Theocratic Media Advancing ? Pay No Mind, Have a Tawdry Scandal !
University of Illinois Doctoral Student John Anderson
, producer of Media Minutes
may have covered the "Great Translator Invasion
" more thoroughly than anyone, and he's here to bring Talk To Action another tawdry religious broadcasting scandal
involving "illicit ungodly relationships", Victoria's Secret, auto parts, and a gun. Oh my. Now, I'm not immune to the charms of salacious, sleazy scandal, but let me say this - after the principals have clawed each other's reputations and bank accounts to bits and are living out of carboard boxes, it's likely some deep pocketed Dominionist media mogul will magically appear to salvage Calvary's LPFM empire - as a good investment and because it's a useful platform for for saturation bombing the hinterlands with certain ideologies. So the scandal will likely amount to another soporific. In the mid 1980's, several televangelists fell from power and the "religious right" was noisily pronounced dead. Several years later, the Christian right had powered the GOP takeover of Congress. But enough of these annoyances called facts - let John be your guide through the Calvary muck.
So, John Anderson sums it up for us ( for a more in depth version, see John's site, DIYmedia
The implosion of the Calvary Satellite Network has begun. What began ten years ago as a media partnership between two ambitious pastors is now the subject of downright nasty litigation - and the dirty laundry of both parties is now fully billowing in the wind.
To recap: CSN began in 1996 as a joint venture between two people - Michael Kestler, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls, Idaho, and Jeff Smith, son of Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel fellowship itself. CSN was an early pioneer of the use of FM translator stations to create regional and national radio networks on the cheap. FM translators are much cheaper to build and operate than full-power radio stations, and by law they must rebroadcast other stations. Several religious broadcasters now employ this model to grow their reach, including American Family Radio and the Educational Media Foundation, parent company to the K-LOVE and AIR-1 Christian music networks.
Using a station owned by Kestler's church as the uplink to feed repeaters around the country, CSN grew to be heard on nearly 400 radio stations within five years of its founding. Jeff Smith and Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, California bankrolled CSN's buildout while Kestler and Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls constructed and oversaw the network infrastructure.
In 2001, the joint venture agreement between Smith and Kestler expired, and for as-yet unknown reasons was not renewed. Since then, the relationship between the two men and their churches has crumbled: first there was a struggle over where CSN listener donations should be directed, then each man sent out aggressive missives belittling the other to CSN station management.
The first legal volley was fired on Valentine's Day of this year when the Smiths filed a civil claim against Kestler seeking repayment of more than a million dollars they had invested in CSN's construction. Kestler responded a month later with his own lawsuit, accusing Jeff Smith of siphoning off listener donations intended for CSN to finance his father's own nationally-syndicated Bible-study radio show, The Word For Today.
The Smiths have since responded with a counterclaim accusing Kestler of several misdeeds, including embezzlement running into the millions and technical ineptitude which imminently threatens the licenses of several CSN stations.
But no religious media scandal would be complete without the sex: Kestler is further accused of using his position at CSN to solicit and engage in "illicit ungodly relationships" with women who are not his wife. The Smiths claim to have evidence that CSN funds have been expended on "charges at Victoria's Secret, evenings of romantic dinner/drinks, vacation/travel expenses, car parts, gas, airline tickets, food and lodging," and "at least one gun."
In related news: Kestler is the defendant in a sexual harassment claim pending in Idaho, and owns other media properties, including a budding radio network that plays Christian Alternative and several television stations around Idaho.
The Smiths' counterclaim estimates CSN assets in the "hundreds of millions" of dollars and its revenues in the "tens of millions." Most of the FCC licenses to CSN stations are in the name of Kestler and Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls. For his part, Chuck Smith has spoken publicly on the issue, asking Kestler to step down from his ministry for "improprieties as far as girls were concerned." Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls has been de-listed from the "mother church"'s web site.
The Phoenix Preacher blog, which as been following this particular Calvary Chapel scandal the most closely since it blew up late last year, has declared "a pox on both houses," and I am inclined to agree. If any of this goes to trial, we'll be able to see the lust, greed, envy, and pride involved in radio empire-building on full display.