Perhaps it is only appropriate that one of Ken Anderson’s favorite passages from the Bible is a parable in the book of Luke about a sower casting seed throughout an area, not knowing which seed will take root and become long-lasting plants.
Anderson sees himself like one who tills the earth, casting seeds broadly across Southern Illinois. Or more appropriately, broadcasting seeds across the region. It is something he has been doing for nearly 30 years, since establishing WBVN, a Marion-based 6,000-watt radio station transmitting at 104.5 FM with a Contemporary Christian Music format.
While he doesn’t consider himself a broadcaster (“I don’t have the verbal talent to call myself that,” he says), Anderson is a sower.
“We are just simply doing what we felt we were told to do and that’s where we come in as a tiller or seed broadcaster — just simply employed to spread the Gospel,” he says.
He says he and his wife had felt the need to share their Christian faith in a strong and profound way since 1982. As the years passed, the sense of mission became stronger. While he wasn’t necessarily looking to fulfill the mission with radio, he was working as a personnel director at a local station, when he saw an opportunity: a different station in the area was up for sale.
“We purchased it in the sense that we were ready to sign contracts when the sale fell through,” he recalls, adding that the sellers backed out and found another buyer when they learned of Anderson’s desire to change the format to CCM — Contemporary Christian Music.
About that same time, the Federal Communications Commission opened up other frequencies on the dial for commercial broadcasters. Anderson applied for a license in 1988 and WBVN went on the air in January 1990 as a non-commercial station, and immediately was a different from other stations around it on the FM dial, playing the kind of music he had been enjoying since attending a 1983 Amy Grant concert in St. Louis.
“I started buying the music after that concert and I kept thinking, ‘Boy, I wish there was a station around here that was playing it’” he recalls. “Outside of one short program on Sunday nights, nobody was doing it.”
From the beginning, the station has not been like others in the area.
“We were on the dial at 104.5, right in the middle of non-commercial stations,” Anderson explains, noting that WBVN has never sold commercials or accepted underwriting, instead relying on contributions solely from listeners.
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“If you have a commercial station that simply sold air time, you either make it or break it based upon whether you can sell advertising, but we knew that either we would have the spirit of God behind us or we would fail. We knew we should make ourselves vulnerable to the people that we are ministering to, and if we did that, they would, in turn, be able to support and keep this ministry functioning,” he says.
Anderson says the station did no fundraising for the first six months on the air, but since has relied on listener support.
“We depend on people at $5 or $50 or $500,” he says, adding that the average gift is probably around $35 monthly.
He says the dedication of listeners is not something that he or the staff and volunteers at WBVN takes lightly.
“We were given all of the people that listen to this radio station to encourage and to share the gospel as well as to treat them with respect and to make every decision with them in mind,” he adds.
Anderson calls the station and its listeners “a community of believers.” That community comes together regularly for concerts from many of the bands and performers whose music is played on the radio station. WBVN has organized more than 210 concerts, most at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center.
“The concerts are built upon relationships. They are gatherings, an opportunity for us to get with the people that we have relationships with,” Anderson says. “We put things together that will have an impact on peoples' lives and make a difference.”
He continues, “These are simple opportunities for people to gather together to celebrate the Gospel that we all share in some form. We are all there in unity.”
Anderson shakes his head recalling that he really didn’t know where his desire to broadcast seeds would go and he admits he is still not sure where it will go.
“I don’t know what the long-term is, any more than I knew when it started,” he says. “I suppose what our future contains will be just as surprising as our past has been. I’m sitting here 30 years deep and never expected to get this far, never expected to do all of the things that we’ve been able to do.”