“With God before us, who could possibly stand against us?” the voice on the radio bellows each weekday morning.
Thousands of Southwest Floridians have started their day with him for more than a decade. Halfway around the globe, people are listening to his voice as he talks about the history of contemporary Christian music. Meanwhile, back in Chicago and scattered across the U.S., there are those who are still shaking their heads, wondering what on earth has happened to this man.
Those who knew Jim Channell as Captain Whammo on WMET Radio in Chicago back in 1975 are either bewildered or amazed to tune into him now and find that, although he is still in the radio business, he is now a bold and blatant born-again Christian.
But it wasn’t always so.
Having met with easy success in the broadcasting business almost as soon as he began, Jim soon found he was able to write his own ticket in the industry. Loving his job and the lifestyle that accompanied it, he developed his own radio style: Wild, lewd, crude and boisterous – a definite draw to the youth who listened to his show. His life was enhanced with a generous income, lots of women and a stereotypical rock ‘n roll lifestyle. But it had to come to an end.
The beginning of the end for Jim started with a woman. He finally fell hard in love, and when the Bible-believing small-town girl broke up with him to get her own life back on track, the hard-core rock ‘n roller was devastated.
Channell was smart enough to realize that with the life he’d been living, he was headed for many more painful life situations in the future if he didn’t change. Still hoping to get the girl back, he made a few tentative steps looking for answers, a new job and a way back to his love.
“I had no idea that my eternal destination would change that day,” Channell says of Nov. 5, 1978, a date known to his present on-air listeners almost as well as their own birthdays. That day, while listening to WMBI, a Christian radio station in Chicago, Channell pulled his car to the side of the road to pray the sinner’s prayer.
The girl never returned, but the Jesus that Channell encountered has stayed faithfully by his side to this day. He has no regrets about the way it turned out.
Channell’s radio career passed through Dundee, Ill., Chicago, Ill., and South Bend, Ind., before he eventually made his way to South Florida. There he found his future at a small local station, Praise FM, part of First Assembly Ministries of Naples. Unlike some Christian radio stations which Channell calls “Christian jukeboxes,” Praise FM does not just play the music, but also talks about God, Jesus and the Bible.
“There is nothing more fulfilling,” Channell claims, “than sharing Jesus on or off the air.”
Channell’s personality and faith leaps through the airwaves fearlessly. Depending on when you tune in, you may hear him talk about his turmoils, his past personal anguish, the heartache of divorce or loneliness. He does not, however, leave hard topics without hope. He ties it firmly back into his faith and gives God the credit for it all.
This divorced father of two adult children has been through much of the same pain that his listening audience has experienced, and many of them feel a strong affinity with the single Christian broadcaster. To them, Channell says, being single, “is easier said than done. But if it’s your lot in life at this time then do your best with it. Keep your focus on Jesus.”
In case there is any chance of radio celebrity going to his head, Channell practices an exercise in humility each morning before the show when he crawls under the console for solitude and spends 30 minutes praying for the ministry and that day’s program.
“Lord, take my mouth like You did with Moses,” he prays.
The man at the other end of the booming voice is not the lumberjack you might expect, but a “regular guy,” as he calls himself, and a man’s man. He’s a bit of a sports nut, and so the show always contains the latest scores and sometimes a few commentaries.
Out of the box
Channell has also been producing a Christian oldies program since 1996. “Classic Christian Gold” is replete with facts and personal histories of the artists. The shows are created in a little studio at First Baptist Church on Marco Island, with the support of Pastor Tim Neptune. Classic Christian Gold has been picked up by dozens of stations around the globe including stations in Kenya, New Zealand, Haiti, the Philippines and France.
In all he does, Channell never forgets what brought him to the Lord.
“My goal is to live in peace and share Jesus,” he says. “I got saved listening to Christian radio.”