Broadcast from the nation’s oldest continuously run religious radio station, KFUO-AM in St. Louis, and syndicated throughout the country, “Issues, Etc.” had an even larger audience world-wide, thanks to its podcast’s devoted following. With 14 hours of fresh programming each week, the show was on the leading edge of what’s happening in culture, politics and broader church life. The Rev. Todd Wilken interviewed the brightest lights from across the theological spectrum on news of the day. Guests included Oxford University’s Dr. Alister McGrath, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Albert Mohler and more postmodern types, like Tony Jones, national coordinator for a church network called Emergent Village.
On its last show, on March 17, listeners learned about the life and faith of St. Patrick; scientific and philosophical arguments in defense of the human embryo; the excommunication of two Roman Catholic women who claimed ordination; and the controversy surrounding the sermons of Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
Despite the show’s popularity, low cost and loyal donor base, Mr. Wilken and Jeff Schwarz, the producer of “Issues, Etc.,” were dismissed without explanation on Tuesday of Holy Week. Within hours, the program’s Web site — which provided access to past episodes and issues of its magazine — had disappeared. Indeed, all evidence that the show ever existed was removed.
So what happened? Initially, the bureaucrats in St. Louis kept a strict silence, claiming that the show had been canceled for “business and programmatic” reasons. Yesterday the synod cited low local ratings in the St. Louis area and the low number of listeners to the live audio stream on the Web site. But the last time the synod tracked the size of the audience was three years ago, and it did not take into account the show’s syndicated or podcast following. The synod also claimed that the show lost $250,000 a year, an assertion that is at odds with those of others familiar with the operating budget of the station.
The Rev. Michael Kumm, who served on three management committees for the station, said that the explanation doesn’t add up.