|Predecessor||Banbury Recordings International, Rhema Media Group|
|Founded||Christchurch, New Zealand (1976 )|
|Headquarters||Auckland, New Zealand|
|Mike Brewer, CEO|
Rhema Media (previously known as the Rhema Broadcasting Group or RBG) is New Zealand's largest Christian media organisation. It owns radio networks Rhema, Life fm and Star, and television station Shine TV. It also publishes Bob Gass's quarterly devotional publication The Word For You Today, and the youth version called Word For You Today. Rhema Media is based in Newton, Auckland, and is the founding organisation of United Christian Broadcasters (UCB).
Rhema Media was set up in the 1960s by Christchurch evangelical Richard Berry, following the success of Ecudorian Christian short-wave radio station HCJB. The company's flagship network Rhema began full-time broadcasting in 1978, and Life FM and Star were officially launched in 1997. Shine TV began in 2002, and The Word radio network operated between 2007 and 2015. In 2010 the company claimed about 40% of its audience was non-Christian.
Rhema Media's mission is "to connect Kiwis to Christ through Media". Its vision is "to make it possible for all people in New Zealand to access content that encourages a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, in the right format, at the right time". It aims to reach everyone in "the right format at the right time", to promote the "saving power of Jesus" and the "reality of God's grace". About 75% of the company's revenue comes from donations, which are raised through on-air donation drives and a financial supporter club.
Private radio was neither a reality nor a possibility when the Rhema network was first proposed in the 1960s. However, 20-year-old Richard Berry and a friend from the Salvation Army started a studio in Christchurch, in the garage of his Banbury Street home. The small evangelical ministry held prayers and recorded preaching - initially under the name Banbury Recordings and later as the Gospel Radio Fellowship.
Berry drew his inspiration from three Biblical verses:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible".
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
In the mid 1960s the group started preparing to begin broadcasting. Radio Hauraki had begun illegally broadcasting as a pirate station, and a government unable to enforce its regulations on the industry was forced to allow private broadcasting. Gospel Radio Fellowship used an old church building on Glenfield Crescent to set up new studios and a transmitter. The Broadcasting Authority was skeptical about the establishment of a Christian station owned and operated by evangelicals. It rejected the station's application for a license in 1972, citing a lack of public interest and a lack of finance and professional staff.
In 1974 Gospel Radio Fellowship changed the name of the station to Radio Rhema, gained the endorsement of Pat Robertson and collected enough funding to employ Berry and twenty other staff. It failed to obtain a license on it first application, but received one-day licenses for Christchurch in November 1974, Petone in October 1975 and Christchurch for 10 days over Christmas in 1976. The broadcasts had to be medium wave, no more than 100 watts and live, and the station was instructed to only broadcast to supporters. According to an official newsletter around 1975, the station was promoting itself as deeply evangelical — as "the one way sound" and as a "complete radio station ready for action to God be the glory".
At a hearing for a full license in 1978, after the three broadcasts, it had 7,235 members, 48,433 other supporters and the endorsement from churches and community groups. The application was successful and Radio Rhema was officially launched in November 1978. At the launch, prime minister Rob Muldoon said the station was inspired by "a faith that moves mountains". The station was originally allowed to broadcast six hours a day on weekdays and 18 hours a day on weekends. It became the first permanent Christian station in the British Commonwealth and one of the first Christian broadcasters in the world.
Expansion and United Christian Broadcasters (1978-2003)
Rhema continued to develop during the 1980s. In 1980 the Christchurch station obtained an 18-hours-per-day license and had thirty five full-time and ten part-time workers. In 1982 it gained a license in Wellington and had property and six staff in Auckland. This established the station as permanent, and allowed it roll-out a network around New Zealand. The Rhema Media Group began the Life FM and Southern Star networks in 1997.
Rhema vice-presidents Richard Berry, Hal Short and Frank Salisbury received several comments from people overseas hoping to emulate Rhema's broadcasting model. The trio set up a separate organisation, United Christian Broadcasters (UCB), as an umbrella body for autonomous affiliate broadcasting organisations in different parts of the world. The first affiliate in Australia supported new Christian radio stations, many called Radio Rhema, before becoming a broadcaster itself, operating as the Vision Radio Network. Other affiliates followed in the United Kingdom, Europe, Africa, Pacific countries and South America. The Dove was set up as an affiliate in Oregon, United States. Smaller broadcasters were also established in Madagascar, Brazil, the Philippines and Estonia, where groups secured strong public support before applying for terrestrial licenses.
UCB obtained the right to publish Bob Gass's The Word For Today daily devotional comment on Biblical passages in the United Kingdom in 1994. After an initial trial, Gass granted UCB the rights to broadcast, publish and distribute the devotional anywhere outside the United States free of charge. At its height in 2011, UCB was a group of 32 organisations which claimed to reach millions of people in at least 24 different languages through radio, television, printed devotionals and websites. Several million copies of The Word for Today were published every quarter, in about a dozen languages.
Frequency changes and renewals (2003-2010)
The fifth Labour government put forward plans to renew radio frequencies in 2003, but Rhema Broadcasting Group and the Crown did not agree on the value of re-licensing until 2006. In July 2010, RBG announced it needed to raise $6.4 million over and above its normal operating costs to renew most of its commercial radio frequencies around the country for the following 20 years. By the end of November the company still needed $2.4 million and was not in a position to seek external finance. The company faced the prospect of having to return the frequencies to the Crown to have them resold at auction if the money was not raised. The Crown recognised the organisation as a non-profit with limited access to funds. It refused to waive the costs but gave it a three month extension on payment. Rhema Broadcasting Group covered the cost with no interest loans.
From 2007 to 2015, Rhema also operated The Word - a network of relay stations broadcasting uninterrupted, pre-recorded, automated Bible readings to relay stations similar to UCB Bible. Many of the recordings were from The Bible Experience Today's New International Version starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kirk Franklin, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Denzel Washington. The network's original Hamilton 576 AM and Invercargill 1026 AM frequencies were acquired for Southern Star, but became available when Southern Star starting broadcasting on new AM Network stations in both cities. The Word was later extended to New Plymouth 1278 AM, Christchurch 540 AM, Dunedin 1377 AM, Te Anau 88.0 FM, and an independently-owned low-power FM station in Tokoroa. The station was also streamed via Winamp, Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, Quicktime, iTunes, BlackBerry and Symbian.
In 2008 radio critic Peter Hoar said Rhema Broadcasting Group did not have the "puritanical message" and "psycho-sexual fervour" of American Christian radio networks, but was a "slick communications outfit" which aimed to "sooth rather than stir". He said the organisation's clearly outlined Biblical values left little room for "the Pascalian sense of existential uncertainty" but it was "positive, uplifting and carefully non-denominational", aspiring to be all things to all Christians. In 2010, Rhema Media estimated about 40% of its audience were non-Christian.
Short, UCB's long-running president, accepted the national affiliate organisations needed to find new ways to connect with people, across apps, websites and other new media. He said evangelism needed to be done through narrow-casting rather than broadcasting, and needed to be interactive through social media rather than instructive through traditional media. He stepped aside from Rhema Broadcasting Group and United Christian Broadcasters in March 2013, saying people and resources had to be used differently in the digital media age. Short argued RBG and its UCB affiliates needed to differentiate themselves from other Christian content providers, whose programmes were irrelevant, condescending, or involved constant and unjustified requests for donations. He said the alternative was succinct, relevant content developed by content providers serving particular languages and cultures.
In December 2012, Rhema Broadcasting Group chief executive John Fabran left the organisation. Mike Brewer became chief executive, having spent some time working in television, a decade at RadioWorks' Taranaki division and a further decade as the general manager of Fairfax New Zealand's Taranaki Newspapers company. Under his leadership, Rhema Broadcasting Group was rebranded as Rhema Media in February 2014. Brewer said it reflected the fact the company was no longer focused on broadcasting, and was moving to multimedia and digital-ready products. He said "people now increasingly consume media on their terms, utilising multiple ways to access the content they want, when and how they want it".
Rhema Media operates three nationwide radio networks:
- Rhema, Rhema Media's flagship evangelical Christian contemporary music radio network, takes its name for the Biblical word rhema. The network targets families, with a strong focus on relationships, marriage and parenting, with a doctrine of special salvation for believers and eternal damnation for sinners.
- Life FM is a contemporary Christian music youth-oriented radio network. According to Rhema Media, the station aims to play uplifting music, promote sound family values, discuss important issues affecting young people, and encourage people into a personal relationship with Christ. It also aims to be counter-cultural.
- Star is a contemporary Christian music network playing gospel music, hymns and classic Christian contemporary tracks, alongside Biblical teachings. It was set up through a lease on spare programming time when Radio New Zealand's AM Network is not broadcasting sittings of the New Zealand Parliament, and also broadcasts on FM frequencies in smaller centres. Rhema Media described the playlist as "a smooth and easy blend of music from people you know and trust".
Rhema Media's Christian television network, Shine TV, began broadcasting in December 2002. It broadcasts on Freeview Channel 25 and Sky TV channel 201, and features locally made and overseas news and current affairs, documentaries, movies, children's programmes, teaching programmes, and youth and music programmes. Some of Shine's programmes cover the international work of Christian missions, while others include personal testimony.
United Christian Broadcasters also owned a network UHF station licences used by Prime TV, but these were sold before Shine was launched. Shine began broadcasting on free-to-air on analogue in Christchurch in 2002, and expanded to Nelson on free-to-air analogue channel 44 on 11 November 2008 through a contract with local television channel Mainland TV. The channel ceased broadcasting on both frequencies on 28 April 2013, when South Island analogue television was switched off.
Rhema operates a news department, and employed radio journalist Allan Lee to lead the department as news editor between 2004 and 2014. Lee previously worked for Newstalk ZB, producing radio bulletins, features and online stories for The Radio Network, Rhema and other affiliated stations. He had also trained as a TV producer and director the BBC. He went on to become head of content for Vision Radio Network, a affiliate of Rhema.
The news department has produced a range of television programmes for Shine TV under the Nzone brand. From 2004 to 2007 Shine TV produced and broadcast a flagship conservative current affairs programme Nzone with Tim Sisarich and Bob McCoskrie. From 2007 to 2009 this became Nzone Tonight, a daily newscast and current affairs programme with Rachel Thomas and Asher Bastion. From 2009 to 2014, this became a thirty minute weekly television newsmagazine, with Davina William and Allan Lee, produced by former TVNZ staffer Pene Thoma. It also produces a daily Nzone News Update, produced and presented by the Shine TV staff.
The Word for Today
Rhema Media is the New Zealand publisher of The Word For Today, a free daily devotional written by Bob Gass and published around the world by the United Christian Broadcasters group Rhema Meia founded. The origins of the devotional date back to 1992, when Bob Gass began jotting down various inspirations he had received based on over forty years of being involved in church leadership, and from Biblical principles and values instilled in him by his mother. After receiving a positive response in the United States, he offered his devotional readings to United Christian Broadcasters and its listeners.
An initial print run of 3,500 copies was made in April 1994 in the United Kingdom before it was later expanded to New Zealand in 1997. An estimated 3.5 million copies are now distributed quarterly worldwide, with country-specific and translated versions also produced in Albania, Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Caribbean, the Netherlands, Estonia, Portugal, Philippines, Nigeria, South Africa, Spain and the USA. In conjunction with The Message Trust, a Christian youth ministry based in Manchester, The Word For Today has been adapted for younger audiences with Word Word For You Today. The devotional began in August 2003, and has been printed in New Zealand since February 2010. An audio version is also broadcast on Life fm.
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