THE GOSPEL GREATS Program
P. O. Box 1372
Lancaster PA 17608-1372
Phone (717) 898-9100
Fax (717) 898-6600
Southern Gospel Music Guild
Southern Gospel Music Assn.
Gospel Music Association
| Paul Heil talks
about "The Gospel Greats"
the radio program's first twenty years
"The Gospel Greats" program has passed the two-decade marka
very significant milestone. The program's originator and host,
Paul Heil, was interviewed about the program,
his 35-year broadcast background, how the popular nationally syndicated program
began, trends in Southern Gospel music and what's ahead.
"The Gospel Greats" has become
the most successful program of its type. To what do you attribute that?
The grace of God. That's more apparent to me every day. Also I think we have
tried over the years to approach everything we do in as professional a manner
as we possibly can. By that I mean not only in the quality we attempt to
put into the program itself (both technically and in program content)
but also in the way we support the program by working with stations to promote
it. It also has to do with the way we work with people. We have many friends
in the industry who, I believe, have seen our desire to expand every aspect
of Southern Gospel music which is why I've become so actively involved in
the Southern Gospel Music Guild and now the
Southern Gospel Music Association.
How far back does your interest in Southern Gospel music go?
Childhood. My folks had many of the old Statesmen and Blackwood Brothers
records in the house and we'd hear and enjoy them often. I remember, too,
attending the all-night sings the Couriers promoted in Harrisburg for many
Is your background in Gospel radio?
no. It probably will surprise folks to learn that although I have
been in radio professionally for more than 35 years, I have not worked even
one day as an employee at a Gospel radio station. My professional background
is in secular radio where I was, for most of 12 years, a news director. I
even had two years as a television news director. That news background probably
comes through on the program in the way I deal with all the special audio
material we include to make the program interesting.
How, then, did you come to begin "The Gospel Greats" program?
My fascination with radio actually dates back, again, to childhood. And early
on I became intrigued with networking and syndication. In fact, during college,
I formed and operated a live network of about a dozen college radio stations
throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, feeding evening news, sports and feature
programs. During the late 70s, while working in radio and then TV, I built
a production studio with the goal of syndicating programs. But I'll have
to give my brother, John, the credit for providing the spark for "The Gospel
Greats." He had, and still has, a local Gospel group and was a long-time
subscriber to the Singing News. Going through his paper one day I
noticed the top 40 chart. The light went on. Countdown-type programs in country,
rock and other forms of music had been quite popular for years. Why not one
for Southern gospel music? And, I thought, an emphasis on making the program
interesting with fast-paced interview material and quality production standards
would attract new listeners to Southern gospel music. That, indeed, is what
Has your program changed much in 20 years?
Yes. And no.
Actually, the program concept, timing elements and format of the very first
program we did are the same as the programs we do today. Our use of brief,
interesting artist interviews on the program started way back then and has
continued. We feel that's one of the key things which sets our program apart
from others which have come along and subsequently disappeared. Even our
trademarked logo is the same as it was 20 years ago. Of course, we have
added quite a few new features over the years. Our emphasis on listener
involvement through various giveaways and call-in opportunities has expanded
and has proven popular. And I think that our interviews are more interesting
today, probably because the artists know us as well as we know them and they
open up more.
Really? Do they tell you things you decide not to put on the
Yes. Quite often. If someone tells us something in confidence, we honor that.
These are, after all, our friends. Also, we try to maintain a very positive
attitude on the program. We never say anything negative about anyone. We
even trash interview material in which an artist inadvertently says something
that could be misunderstood or taken in a way totally unintended. Artists
know we won't embarrass them.
have been changes technically for the program?
Oh, yes. The biggest technical change happened late in 1998 when we began
distributing the program on state-of-the-art compact discs. At the same time
we switched from recording the program's master on tape and began recording
it digitally to computer hard disc. Until then, the program had always been
recorded on tape and distributed either on reel tape or on cassette. We never
felt comfortable distributing the program on cassette because we didn't feel
the quality was up to our preferred standards, even though stations seemed
to want it that way. The digital recording also makes it possible to do much
better editing than was ever possible on tape. We actually replicate the
CDs in-house, just as we had done with the tapes, so that we can get the
program discs out the door and on their way to stations as quickly as the
same day the program is recorded. This keeps the program as timely as possible.
Another big change is that since the mid-90s all artist interviews have been
recorded digitally, usually on MiniDiscs, for best possible quality.
your web site?
Oh, yes, this was a major development for us. You could say it was the biggest
thing we've ever added outside the program itself, even though related to
it. The site, www.thegospelgreats.com, went online in a complete form
early in 1999. Posted there are pages of information about the program, about
the program's host, and much more. Our most popular pages are a
"Next Edition" page which tells what to expect on
the next edition of the program, such as who the Featured Artists will be,
and also the "Current Information" page, which
provides mailing addresses, phone numbers and the like which are mentioned
on the program but which listeners may not have a chance to jot down while
listening. It also gives us a chance to post updated information that didn't
make the program deadline. We even have a "Station Finder"
on the site that people can use to see if there's a station nearby on which
they can hear the program.
I've noticed you allow people to enter some giveaways through the site.
Oh, yes. In fact, the whole e-mail thing has really exploded over the past
year. We have so many people who contact us on a regular basis via
e-mail. And it's so quick and
easy to provide a reply. But, yes, we have done some giveaways which allowed
entry by e-mail, actually by filling out and submitting a form on our site.
Folks really seem to love the convenience.
Do you have people working with you to help with the program?
Yes. My wife, Shelia, works very hard keeping the office functioning on a
day-to-day basis. She handles listener correspondence and coordinates the
activities of our office help. Karen Nolt has been with us since the late
80s and handles much of our library workour music library and our
information research files. We also have someone who transcribes all of our
recorded interviews into print form for our files. So, the program and its
support reflects the combined efforts of several people. The actual program
production I handle entirely myself. I assure you, though, we could
always use more help.
Do any funny incidents come to mind related to doing the program?
A few. Back in the late 80s I was interviewing the late Kenny Hinson in a
classroom at a school while a concert was going on in the auditorium. As
often happens, we got talking about all sorts of things and time slipped
by. Too much time, as it turned out. The Hinsons were due on stage. No one
knew where Kenny was, so the rest went on without him. As soon as he found
out, Kenny ran on stage still in his road clothes. That was apparently a
first for him and for me. Although not directly related to the program, I
enjoyed doing the various "roasts" over the years at the National Quartet
Convention, using interview excerpts to put out-of-context words in the mouths
of folks like Glen Payne, George Younce and Les Beasley.
What about exciting moments?
program on its first station was the first exciting thing, of course. The
program has always been an independent production, so it never had a station
"home base." Folks have been very kind over the years in voting me all
sorts of awards. That's exciting. Getting the program on Armed Forces
Radio for several years was quite an exciting milestone. Having George Younce
as our first-ever co-host on our 20th Anniversary edition was something very
exciting that we'll never forget. And having one of our listeners suggest
the name for the new group, Legacy Five, was an honor. However, the most
exciting thing of all has to be hearing from listeners whose lives have been
changed through the Gospel message in the music
I've played. We've heard from folks who've been saved as a result of the
music or the artist testimonies. And we hear every week from Christians whose
lives have been touched and encouraged by something they heard on the program.
In this sense, each program we do is exciting in its potential. And it's
thrilling to see how God uses it.
You feel, then, that you're doing the type of work God wants you to
I have no doubt. And as the years roll on I become even more convinced of
it. Everything I've ever been interested inradio production, audio
editing, even "support interests" such as printing, graphic arts, marketing,
computers, electronicsall come together in what I'm doing now. It's
How many stations now carry the program and how has the number grown
over the years?
on more than 200 stations across the U.S. as well as in Canada. That's not
bad at all. Growth has been slow but steady. From day one, we adopted an
approach to the program that almost ruled out rapid growth. We sell it to
stations as a program service rather than giving it away. But that's why
we've been around for 20 years and are stronger now than ever. Savvy station
operators know that they're getting a quality program that will attract listeners
to their station and which will, through local sponsorships, make the program
quite profitable for them as well. And we're not dependent on a few national
sponsors who could pull out and bring things to a screeching halt. Our track
record has proven the wisdom of this approach.
Actually, your broadcast has been heard around the world, right?
Yes, in recent years the program has been carried by several stations which
also broadcast on the internet. Because the "world wide web" is
world-wide the program can be heard by anyone anywhere in the world who
has the necessary computer connections. What a potential outreach!
In a more traditional sense, for several years we did a special
version of our program each week for broadcast around the world on the American
Armed Forces Radio Network. We started out with a half-hour program at the
beginning of 1989 the first change AFRN had made in their religious programming
in years. Then, due to the program's popularity, the AFRN moved it to their
FM service in the fall and expanded it to an hour, becoming the very first
Christian music programming ever on the FM service. We were delighted with
the outreach this had reaching many folks around the world with Southern
Gospel music, not only those in the military but also nationals who live
within the reach of the AFRN stations around the world. This continued into
the mid-90s when the Clinton administration, through funding cuts to AFRN
and through other directives, severely reduced the amount of time AFRN stations
were allowed to devote to religious programming. We really haven't pursued
any other international outlets other than local stations in Canada, of course.
We also were carried for several years by an international shortwave
What changes have you seen in Southern Gospel music over the past 20
I've seen a lot of very encouraging changes. From a radio perspective, I
think the quality of music production has improved considerably in recent
years. Groups and labels put much more into their recordings. I see groups
and others in the industry working together in a cooperative manner for the
common good more than ever before. The Southern Gospel Music Guild has greatly
helped in accelerating this trend. I see more of a spiritual emphasis in
concerts, without sacrificing the Christian entertainment aspect. These are
all positive developments.
What do you see ahead?
If the Lord tarries, I expect to see all of the various parts of the Southern
Gospel music industry working together to promote the music and, of course,
the Gospel more than ever before. Regarding "The Gospel Greats" program,
we hope to continue placing the program on new stations in areas where Southern
Gospel music hasn't been heard much if at all. We hope, too, to continue
helping, in whatever small way we can, raise the standards for Southern Gospel
radio. And we certainly hope to continue spreading the Gospel as the Lord
enables us, for His honor and gloryand His alone.
Your comments via e-mail would
be most welcome.
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