As WMFE prepares to sell out to a religious broadcaster, the community wonders what’s next for public television in Orlando
Published: May 26, 2011
If the sale of WMFE goes through as requested, viewers accustomed to tuning in to Channel 24 to watch such PBS favorites as “NOVA” and the “Jim Lehrer Newshour” will likely see their favorite programs replaced by “The Gospel Music Showcase,” “John Hagee Today” and “Marcus Lamb Ministries.” Parents who tune in looking for “Sesame Street” may find in its place “Gospel Bill” or “My Destiny Place,” a children’s show about entrepreneurship that helps kids “discover their God-given destinies.”
That’s because the company interested in buying WMFE’s license, Community Educators of Orlando, is a newly created local unit of Texas-based Christian broadcaster Daystar Television Networks.
The company’s application to buy the license states that it will dedicate more than 50 percent of its airtime to educational, cultural, public affairs, news and religious programming. “Educational programming will be provided in conjunction with University of Central Florida,” the application states. “Furthermore, CEO [Community Educators of Orlando] will provide multicultural programming to the fast-growing segments of the population comprised of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians, which are currently vastly underserved. CEO also proposes to offer interdenominational religious education.”
The application states that the organization’s programming will deal with crime, drugs, teen pregnancy referrals, marriage counseling and job fairs.
The president and vice president of the board of Community Educators of Orlando are Marcus and Joni Lamb, the founders of Daystar. According to a biography posted on his website, in the 1980s Marcus Lamb was a successful evangelist who traveled to churches around the country. “He had no intention of changing his ministry,” the biography says, “but God had other plans. While on a trip to Israel with his bride of seven months, Marcus heard God speak to him, ‘Go to Montgomery, Alabama, and build a Christian TV station.’ After fasting and praying with Joni, Marcus knew God had indeed spoken to him and that they must go to Alabama.”
The Lambs set up a fledgling station that they operated for seven years, but in the early 1990s, they sold it and moved to Texas, where they started over. There, the broadcasting company they founded, called Daystar, expanded rapidly, and today it claims to be the second-largest, fastest-growing Christian TV network in the world, broadcasting “in every country in the world and every state in the U.S. The mission of Daystar is the same as it has always been for Marcus Lamb: Reach as many people as possible, through every means available, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Interestingly, the name Daystar is not mentioned anywhere in the FCC application to purchase WMFE. Instead, the application positions Community Educators of Orlando as a primarily local entity: “A majority of the board of directors of CEO are broadly representative of the community and are local and live in the Orlando, Florida, or nearby greater metro area,” it states. The local board members include family practice physician and best-selling author Dr. Don Colbert, who wrote, among other books, The Bible Cure for Stress and Headache and What Would Jesus Eat? (the application notes that Colbert was asked by PBS “to do a TV series for them to air on PBS TV stations”); David Uth, director of the First Baptist Church in Orlando, the largest church in the city; and Steven Strang of Lake Mary, founder of Charisma Media, who was recognized by Time magazine in 2005 “as one of the nation’s most influential evangelicals.”
> Email Erin Sullivan