In 1961, God birthed a vision for Christian radio in New Zealand. It took 17 years of faith to see that vision realised. From the humble beginnings of a single station in 1978, the Rhema Broadcasting Group now encompasses more than 60 stations across 4 networks. It has become one of the largest radio groups in the nation and has pioneered Christian radio in the British Commonwealth.UCB and its international affiliates trace their origins back to these visionary Kiwis and their passion for communicating the Gospel using radio.
For many years, UCB Australia acted as an umbrella organisation for about 30 autonomous affiliated Christian radio stations. Then, in the late 1990s, it also became a broadcaster in its own right, launching Vision FM (later renamed "Vision Radio Network"). UCB has also been the facilitator of a variety of services that support its broadcasting. These include:
- a national Christian worldview news service, UCB News
- the hugely popular daily devotional, The Word for Today and its youth equivalent, word4U2day
- our resources arm, UCB Direct, which provides quality teaching in books, CDs and DVDs
- our confidential prayer request service, PrayForMe
- training and assistance for Christian radio stations all over the country.
In time, it became apparent that UCB could not act as both an umbrella ("peak") body for other stations, and be a broadcaster as well. In 2005, UCB relinquished its peak body role to the Association of Christian Broadcasters. This enabled the organisation to focus on its own broadcasting and publishing activities, as well as continue to provide a range of services to other stations.
How UCB Australia began
UCB Australia was founded in 1986 in Chatswood, Sydney, by New Zealander Philip Churchill. At the time Community Licenses were the only real option. These had to be obtained by hearings before the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. Licenses to broadcast were granted almost exclusively to community broadcasting groups represented by the smartest and best-briefed barristers. From the Government's point of view, change was urgent and overdue. Philip returned to New Zealand after two years, as the timing was not quite right, and Rhema FM Newcastle became the caretakers of UCB Australia.
United Christian Broadcasters Australia Ltd became a registered company in 1991. In 1992 Warren Rout, Hal Short, Dudley Scantlebury and Frank Salisbury re-activated UCB Australian operations, with the changes ushered in by the new Broadcasting Services Act 1992. This Act allowed greater use of Temporary Community Broadcast Licenses (TCBL) that achieved the following major advances:
- TCBLs allowed temporary broadcasts for 3-month periods
- Exposure of Christians to the possibilities of Christian Radio
- Exposure of the public to Christian music and spoken programs of world standard
- The capacity to raise funds to make local stations self-sufficient
- UCB Australia's role as a mentor and leader in providing groups around Australia with broadcast training, infrastructure, guidance and the momentum to get up and running, was crucial.
The first UCB affiliated station established in Australia was Newcastle Christian Broadcasters, located in one of Australia's largest provincial centres, about 100 km north of Sydney.
The founders, husband and wife team Russell and Betty Aicheson, now in their late-eighties, had visited Radio Rhema in New Zealand in 1984. There they had caught the Christian broadcasting vision from then UCB International President Richard Berry. Newcastle Christian Broadcasters was founded in the following year using a temporary broadcast licence.
They handed over the reins to Dudley Scantlebury in 1989.By then, the foundations of Rhema FM Newcastle (as the station is now named) were well and truly laid. After a long battle, Newcastle obtained its permanent licence to broadcast full-time in 2000. Rhema FM Canberra was the second "cab off the rank". Founded by Warren Rout (who passed away in December 2010) and his wife Suzanne in 1991, Canberra Christian Radio Limited obtained its permanent warrant late in 1999. The Community licenses are hard to get, particularly if there is local competition for a limited number of them. Today there are very few still available in Australia.
UCB has been involved in the establishment of almost 30 community radio stations, each one being autonomous, locally run and financed by their own communities. After the launch, UCB Australia continued to assist with support, guidance and representation, often for many years. However, with the advent of Narrowcast licences, UCB's focus changed. It became a broadcaster in its own right.
An effort was made to continue supporting the affiliated community stations, however reality soon bit hard. It was very difficult to keep a twin focus: to be both a broadcaster and a representative body. After much discussion, in early 2005 UCB officially recommended to affiliate stations that another body, the Association of Christian Broadcasters, was best positioned to be the peak body for Christian broadcasters. UCB's season as the umbrella organisation/peak body in Australian Christian radio was over. As part of the process, UCB strongly encouraged its historical affiliates to participate actively as members in the ACB, as UCB Australia itself does. UCB's radio focus is now that of being a broadcaster in its own right, through its own 'Vision Radio Network'.
Why is Vision different to Christian Community Broadcasters?
There are essential differences between the independent community stations and the Vision Radio Network.
The community stations have autonomous Boards and individual negotiations with Broadcasting Authorities. They represent local interests and news; they set their own music and talk mix appropriate to their local listening audience. Formats vary across the different stations depending on their target audience and desired ministry outcomes.
Vision, on the other hand, holds Open Narrowcast licences, so each broadcast site is essentially a repeater of the programme beamed by satellite from our studios in Brisbane. Vision is Australia's fastest growing radio network. From one relay station in 1999, there are now over 500 on air in regional and metropolitan Australia, most of which are low powered FM stations. This growth has been fuelled by public demand with communities generally contributing most of the funds required to establish their new service. Outside our network coverage area, many people also listen direct-from-satellite or via the internet. The network covers many regional Australian communities, although Vision is also heard in some of the major centres including Adelaide, Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth, Rockhampton and Townsville.
Through positive music and talk, we aim to deliver a stimulating and compelling programme mix that encourages everyday Aussies to live a life of real faith in God. We want Vision to be a trusted friend, aiming to ultimately introduce listeners to our trusted friend—Jesus Christ!
In Australia, the majority of supporters also subscribe to the quarterly devotional The Word for Today written by Bob and Debby Gass. In 2009, UCB launched a youth edition, word4U2day. Around 100 000 copies of the two devotionals are distributed each quarter in Australia alone, and over 3.5 million copies worldwide.