08/08/04 — Christian television vision

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Christian television vision

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 8, 2004 2:13 AM

On a prayer that took on wings, the vision for a Christian television station in Goldsboro continues to grow.

WHFL-TV moved to an administrative complex on 10 acres on Industry Drive in April, 2003. But the journey that started with a single step of faith began many years before.

Terry Johnson, general manager of the station, is a worthy tour guide down memory lane. He began working there part-time while still in high school in 1978, one year after the station went on the air.

"It started out of a prayer group that met in the Hollowell Building across from where Western Sizzlin is," he sad. "That's where the vision for this operation came."

The non-profit organization then was called Full Life Ministry, Inc. Jerry Hannah and Rev. Graham Elmore spearheaded it, inviting Bill Burwell to serve as general manager.

Gospel Television Goldsboro or GTG started out on Alert Cable channel 12, later moving to channel 13. The station shared Alert's 3,000-square-foot building at 708 N. William Street next to Ernest Glass from 1977 until buying the building from Alert in 1986.

Johnson said he has done everything from operating the cameras to stepping in wherever needed. When Burwell stepped down as general manager in 1986, Johnson took over. In December, he will celebrate 27 years working there.

He recalls the early days, when the station was only on the air for a few hours here and there. When the station was moved to Channel 21 and became WHFL, it committed to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In 1994, the station requested a permit from the FCC to expand broadcasting capabilities beyond cable.

"We're still on the cable system but can send a signal out over the county so people without cable can still receive us on UHF Channel 56," he said.

Funding all these years has come from three main sources, Johnson said. Programming from local pastors and churches purchasing airtime, local businesses advertising, and an annual telethon.

"We went on the air in 1994," he said. "In 1997, we went debt-free."

That prompted a push to expand the building in 1997. The land on Industry Drive was purchased in 2002 and construction of an 8,000 square foot complex followed.

"The studio here is probably equal to the entire site we used to have," Johnson said.

In addition to a studio, the new facility features an editing room, conference room and other offices, and a state of the art digital control room. Everything is automated, which means the programs throughout the day run automatically.

"It's large enough to do what we want to," Johnson says.

Most of the money have been spent on the equipment, which is almost all paid for at this point. The main expenses go toward paying off the new building.

Quite a contrast to 20 years ago, Johnson says.

"I remember having a phone bill or a light bill and not being able to pay for that because it was such a struggle," he said.

WHFL works with 40 pastors and churches at present, he said. Many of the programs are filmed in the studios, while some is done on-site at the churches.

Local programming airs weekdays from 5-10 p.m. Outside of that, the station features programs from other Christian networks.

The schedule also includes news, health programs, music, nationally-known ministers, and children's programs on Saturday mornings.

"We're particular in that our programming is Christian and family-oriented," Johnson said. "Our mission is to have a central message."

The staff remains small, two full-time and five part-time, but the potential for growth is boundless.

"We have room to grow," Johnson said, but is biding his time on elaborating. He said he plans to make an announcement in November about future expansions for the station.

He knows, though, that none of this would have been possible without God's hand on the project and the grassroots support of the community.

"That's what's done it for us," he said. "Pastors and people working with us.

"I can't say enough about how the community has accepted us and worked with us. There's many people that we have touched, that we have worked with."