching and ministry programs, contemporary Christian music stations, country music, and talk radio stations that feature conservative (although not necessarily Christian) hosts. These include some of the most popular second-tier (if the first tier is Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck) conservative talkers, including Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, and Hugh Hewitt.
The company also produces and syndicates programming through the Salem Radio Network, which boasts about 2,000 affiliates that subscribe to religious programming, its twice-hourly news summaries, and other news programming—through a credible news operation, SRN News (part of what Columbia Journalism Review called “an alternative universe of faith-based news”).
In addition, Salem publishes books and magazines and operates the Salem Web Network, a provider of online Christian content that owns and manages more than 60 websites, including: Christianity.com, Crosswalk.com, OnePlace.com, SermonSearch.com, LightSource.com, ChristianJobs.com, ChurchStaffing.com, TheFish.com, Townhall.com, CrossDaily.com, Hotair.com, and many more.
As this generation has progressed, Epperson may be the most powerful unknown evangelical in America, with perhaps far more actual influence and decisive power than well-known figures such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or James Kennedy.
Epperson attended Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, where he received a bachelor’s degree in radio/television broadcasting and a master’s degree in communications. In 1984 and 1986, Epperson was the Republican nominee for the fifth Congressional district of North Carolina. In both races, Epperson was defeated by the incumbent Democrat, Stephen L. Neal.
He is a member of the board of directors of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB).
Friends say his real passion is helping the fatherless. He founded “One Kid at a Time”, a youth mentoring organization, now part of the Christian Association of Youth Mentoring, where Epperson serves as chairman of the board.
Epperson lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His wife, Nancy, is on the board of international Christian broadcaster Trans World Radio (TWR). He has four children, daughters Kristy, Karen, and Kathy, and son Stuart Jr.