KFUO-FM and a failure of leadership

Based on what I know of KFUO-FM’s management and value, I support the sale of the radio station. Still, I think it’s terribly sad that it came to this and I think the sale reflects poorly on the leadership of the Synod. This is a tremendously complex story but I’d like to share some of what I know from my experience. But know that there’s so much more I am unable to share.

Let’s first explain the difference between KFUO-AM and KFUO-FM.

KFUO (850 AM) is “America’s longest continually running religious broadcasting radio station. Richard Kretzschmar, John Fritz and Dr. Walter A. Maier, who originated the famed Lutheran Hour broadcast, founded the AM station in 1924. Three years later, they moved the station to its permanent home on the Concordia Seminary campus in St. Louis, Mo.” It’s a low-wattage station that operates during daylight hours and has talk religious programs and banal Christian music. Prior to David Strand inexplicably canceling the show and firing its hosts, Issues, Etc. was syndicated from KFUO-AM.

KFUO-FM is located at 99.1 and plays classical music as “Classic 99 KFUO-FM”. It’s a 100 kW station. KFUO-FM is one of the oldest FM stations west of the Mississippi River, broadcasting since 1948.

Studios for both stations are located on the campus of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. KFUO began as a listener supported station, but moved to a commercial format. KFUO-FM costs a lot to run, did fairly poorly in terms of selling ads, and had an abysmal fundraising record. (The August 20-21 LCMS BOD minutes report, for instance, that “fundraising efforts costing KFUO $402,000 over the past year generated gifts of only $448,000.”) It also was completely secular in its programming approach. It had a bloated staff and resisted cost-saving moves such as automation.

In 2004, I was placed on the Board for Communication Services. That is the LCMS operating board that, among many other things, oversees the management and operations of KFUO. I can not begin to tell you how horribly managed this station was. It’s not a secret that the BCS issued a vote of no confidence in the management of the station back in 2007. But that followed years of failure on the part of KFUO management to address concerns the board had about how the stations were being run. This is just a small example, but we had reason to believe that a bulk of the expenses were being attributed to the small AM station (when expensive new equipment was purchased, for instance), while donations that were clearly from, for instance, Issues, Etc. listeners were attributed to the KFUO-FM side. Or a large foundation would give a six-figure grant to the AM side and it would be allocated across both stations. We never got a better accounting.

Year after year, we’d ask station management to fix the institutional problems that led it to devalue the programming of authentically Lutheran shows at the expense of secular programming. Nothing ever changed. Well, in light of the fact that Issues, Etc. — the one program with national listenership! — was canceled, I guess it’s not right to say nothing ever changed. Things did change, and almost always for the worse.

The FM station routinely underplayed its connection to the LCMS. Once people began discussing selling the station on account of its failed programming and financial performance, they did a couple of “smoke and mirrors” moves to keep the concerned Lutherans at bay. One thing they did was mention time-to-time that the station was owned by the LCMS. Another thing they did was put out a newsletter that highlighted Lutheran themes. What’s hilarious about this newsletter, however, is that it only went to Lutherans. An exact copy of the newsletter was sent to secular supporters of the station with almost every mention of Christ, the cross and Lutheranism excised! It was unbelievable.

Oh, one time our board met on the campus of Concordia Seminary. And it turned out that one of the managers of the station instructed employees to play Lutheran composers that day. As opposed to the normal programming. I’m not kidding.

And fundraising was wretched year after year. But Synodical officials wouldn’t let us get out from under the borderline corrupt LCMS Foundation in charge of fundraising.

And any time we tried to hold management accountable, Synodical leaders would intervene and enable the management to continue without improvement.

Once, the board actually took serious action of making significant personnel changes. Shortly after we took our vote, we received letters informing us that various individuals holding positions of Synodical leadership wanted us to reverse our vote. They would strong arm us (although the naivete and weakness of the Board for Communication Services members can not be denied. And I include myself in that indictment.).

The truth is that KFUO-FM could have been a glorious asset. It could have been a point of pride for the church at large and the St. Louis community specifically. But it has been horribly managed for decades and the leadership of Synod has enabled that horrible management for years.


KFUO-FM and a failure of leadership — 69 Comments

  1. Classical Christian…

    Your vocations are the God-given duties you have, e.g. father, husband, employee (musician), etc. As I said and others said above you are to speak of Christ in your vocation. The emphasis is not so much on vocation as it is in your daily life. Vocation is being used as short-hand for that. The kind of “speaking” is well illustrated by the passage I gave (I Peter 3:12) and the one you gave (I Peter 3:15) neither of which supports the sort of lay evangelism that is spoken of in contemporary worship/church growth churches today. The first passage speaks of doing good works and the second one speaks of being ready to give a defense, which is hardly a mandate for personal evangelism.

    Your phrase “spreading the Gospel by Word” is a curious one. It is not really how the Bible puts it. The Bible says that preaching and teaching the word are to be done by Apostles, Evangelists and Pastors. There is no Biblical prohibition that I know of against laity speaking of Christ to others. My point is that the Bible does not support the way in which lay evangelism is spoken of in church growth parishes, I Peter 3:15 included, which as I said above is hardly a mandate.

    I really do not know of a Scripture that speaks about sharing the Word, laity to laity in one’s vocation. I also do not know of a prohibition against it. What I do know is that evangelism is presented today in an unbiblical way these days as though it depends on us and as God is not calling who he will.

    We got on this string because of your reference to the church reaching out to those in the arts. It too is not really a Biblical way of speaking about evangelism.


  2. Pastor Rossow,

    Christian, Classical Musician, member of LCMS is sounding more and more like a plant, and the “I’m just a layperson asking honest questions” claim sounds more and more like an act.

    He (or she) has successfully steered this thread off topic.


  3. TW,

    I got that same impression after his/her last post.

    Since there is nothing confidential in his/her posts it would be good for him/her to tell us their name and the church they go to so that we could offer more direct suggestions as to where he/she could go to church in the St. Louis area. It also seems odd that someone this connected would not have found a decent church in the area or appreciated all that the seminary does for the arts.

    Hope our hunch is wrong but a lot of things point that way.


  4. I will do so but in an email to you directly. Please look for my email. I am not a plant.

  5. Christian Classical…

    That is good to hear.

    What leads one to that conclusion is that everytime there is a good suggestion for one of your queries you seem to change the subject.


  6. I have many questions and my mind works fast. I’m working on an email to you now.

  7. “I challenge folks to give me a list of all the passages in the New Testament that actually (spelling corrected) mandate personal evangelism apart from words to the clergy.”

    Odd to hear a ‘Lutheran’ pastor sound like he’s waxing (kinda) Roman in the month of October…

    “Therefore it is the duty of every father of a family to question and examine his children and servants at least once a week and to ascertain what they know of it, or are learning and, if they do not know it, to keep them faithfully at it.” (ML Lg. Cat.)

    Glad Brother Martin trusted fathers to personally evangelize their households – but then, hey, compared to the learned pastors here, what did Luther know?

  8. Aegidius Hunnius,
    While I’m all for evangelism by any and all Christians, what you just quoted from Luther is catechesis — not evangelism.

  9. Aegidius,

    Whether you call it evangelism or catechesis (I agree with Mollie on this) it still does not answer the question – show me the money man! Show me the New Testament Bible verses that mandate personal evangelism.

    I too am fine with people telling others about Jesus but it certainly cannot be defended as the purpose of the laity of the church as it is made out to be these days.

    BTW – If every Lutheran family catechized as Luther describes, we would have people flocking ot the LCMS because of our faithfulness to God and because so many people would be doing good works in their vocational life and giving glory to God.

    Show me the Bible verses – I am waiting and quite willing to be taught by Scrtipture.


  10. Aegidius #58,

    It actually sounds quite Lutheran to me – show the scripture. If you wish to challenge this claim just show me the scripture.

    You actually sound Zwinglian or Wesleyan. Luther was quite satisfied that God in his divine monergism would gather the people he had called into the little flock.

    Aolng those lines, let me open up my challenge. I would be interested not only in the scriptures on personal evangelism but also any mandates Luther gave (and mandates to catechise do not count).


  11. Wow. Where to begin?

    a) Evangelism or Catechesis? Both are ultimately the prefecture of the Holy Ghost, no?

    b) “flocking ot (good grief man spell checking only takes a moment) the LCMS” – based on what I read here, the LCMS is the last place people ‘faithful to God’ would run.

    c) The purpose of the laity is to gaze pie eyed at you, no? Romans have adoration of the Eucharist – you have adoration of the clergy (and all the laity says “we’re not worthy – we’re not worthy”)…

    d) Why’d Luther translate the Bible into German anyway if we mere mortal men couldn’t be trusted? Why not leave it to the clergy to tell us what is what? What’s the point of the laity knowing anything anyway? Oh yes – to understand why they should gaze all the more adoringly at pastors…

    e) Hmmmm.

    Mark 9, perhaps? “John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.”

    Or Luke 9 perhaps? “John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

    Guess I missed this guy’s ordination earlier in the text…

    I’d say casting out demons in the name of Christ – and a guy the disciples didn’t know to boot – kinda indicates to me that evangelism is not the privilege of the clergy alone…

    Jesus defends his actions – not condemns. By implication he approves of someone outside the twelve evangelizing in His name. Or isn’t casting out demons proclamation of the good news?

    Note for Mark 9:30 in The Lutheran Study Bible: “‘we tried to stop him.’ The disciples were protecting their exclusive status with Jesus.”

    Sounds familiar…

    But yes, oh wise and learned pastor – correct this mere mortal of his heretical ideas. I humbly await your reply. Cleanse me with the hyssop of your wisdom…

    But please – save the name calling for someone else. Whether Lutheran, Zwinglian or Calvinist, your braying only detracts from the point.

    Stumme Esel!



    Be nice in the comments.

    I don’t know who enjoys the nastiness and mean-spiritedness on display here but I can barely even SKIM half of these comments what with all the preaching and holier-than-thou-ness.

    Seriously, everyone, take it down about 200 notches.


  13. Aegidius Hunnius, et. al.:

    Be nice. Or just find another blog to pseudonymously troll. Simple as that.

  14. AH,

    Here’s the deal. Your points are actually great, they just need to be said more nicely. While it is true that your recent comment is the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, it’s not just you that’s being hyperbolic or unnecessarily vitriolic. Half the comments on this thread are annoying in the way they malign their opponents and use anger where simple correction would do.

    And usually I just ignore comments, but I’m not in the mood right now.

    Anyway, now that I’ve calmed down a bit, let me just be more precise about what rubs me the wrong way in your comment 64.

    1) Responding to the simple transposing of two letters with the comment “good grief man spell checking only takes a moment” is not a good way to begin. For one thing, if you’re going to be so petty as to critique typos, you should probably make sure your own comment is free of grammatical problems. But the bigger problem, of course, is that it’s just petty and uncharitable. And it makes your comment lose focus. My own recommendation: stick to the theological complaints and avoid the lecture on typos.

    2) It’s really not our place to question people’s motivations. Now, maybe the person you’re responding to really does believe “The purpose of the laity is to gaze pie eyed at you, no?” But you and I and everyone else can tell that this is likely the LEAST charitable construction you can put on things. Uncool. And since I actually know the guy who you slurred in such a fashion and this is NOT the way he views the laity, it makes me get naturally defensive with regard to him and not feel so great about you.

    3) Your good and thought-provoking points are sandwiched between unbelievable snark and mean-spiritedness. And that means that your good points are tainted by the bad stuff you put at the beginning and the end.

    And what that means is that rather than having a nice and edifying discussion where we all learn from each other and/or disagree in love, we get ANGER AND RAGE.

    So, again, let’s all bring it down about 200 notches. I’m just a simple layperson with a lot to learn. I actually think a discussion on this topic could be great.

    Let’s make it so by being nice to each other and remembering all the other people who are reading but not commenting.

    Now go get ’em, tiger.

  15. M;

    1. Noted – however – the comment is directed to a tone of smugness (if not arrogance) I detected in the poster’s previous remarks. If someone with such a disposition is too angry to type straight, perhaps a cool washcloth applied to the face before posting might be in order. As I note, I am mere mortal and claim no higher status. Those who claim to speak the truth of all scripture should better mind their accuracy. They might leave the impression that pastors demand what they themselves cannot produce.

    2. Best construction? Now, please don’t take offense because that’s not my point, but PAH-LEEZ! Can we not be honest for a moment? The slur in the thread is against the laity – not your friend! Lack of mandate does not imply prohibition.

    John 1:40-42: “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

    Andrew was one of John the Baptist’s disciples at the time – in this text he brings Peter to Christ w/o first being declared anything other than a disciple of the Baptist – a Jewish layman seeking after the Messiah, telling others He had come, and taking them to the Christ. Seems kinda evangelistic, no? And not a pastor in sight. If this wasn’t Christ pleasing, you’d find it in the text…

    3. Thanks for the back-handed compliment. I agree – I’m agitating to be both provocative and snarky. Gotta disagree w/ the mean bit. To know me is to love me.

    Don’t need to point out (but will) that Luther generally pulled no punches (stupid Germans, etc.) to emphasize his point. And don’t tell me I’m wrong – you’re as aware as I am that many pastor types of the far right persuasion do believe that the laity ought be better at expressing ‘reverence’ for their special ‘nature’. There’s a Romanist feel to that view – no doubt.

    As a concession (see, I’m not closed minded) I used ‘you’ generically but see how it could be read to personally attack Rossow. Not my intention or desire – so for this sin I humbly ask the forgiveness of those offended.


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