Missionary radio depends on God’s provision of the ionosphere

Created to spread the Gospel


Two-thirds of the world’s population comes within the target area of Far East Broadcasting
broadcasts. This is achieved through 30 powerful transmitters located in five countries,
and the use of leased time on other transmitters.
Two-thirds of the world’s population comes within the target area of Far East Broadcasting broadcasts. This is achieved through 30 powerful transmitters located in five countries, and the use of leased time on other transmitters.

How can the Church fulfil the Great Commission and preach the Gospel to the world’s population, which now numbers over 5.7 billion people and is increasing by a quarter of a million every day? This question is especially relevant in view of the rise in nationalism, and the increase in evolutionary indoctrination in all countries today, as well as in the Church itself, all of which affects the interest of Christians in traditional missionary work.

It would seem that God has raised up missionary radio—at this crucial time in the latter half of the twentieth century— so that the Gospel can cross international borders now closed to missionaries and reach the hearts and minds of people who have no other way of hearing the message about the Creator God and His Saviour Son, Jesus Christ.

The ionosphere—God’s provision for missionary radio

The earth has a fascinating feature, without which global missionary radio would be impossible.

Radio waves travel in straight lines. They can encircle the earth because they are reflected to the ground or the ocean from a layer in the atmosphere called the ionosphere, and thence from the ground or the ocean back to the ionosphere, and so on (depending on their strength), around the earth. Without the ionosphere, long-distance radio transmission, including missionary broadcasts, for most of this century would not have been possible. See aside below.

The beginning of missionary radio

The ionosphere is not the only part of the earth that facilitates radio broadcasting. Other factors too are important, especially where one locates the transmitter.

FEBC’s ‘Heartline’ talk-back program in Manila discusses social and spiritual problems like ‘What if my husband takes a mistress?’ The announcer gives biblical answers and then four people deal with listeners’ questions on air. Programs like this caused FEBC to go from No. 36 (of the 42 radio stations in Manila) to No. 12.

The first missionary radio broadcast took place from Quito, the capital city of Ecuador (so named because it lies astride the equator), by Radio HCJB—the Voice of the Andes—on December 25, 1931, with a 200-watt transmitter.1 The conventional wisdom of the day was that radio broadcasts should avoid high mountains. American commercial radio engineers told the missionaries, ‘Avoid Ecuador. It has too many mountains. The high mineral content [of the mountains] will seriously weaken, absorb, or hopelessly scramble any radio signal … You must get away from the equator.’ Quito, at more than 9,000 feet elevation, was only 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of the equator! However, the missionaries believed that God’s call to Moses to come up to the top of the mountain (Exodus 19:20) was also a personal call from God to them to do likewise.

In 1940 HCJB had a 10,000-watt transmitter, which could be heard from New Zealand to Japan, from Sumatra to Sweden, from Alaska to Russia. The experts now said, ‘What a smart operation to put a radio station on the equator, the very finest location for north-south broadcasting! And with your one-hundred-foot tower sitting on a 9,300-foot mountain, you virtually have a ten-thousand-foot antenna. The higher above sea level you can get your tower, the farther the signal will travel. Amazing how your engineers could have chosen the best site on earth!’ The missionaries chuckled. This was not what the ‘experts’ had said in 1931. ‘But we knew all along Quito had to be the best, because it was God’s choice.’2

Bouncing the Gospel into China

At ground level, seawater is the best known reflector of radio waves. FEBC (Far East Broadcasting Co.), which began transmission from Manila, in the Philippines, in 1948,3 used this fact to bounce the Gospel between the ionosphere and the ocean all the way into China, following the rise to power of Mao Zedong in 1949. When the communist government expelled the missionaries, confiscated churches, burned Bibles, and imprisoned the pastors, FEBC used its huge radio tower to broadcast the Gospel into Red China, to send spiritual teaching to the believers, and to transmit the Bible at dictation speed. To make sure the announcer read the Bible at the right speed, someone sat beside the microphone, writing. Warnings in the Chinese press about the ‘enemy station’ served as good publicity for FEBC!4

Today FEBC broadcasts in 152 languages, for a total of over 350 hours a day from its several transmitters, to two-thirds of the world’s population. Many people receive these programs on radios supplied to villages by FEBC and pre-tuned to FEBC stations. FEBC calls them ‘portable missionaries’ or PMs; indigenous people often refer to them as ‘the box that can talk’. FEBC receives more than 60,000 letters per month; the most ever was one million in one week when they first began broadcasting to the new Russia after the collapse of the USSR.

Rotating the Gospel to India, the middle East, and Africa

Even the rotation of the earth assists missionary broadcasting. FEBA (Far East Broadcasting Associates) began transmission from the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean, in May 1970.5 First they located their antenna to make the maximum use of the seawater reflection. Out in the warm, shallow sea, anchored to the coral underneath, one kilometre offshore, they built the most original reef aerial antenna array yet devised in Christian radio. Remote-controlled switching provided a saltwater take-off in both directions across the Indian Ocean to the target areas.

The rotation of the earth is used as follows. Each morning FEBA directs its broadcasts, in 12 Indian languages to the Indian sub-continent, where it is 5 to 7am in the target area and people are getting up to go to work. After two hours FEBA ceases this transmission and directs its broadcasts in Arabic and other languages to Middle Eastern countries, where, with the rotation of the earth, it is then 5 to 7am there. After another two hours FEBA ceases this transmission and directs its broadcasts in African languages to the countries of Africa, where, with the further rotation of the earth, it is then 5 to 7 am there. In the evening, again using the rotation of the earth, FEBA repeats the cycle from 6 to 8 pm successively in each of the three main target areas, where people in each area have returned home from work and are able to listen for the second time each day.

Today there are 13 major organizations, including TWR (Trans World Radio) and ELWA (in Africa), plus a host of smaller Christian organizations and individuals, who cover the world with missionary broadcasts. They also buy time on commercial and government radio stations, and the advent of satellites has opened up further possibilities. They have the goal of reaching every mega language group (those with more than one million speakers) by the year 2000.

The Ionosphere

The ionosphere contains electrically charged atoms called ions, caused principally by the action of radiation from the sun on the neutral atoms and molecules of the air. The term ‘ionosphere’ was first coined in 1920 and was formally defined in 1950 by the Institute of Radio Engineers as ‘the part of the earth’s upper atmosphere where ions and electrons are present in quantities sufficient to affect the propagation of radio waves.’ It occurs at an altitude of from 50 to 400 kilometres.

The lowest layer of the ionosphere is called the D-layer, and has a low concentration of free electrons. It lies between an altitude of 50 and 90 kilometres and reflects only long wavelength radio waves. The next layer is called the E-layer. It lies between an altitude of 90 and 150 kilometres. In the USA it was first called the Kennelly-Heaviside Layer after the two men who predicted its existence. In the UK it was for many years called the Heaviside-Kennelly Layer or just the Heaviside layer. It is more strongly ionized than the D-layer, and reflects medium wavelength radio waves. The F-layer, from an altitude of about 150 to 400 kilometres, is also known as the Appleton layer, after its discoverer, the British physicist, Edward Appleton. It is the most strongly ionized region of the ionosphere, and the most useful for radio communication.—Adapted from John Gribbin, ‘Structure of the Earth’s Atmosphere’, New Scientist, Inside Science, No. 86, December 9, 1995.

The inventor of radio (or wireless as it was first called) was Guglielmo (pronounced ‘Gul-yel-mo’) Marconi. Although being born in Italy, he did most of his radio research in England, and was granted the world’s first wireless telegraphy patent by the British Patent Office on June 2, 1896. In 1901 he was responsible for the first transatlantic radio transmission—from Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to St John’s in Newfoundland, a distance of 3,470 kilometres (2,170 miles).

In 1909 Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of wireless telegraphy (jointly with Professor Ferdinand Braun, who improved Marconi’s system and who was also responsible for the development of crystal radio receivers and the cathode-ray tube). In 1910 Marconi’s wireless captured the public’s imagination when it was used to track the notorious murderer Dr Crippen, after he had tried to escape from London to Canada across the Atlantic aboard the passenger liner Montrose.

In 1912 the wireless was responsible for saving hundreds of lives when the Titanic struck an iceberg. The Titanic’s wireless operator began sending the standard CQD (come quickly danger) distress call, and then switched to the new SOS signal, sending one of the first SOS calls from a ship in distress. Many ships heard this signal; the nearest to respond was the Carpathia from 83 kilometres (58 miles) away.

In 1922 Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co. Ltd joined with other companies to form the British Broadcasting Company (now Corporation, or the BBC).

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Radio waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which also includes visible light, x-rays, gamma rays (given off by radioactive substances), and cosmic rays (from outer space). It is probable that on Day One of Creation Week, when God said, ‘Let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3), the entire electromagnetic spectrum came into existence.


So when did God create the ionosphere? We do not know for certain. However, the global Flood may have been accompanied by dramatic changes in the atmosphere so that the ionosphere in its present form may have only appeared after the Flood. If this is so, then it would demonstrate God’s mercy in the midst of judgment. It would mean that the same catastrophe through which He miraculously preserved Noah and all aboard the Ark would have made possible missionary radio today and the salvation of the countless numbers of people who have believed the Gospel and been saved as a result of missionary broadcasts.

Sadly today many who have professed faith in Christ in developing countries are subsequently faced with evolutionary teaching as naturalistic educational materials proliferate. Creation ministries often receive grateful testimonies from folk telling how translated creationist materials, broadcast by the many Christian radio organizations or posted to inquirers, have changed lives.6

Published: 29 December 2010

Footnotes and references

  1. The radio call-sign had to start with the letters ‘HC’, the international call letters assigned to Ecuador. ‘HCJB’ was chosen because in Spanish, the principal language used, the letters stand for ‘Hoy Cristo Jesús Bendice’, meaning ‘Today Christ Jesus Blesses’, while in English they stand for ‘Heralding Christ Jesus’ Blessings’. Return to text.
  2. Adapted from Catch the Vision: The Story of HCJB—the Voice of the Andes, World Radio Missionary Fellowship, Florida, 1989, pp. 11-13 and 32-33. Return to text.
  3. The story of how FEBC got its antenna tower is worth repeating. It soon became evident that the original temporary antenna strung between two telephone poles was inadequate. The biggest deterrent was lack of funds. One day an executive from a wireless company in Manila phoned FEBC to say, ‘I hear you are looking for an antenna. We have one that we’re not going to need. It’s war surplus and still in the crates. It cost about $25,000. Make a bid.’ FEBC had only $300 in the bank, so they offered this! It was accepted and a few days later they received 40 tonnes of steel, pre-cut and ready for assembly into a massive 300-foot tower. It has been used for broadcasting the Gospel ever since.—Adapted from Eleanor Bowman, Eyes Beyond the Horizon, Far East Broadcasting Co., Nashville, Tennessee, 1991, p. 60. Return to text.
  4. The Bible at dictation speed was similarly sent into USSR and other countries during the repressions of Stalin and other dictators. It is still being used for some countries today. Return to text.
  5. The Seychelles was chosen because it was the perfect site for broadcasting full circle to South Asia, India, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, and Africa. Return to text.
  6. Earmarked support for such projects may be sent to any of the Creation Science Ministries Group addresses listed on page 2 of this magazine. Return to text.

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