ORIGINS OF CBN

Fifty-seven years ago, one could have suggested that Pat Robertson was stretching his imagination when he named his broadcasting organisation The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Not only was CBN the first Christian television station in Virginia, it was also the first in the nation. Fifty-seven years later, one cannot dispute that CBN is one of the largest television ministries in the world. With its many subsidiary and affiliate organisations, CBN goes beyond the bounds of broadcasting in its mission to reach the world with a message of hope from the Bible. Read on to discover the origins of CBN.

The story of CBN’s birth and early years is documented in Pat Robertson’s autobiography, Shout It From The Housetops. Founded on January 11, 1960, CBN first went on the air on October 1, 1961, on WYAH-TV (from Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God). This UHF television station barely had enough power to reach across the Portsmouth city limits! With a modest income from a few local supporters, CBN began broadcasting live half-hour programs from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. every night. Gradually, the broadcast day was expanded to 5:00 p.m. to midnight. Because Robertson refused to accept commercial advertisements, paying for programming was out of the question. A few free travelogue films were used to fill in the blank spots. 

In the fall of 1963, CBN conducted its first telethon, with the aim of raising the $7,000 per month needed for the following year’s budget. Robertson told viewers that a “club” of 700 contributors, each giving $10 a month, would enable CBN to meet its expenses. As guests appeared to sing and share their religious experiences, Robertson invited the audience to pray for the 700 supporters who would help keep CBN going. Though its financial struggles continued, CBN had taken an important step in building community support for the ministry.

A year later, the “700 Club” telethon was an important turning point for CBN. This telethon generated more contributions than the previous year’s but not enough to meet CBN’s growing budget. Then, in the final minutes of the broadcast, a remarkable outpouring of spiritual revival began to sweep through the viewing audience. Throughout the next several days, callers flooded CBN with prayer requests and pledges of financial support to CBN. A year later, Robertson added a program to the end of his station’s broadcast day that followed the telethon format of prayer and ministry, coupled with telephone response. He named it The 700 Club, hoping to build on the audience that had become familiar with CBN’s telethons. The program’s audience grew as other stations began carrying the show.

Today, CBN is a multifaceted nonprofit organisation. It provides programming by cable, broadcast and satellite to approximately 200 countries, with a 24-hour telephone prayer line. Chief among CBN’s broadcasting components is The 700 Club. This daily television program featured Pat Robertson, Terry Meeuwsen, Gordon Robertson, Wendy Griffith and news anchor John Jessup. On the air continuously since 1966, The 700 Club is one of the longest-running programs in broadcast history. Seen in 97 percent of the television markets across the United States, the show’s news/magazine format presents a lively mix of information, interviews, and inspiration. 

CBN’s international ministry has worked in 122 different languages, from Mandarin to Spanish and from Turkish to Welsh. In 1990, CBN International launched special projects in the Commonwealth of Independent States (formerly the Soviet Union.) This included primetime specials and later The 700 Club and Superbook, an animated series of Bible stories. The broadcasts were followed by 190 rallies throughout the region that resulted in the establishment of 190 churches. Similar special projects were implemented in the Philippines and Romania in 1994. CBN International also distributes videos and literature and provides follow-up through international ministries around the world. In 1995, CBN launched CBN WorldReach. Its mission being converting 500 million people to Christianity using Gospel programming targeted to international audiences. 

Middle East Television (METV), was a television station in Southern Lebanon, broadcasting news, sports, family entertainment and religious programming by satellite to a potential audience of 200 million people in 15 nations. This included Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Cyprus. METV also distributed free videotapes and religious literature and provided food and clothing – through CBN’s humanitarian affiliate, Operation Blessing International – throughout the Middle East. METV was sold to a like-minded ministry, LeSEA Broadcasting, in July 2001. 

In America, The 700 Club Prayer Centres in Virginia Beach, Virginia and Nashville, Tennessee provide prayer, scriptural counsel and literature to people who call CBN’s toll free telephone prayer line. The centre’s phones are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and are staffed by paid, volunteer and ‘on call’ workers. The staff are trained in offering comfort and encouragement from a biblical perspective.

In 1977, CBN started the nation’s first basic TV cable network, with satellite transmissions of religious and syndicated family TV shows. By 1981, CBN Cable reached nearly 10 million homes. Renamed the CBN Family Channel in 1988, the commercial cable operation continued to prosper and was sold in 1990 to International Family Entertainment Inc. (IFE) is a publicly held company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange. IFE was sold in 1997 to Fox Kids Worldwide, Inc. Disney acquired the Fox Family Channel and it was named ABC Family on November 10, 2001 and renamed Freeform in January of 2016.

Operation Blessing International Relief and Development Corporation is an affiliate organisation founded by Pat Robertson in 1978. Operation Blessing was originally set up to help disadvantaged people by matching their needs for clothing, appliances, vehicles and other items with articles donated by viewers of The 700 Club. Yet, as requests for help grew, Robertson and CBN’s board of directors decided to make a financial commitment to Operation Blessing that reached $1 million in 1982. In 1992 a fleet of refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks was added to Operation Blessing and called the Hunger Strike Force (HSF). The HSF hauls millions of pounds of food and disaster relief across the United States. Operation Blessing later purchased and retrofitted an L-1011 airplane into a hospital. “The Flying Hospital” was commissioned in 1996 by former President George Bush and took its first medical mission to El Salvador. The Flying Hospital was sold to a charitable not-for-profit organisation in 2000. 

Located in Virginia Beach, Regent University was founded in 1977 by Robertson, who serves as its president and chancellor. Regent is a fully accredited graduate university that offers degrees in business, communication & the arts, divinity, education, government, law, organisational leadership and psychology & counselling. Also, Regent offers a bachelor’s degree completion program. Regent University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award the bachelor’s, master’s and doctor’s degrees and has an enrolment of over 4,000 students. Besides the main campus in Virginia Beach, Regent offers programs online via their Worldwide Campus.

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