I listened to Char Binkley as a radio announcer on WBCL radio in Ft Wayne Indiana for years before interviewing her for this article which appeared in the Ossian Sun Riser in Fall 2011.
Her smooth voice and careful, prepared method of interviewing people on the air influenced me, even before I knew I wanted to interview people myself to write their stories.
She is friends with some of the most well-known names in Christian circles — Gloria Gaither, Joni Tada– but Ms. Binkley is not one to brag. It was a pleasure learning of her motivation for working in Christian radio for so long. I know WBCL and its subsequent radio stations have influenced thousands of lives over the years, due to her hard work.
“I wanted to live a life with no regrets and I have none,” said Char Binkley of Ossian. The icon of Christian radio heard by thousands in the Fort Wayne and tri-state area for more than three decades retired on June 30, 2011.
A native of Lima, Ohio, Binkley moved to Fort Wayne in 1960 to attend Fort Wayne Bible College. She majored in elementary education. Teaching was a natural extension of Binkley’s personality. “I taught Sunday School at age 12 and at age 14 I started a Junior worship service at church,” she said.
She taught first grade in public schools for six years. During that time, she obtained a Master’s degree in education from Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.
In 1973 Binkley was awarded “Outstanding Young Educator of Fort Wayne”. Despite her credentials and recognition, Binkley changed careers upon accepting the position as assistant with special projects to Fort Wayne Bible College president Dr. Timothy Warner. At the same time Binkley also began teaching courses on child development at the college.
But Binkley had yet to find her niche. That occurred in 1975 when the college established a Christian radio station on its campus on Rudisill Blvd in Fort Wayne with call letters WBCL 90.3 FM.
Before the station went on the air, Binkley approached the station manager. “I asked him what programming he had planned for the women in his audience,” she said. He had not planned anything beyond syndicate programming. When he offered Binkley who had already established herself as a public speaker the opportunity to host a 30-minute live show for women, she accepted.
“I thought speaking on radio would be like speaking to people and I loved to do that,” she said. When the station went on the air in January 1976, Binkley was the station’s Director of Women’s Programming.
Behind a microphone Binkley imagined friends in their homes and cars listening to her. “It was as though we were just talking together,” she said. “It felt so natural and never like staring at a wall.”
She remembers feeling at home in the radio studio from the beginning. “I liked teaching elementary school and I liked teaching college, but those were not passions for me,” she said. “The first day I stepped into the radio job, I felt born for it.” While working part-time at the radio station, Binkley continued to teach part-time at the college.
Binkley’s program at that time was called ‘Spectrum for the Homemaker’. It aired for 30 minutes beginning at 9:00 a.m. Monday through Friday. The show’s popularity grew as the program centered on Christian events and subjects, but not doctrine. It helped that WBCL was the first 50,000 watt FM station north of Indianapolis. “There was no other talk show for women at that time so I think we hit a nerve,” said Binkley.
Desiring to meet her faithful listeners, in 1978 Binkley organized a one-day retreat for women called ‘Day Away’. “We finally had a live audience,” she said. During its 15-year tenure, Day Away attracted 30,000 women.
Over the next few years, Binkley’s program underwent some changes. “We heard from many men who listened to the show,” said Binkley. “They needed a title that reflected a general audience.” The program was re-named ‘Mid-Morning’ and its length extended to 55 minutes.
Keeping up with the busy schedule of producing a daily radio program caused Binkley to resign as a teacher at the college. Eventually she was promoted to assistant manager of WBCL, a position she held until 1985 when she became Executive Director.
Binkley’s goal as station manager was to pull the Christian community together. “We were a station for everyone, no matter the denomination,” she said. “We were there to encourage people and uplift them in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Other changes occurred under Binkley’s leadership. The listening area of Christian radio expanded with the addition of WBCY in Archbold, Ohio and WBCJ in Spencerville, Ohio. Radio translators were installed in Adrian, Michigan, and Muncie that caused Christian radio to broadcast throughout those cities. At one time WBCL had 20 full-time and 12 part-time employees. Financial support from listeners contributed to the ministry’s expansion over the years. Opportunities for listeners to pledge financial support of the radio stations occur each January during a 3-day event called Sharathon.
In 2001 Taylor University purchased the former campus of Fort Wayne Bible College (it had been renamed Summit Christian College). Today, the radio station still operates despite the closing of Taylor University-Ft Wayne in 2009.
In 2006 Binkley stepped down from leadership at WBCL to begin a new on-air venture. She began researching the music available to teens. She was shocked at some of the lyrics. “They were terribly graphic,” she said. To combat the influence of such music, Binkley started Remedylive, an Internet location of Christian music and live chat for teens heard around the world (http://www.remedylive.com).
Under the guidance of WBCL, the live chat format offers not only Christian music but a place where teens can find a listening ear. “Remedylive helps teens deal with issues in life,” said Binkley. “It impacts lives with the difference that Jesus Christ can make.”
She added that Remedylive staff, who Binkley refers to as ‘soul medics’, have averted 56 suicides by tracking callers in need of assistance and obtaining immediate medical help. “Teens are just incredibly needy for someone to share their thoughts with,” she said. Remedylive is available on Iphones and IPods.
Binkley remains on the board of Remedylive, while also serving on a youth committee at Fellowship Missionary Church where she and her husband Steve, a retired family counselor, attend. “I have a passion for this generation of youth and what’s happening to it,” she said.
The Binkleys have two children, Andy and Angie, both Norwell High School graduates. Char and Steve have six grandchildren.
Char Binkley still serves as a speaker for retreats and conferences. She also studies learning disabilities and plans to tutor.
Her motto from the decades at the radio station reflects her lifelong faith: “With obedience to God and integrity to people.”
Cutline : After 30 years of serving the northeast part of Indiana on Christian radio, Char Binkley of Ossian retired on June 30, 2011.