Monday, May 14, 2018

DeHaan's Radio Bible Class

I have a soft spot for the old medicine-show quack radio preachers and Dr. Martin Ralph DeHaan was one old fashioned, hard-drinking, radio preacher. After graduating from seminary in 1925, DeHaan took his first pastorate at Calvary Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, where he attracted large audiences both at the church and on radio. He broadcast live for the first time on 1310 WEXL-AM on September 4th 1938. Even at 50 watts, it reached from the suburb of Royal Oak into the city proper of Detroit.

Dr. DeHaan was not a healthy specimen. Born in 1891, he became a doctor after graduating from the University of Illinois in Chicago. In 1921 he had a severe allergic reaction to some medication (probably morphine) which set off his religious conversion and he became an evangelical. He then attended Western Theological Seminary. He earned his doctorate, but the stress set off two heart attacks. Yes, two, and there were more to follow.
He suffered his first heart attack at the age of 45 in 1936 and another in 1938. It was only after his recovery that he began teaching bible classes. He also began broadcasting a half-hour program on the radio. This is where his biographies get hazy. Some lazily describe it as a Detroit radio station. This is clearly WEXL in Royal Oak. But many claim he moved to another "Radio Bible College" by 1941, in Grand Rapids. This appears to have been the physical location of his "school", and not a radio station. Though it may have had a recording studio.

DeHaan's "Detroit Bible Class" broadcasts originated at WEXL, which in 1938 was on 1310 (Today on 1340 as WCHB). At the time it shared the frequency with WBEO in Marquette, and WFDF in Flint. WEXL was founded either in 1924 or 1926 depending on sources as WAGM. It operated out of the A.G. Miller Furniture and Radio Shop.  In 1929 they sold the station to Rev. Jacob B. Spark who changed the callsign to WEXL in 1931. (It later became a country music station of note in the 1960s.)  But more important to DeHaan, Mutual Broadcasting picked up and renamed it as the "Radio Bible Class" program in 1941, and ABC networks followed. The program later originated at CKLW in Windsor. His half hour program was carried on 500 stations at it's peak.

DeHaan's sermons were out there. As a premillennialist, he believed that Jesus was coming back imminently (i.e. before the year 2000) and kicking off the end of days. He also spent a fair time ranting about the Russians and nuclear weapons visa-vi the book of revelations. Perhaps that fixation was also stressful for him. In 1946 he had a heart attack on air. It was around that time that his son Dr. Richard DeHaan took on more responsibilities running the program. M.R died in 1965. Nonetheless the elder DeHaan wrote some 25 books in his lifetime. His grandson Mart DeHaan took over in 1985, and runs the organization today.