Twenty years ago tomorrow (Nov. 14), Toledo Christian rock station YES-FM (89.3) flipped a switch and hit the airwaves with a welcome by founder Jim Oedy and a song, âThe Great Adventureâ by Steven Curtis Chapman.
Itâs been a great adventure ever since, station officials said as they reflected on two decades of music, ministry, and occasional mayhem.
Oedy says itâs a miracle the nonprofit station ever made it on the air in the first place. Station manager Rev. Todd Hostetler says itâs a miracle YES-FM is still broadcasting.
Both credit YESâs success to sticking with Godâs vision to reach young people with contemporary music that offers a positive, godly message.
âI just marvel at what God has done,â Hostetler said. âItâs like, âHow did you do that, God?ââ
âI donât know why God gets me into these things,â said Oedy, who has started several Christian businesses. âIâm just amazed that it all came together, but I knew God was going to do it.â
Oedy had been thinking about starting a Christian station in Toledo early in 1990 but his wife, Cheryl, was not on the same page.
Then the Oedys took a vacation to Toronto with friends and came across a scene that changed Cherylâs mind. They had taken a ride to the top of the CN Tower and on the elevator ride down, a concert by rock band Motley Crue let out at the adjacent Skydome baseball stadium.
The rowdy crowd came pouring through the ballparkâs exits like a sea of drunken and drugged humanity. Many rock fans were staggering as they walked. Some were howling at the moon, some were making lewd gestures and remarks as they passed by.
âThat was the turning point for me,â Cheryl said. âWe stepped back and watched the crowd leave the building. There were young teens, they looked like they were 12 or 13 years old, and you could see the demons over their heads. I still can see it, this many years later, but I canât explain what they looked like. I canât say the images were real clear; they were just dark. They were demonic. God impressed on my spirit that this is why we need Christian radio in Toledo.â
Cheryl also said, during a group prayer session six months before the station went live, that ministering to young people through music was likely to stir up spiritual attacks. She urged everyone to be on guard.
âI remember taking her hand and saying, âGee, thanks for raining on our parade,'â Jim Oedy recalled. âHer words really had an ominous tone to it.â
A few nights later, his car was hit head-on by a speeding pickup truck.
The car was a twisted heap of metal and Oedy lay unconscious as emergency responders cut him out of the wreckage.
âWhen I realized I wasnât dead, Cherylâs words were right there. In the hospital, I thought, âWow, we serve a pretty amazing God.ââ
While Jim Oedy had no prior experience in radio, he sought out leaders in the Christian music industry who helped guide him through the process of starting a station.
Many urged him to play more middle-of-the-road Christian music rather than the hard rock and hip-hop that would appeal to young people. The listener demographic he was targeting wouldnât have the money to support a radio station, the experts said.
âPeople were telling me, âI hope youâve got a lot of money because thereâs no way this is going to get funded.â But God clearly had called me to do it,â Oedy said. âAnd up until the first Sharathon of 1993, we were basically breaking Cherylâs piggybank to fund the station.â
He said YES-FM has always âdepended on God to move in ways that are extraordinaryâ — and thatâs been a good thing.
“Itâs sort of like Christianity in that it brings out the best when we go through struggles, because then we really are dependent on God,â Oedy said. âWe realize that he does really care and he will step in and do what we canât, if we will do what we can. It has always been a faith walk.â
When YES-FMÂ went live at noon on Nov. 14, 1992, the first few minutes of the broadcast had been pre-recorded thanks to the wisdom of former morning show deejay Dave Campbell, known on air as D.C. Bash.
âBash talked me out of doing it live. He said, 'When they flip that switch and say weâre on, and that room full of people is going crazy, I promise you, youâll lose it,ââ Oedy recalled.
Campbell knew what he was talking about.
âI listened to [the recording of] Jim Oedy announcing that YES-FM was coming on and I totally lost it,â Oedy said. âThat would have been the most ridiculous opening ever — a guy just crying on the radio. But it just hit me as I was listening that God did this, and I had the privilege of maybe being in the front-row seat for a while.â
The station has sponsored countless Christian concerts over the years, including shows by Toby Mac, Toledoâs own Sanctus Real, Margaret Becker, Phil Keaggy, and Third Day.
When it was located in the Mill Youth Stop, from 1999 to 2007, YES-FM sponsored such events as a professional wrestling show and a series of Christian comedy nights.
The station has entertained listeners in colorful ways, including staging live Nativity scenes, deejays becoming âhuman sundaes,â and one morning show host broadcasting live from inside an orange barrel in a highway construction zone.
Hostetler, who also serves as pastor of a newÂ church, City onÂ a Hill Teaching Center (it meets at 9:30 a.m. Sundays at 2180 Preston Parkway in Perrysburg), said YES-FM has built relationships with local churches and youth groups. He hosts âThe Prayer Closet,â a radio show broadcast at 9:30 a.m. Monday through Friday in which Hostetler and guest pastors from the Toledo area take prayer requests from listeners.
âWe are here in the community. You have access to us. You donât get that with national stations,â Hostetler said.
He said YES-FM is competing with an ever-increasing number of media clamoring for young peopleâs attention, especially the internet, video games and smart phones.
âOur challenge is getting their attention. Weâre in competition for their spiritual souls,â he said. At the same time, YES-FM is tapping into technology to reach more people and its online programming draws listeners from around the world.
Hostetler said it didnât take long after he joined the station 16 years ago that he became convinced Godâs hand was on YES-FM.
âI learned early on that there are going to be some harrowing days, but that God always comes through,â he said.
Hostetler recalled a time in his second year at the station when a $72,000 bond payment was coming due on Jan. 1. One day before the bill was due, the station was $21,000 short.
He and former morning show deejay Vonda Kay Hogle sat down on Dec. 31 and began opening the mail and tallying the checks.
âOn a good day we may get $2,000 in donations,â Hostetler said. âAnd I can count on one hand the number of times we received donations of $10,000 or more in a day. That day, we received $32,000 in the mail. God is in control.â
A more recent challenge the station faced was the threat of losing its spot on a tower from which its signal is broadcast.
Federal Communications Commission regulations are strict when it comes to how and where radio signals are broadcast, and YES-FM had only limited options. After months of negotiations and legal expenses, efforts to save the spot on the tower fizzled.
But the station was able to secure a temporary place last year on the tower of local Christian television station WLMB-TV, Channel 40.
âItâs not an easy thing to do. Thatâs why there are so few stations like this across the country,â Hostetler said. âBut God called us to do this. We are called to point young people toward God.â
YES-FM will mark its 20th anniversary with an open house at the stationâs studio and offices, 5105 Glendale Ave., Suite C, next to the South End Grille, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 14). More information is available online at www.yeshome.com.
Editorâs Note: David Yonkeâs wife, Janet, is the underwriting manager for YES-FM.