CMB Pioneers: Wayne Pederson
Welcome to another story about one of the pioneers of Contemporary Christian Music Radio. Some of these pioneers started radio stations with just a few dollars to their name. Many had very little radio experience. But each had vision, a calling, and a deep passion for using Contemporary Christian Music Radio to impact their community. There was a time they were considered the rebels in the stodgy Christian media industry. Today, they are known as pioneers.
Wayne Pederson – Visionary, Humility, Big Faith, Collaborator
Wayne Pederson grew up on a dairy farm in Northern Minnesota. His life was all about the farm in the early years. “Cows are a lot like a radio station,” he says, “They must be taken care of 7 days a week! Working on the farm created a great work ethic.”
Wayne’s family kept a radio in the barn and he remembers that he loved listening to the radio while he worked. He also had a chance to visit his hometown station a few times and watch the DJs in action. They became his heroes. He knew he wanted to be a DJ from the age of 12. He even created his own radio shows while on the tractor all day. He remembers pushing knobs on the tractor as if he were starting up the commercial or next song. He produced hundreds of hours of radio programs on the seat of his tractor.
He grew up in a Christian home and his family attended an Evangelical Lutheran Church where he accepted Christ at a young age. He vividly remembers one night, during his Junior year in high school, while returning from Bible camp on the church bus, God became very real to him. He clearly heard God’s voice speaking to him, saying “Wayne, I want to use you to help good, religious people find a relationship with Jesus Christ.” He remembers responding, “OK God, I’ll do anything!” That night, he committed his life to serving God in full time ministry.
He thought for many years that meant he would become a Pastor of a church. So, he went on to attend the University of Minnesota as a Philosophy Major and then to seminary. While he was still an undergrad, he randomly took one course in radio and tv production and he loved every minute of doing that. (He still had a love for radio!) So, on a whim, he decided to call Paul Ramseyer (who was the manager of KTIS AM and FM in Minneapolis) and asked if there were any part time jobs at the stations. To his surprise, Paul hired him! (Even though he had zero experience except on the seat of a Farmall tractor!) Wayne immediately began working on Saturday and Sundays from 6a-3pm, and his work included turning on the transmitter, cueing up the records and reel to reels, recording weather forecasts, and answering the station phones, too. Back in the day, you did it all! KTIS AM aired mostly teaching and KTIS FM played music. Once again, he was bitten by the radio bug. This was 1967. The music mix featured the Bill Gaither Trio, Doug Oldham, Evie, and others, but the DJs at the station were given some freedom to play music of their choosing, and so, over time, he began to slowly work in some contemporary music, including; 2nd Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, and more. He was the youngest member of the staff. He would frequently get push back from the University and sometimes listeners, too. But he felt strongly that in order to reach the younger generation, the station needed to play music that will connect with them. A listener called one day and asked, “Why are you playing this crap on Christian radio? Wayne replied, “Why are you calling songs that are glorifying the Lord, crap?”
He was eventually hired to do Afternoon Drive at KTIS, but he was still attending seminary. Yes, he was working 30-35 hours while in college to pay his bills. He was torn! He knew that God had spoken those words back to him in high school and he wanted to be obedient. He prayed and prayed. One night he had his face in the carpet, praying, “God I’ll do anything you want me to do. I just want to be in your will and have peace about it! I am willing to completely give up radio and obey you!” And within a few days, God made it clear that He did want him to be in Christian radio. As he was reading scripture, he felt like God’s spoke to him and said, “this (radio) *is* my call on you. Christian radio *does* reach religious people who don’t have a relationship with Christ.” Looking back, he believes he had to first be willing to let go of his dreams and career aspirations before God could then give it back to him. He says, “God uses our DNA, our passion, our giftedness, and our interests. And He doesn’t ask us to surrender so that he can make us miserable. Instead, he’s waiting for us to surrender, so he can use us the way he has created us to serve! I had to be willing to let go of it before he gave it back to me.” After that moment, he never doubted again. Christian Radio is what God had called him to do!
From Afternoon Drive Host to being named Station Manager at KTIS at age 32, and then later to become VP of Broadcasting for Northwestern Media at age 45…It was all an incredible time! Over the years, Paul Ramseyer was always both a Spiritual and Radio mentor to him. Wayne served at NW Media for 34 years and even when he became VP, he always tried to find a way to occasionally be on the air (which was his first love in radio.)
Wayne was often asked to help other stations with their Sharathon (on air fundraiser) and one of those times, he found himself on the air at WMIT in Ashville, NC. One afternoon during the event, he was on the microphone and Billy Graham casually walked into the studio. Wayne remembers that he was dressed like he just came in from moving the lawn, with a ragged sweatshirt and torn jeans and he looked like he hadn’t shaved for 5 days. This mighty man of God who was known around the world and was even a friend of US Presidents simply looked and acted like just another guy on the street. That day, Billy sat down and stayed in the studio for a full hour and they did fundraising together. Wayne was so impressed by the humility of this man. As a mighty orator and famous that he was, He was truly a humble and graceful man of God. “It confirmed to me,” he says, “Humility is one of the most important traits of a leader.”
There were so many great concerts in those days, but one that he will never forget is when Evie came to the St Paul Civic Center and 16,000 people came to see her. Another was in the early 90s. KTIS decided to present a concert with Retro-artists, like 2nd Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, John Michael Talbot, and several other acts that had been big in the 70s and 80s. It was a risk, because they weren’t current on the radio charts and some on the team at the station were not sure that the radio audience even remembered these artists. It turned out to be a smash! The crowd was so large that is caused a traffic for miles. The auditorium filled up and was standing room only. It was so large that the artists agreed to do a second show later the same night for the overflow crowd at 9pm! The appetite for that early Jesus music was there, and still is. (Have you seen the movie Jesus Revolution?)
President of NRB
As Wayne’s industry influence began to grow, he participated in Industry leadership and served on the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Board for 20 years He eventually was named Chairman of the Board at NRB (which was a part time, unpaid role, but vitally important). After 3 years as Chairman, Brandt Gustavson, (who had been NRB President for more than a decade) called him to let him know that he was battling cancer and would need to leave NRB. (Brandt passed away in March 14, 2001 less than 2 months after he had been diagnosed.) Shortly thereafter, Wayne was unanimously chosen to succeed Brant. He presented the entire NRB Board a 12-point agenda for modernizing, streamlining, and globalizing NRB. He and his wife, Norma, packed their bags and moved to Washington DC.
But just over a month into his job, Wayne was forced to resign as president of the NRB. He did not violate the organization’s statement of faith, code of ethics, or constitution. He simply worried aloud about mission drift. Wayne had done an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, and as the interview ended and staffers were packing up, Wayne answered an off-the-cuff (he thought it was off the record) question from the reporter. His said, “We (NRB) need to focus more on preaching the gospel than influencing politically.” That comment was printed without his knowledge in the article and set off a firestorm for some. A group of the more staunchly conservative and politically oriented NRB members had a phone call soon after and put pressure on the Executive Board to get rid of him.
“It was hurtful,” says Wayne, “I knew these people and considered them friends.” He could not convince them that he wasn’t going rogue. So, he sold his house in DC and on Feb 2002, he and Norma drove the icy roads back to Minnesota. It was a heart-breaking trip, but they happened to tune in to a Moody radio station on the drive and heard a message from Pastor Erwin Lutzer about Joseph in the Bible and how he was betrayed by his brothers, but Joseph was eventually was able to say, “What you meant for evil, God intended for good!” They looked at each other and both agreed that they couldn’t wait to see what God has intended from this! Wayne reflects, “The experience of NRB took all of the pride out of my life. I no longer desired the prominence, visibility, or notoriety anymore. I needed that. It was hurtful , but I learned huge lessons. Anybody in Christian leadership has had to face trials. Remember, God uses those trials to shape us and mold our character and get us down to the bedrock of our faith. None of these experiences are tragic or final because God works all things together for good.”
Moody Radio, Reach Beyond, and More
Wayne and Norma didn’t have to wait long. Ministries were calling. He served with the Paul Cedar Mission America Coalition for 2 years, and then in 2004, he received a call from Dr. Joseph Stowell to come to be the station manager of WMBI in Chicago. They soon moved to downtown Chicago, and after a few years, Bob Neff passed away and Wayne was named VP of Broadcasting for Moody Radio.
While he was at Moody, he was also serving on the board of HCJB World Radio. And, when their President resigned, the HCJB board asked Wayne if he would consider the role as their ministry President.
“I didn’t want to leave Moody. I didn’t want to leave Chicago. I loved my job!” Wayne says, “But I had learned to seek the Lord on things like this… So, I was sitting in my 11th floor condo, and I pulled out my yellow pad and Bible. I began to read scripture, and pray, “Lord what do you want me to do here? Where do you want me to be? And I came to the book of Romans where the verse reads How will they hear, unless someone is sent, and how is someone sent unless they are called, and then a few verses later where Paul says It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where the name of Christ is not known. I knew God was speaking to me to join HCJB. They are a ministry that uses radio to preach to unreached people those who have not heard the gospel. They prioritize the nations that are less than 2% Christian in their population.” He obeyed, resigned from Moody, and moved to Colorado Springs to lead HCJB for the next 8 years. During this time, he and his wife Norma spent 2/3 of their time traveling all over the world, helping spread the gospel through radio. They rebranded the ministry name to Reach Beyond.
After he departed NRB, Wayne was also approached by a group of CCM broadcasters who wanted to start a new organization that would be devoted specifically to the needs of CCM radio. (NRB was a larger, catch-all organization at the time, and included Christian television, teaching and talk radio stations, International ministries, and more.) Wayne was hired to be the first Executive Director of CMB (Christian Music Broadcasters) in June 2002. There were 60 stations who attended the first CMB convention in Orlando. Wayne continued as part-time Executive Director until 2004.
“I was so delighted to be part of the team to help form CMB,” he says, “And now, look what God has done!”
In 2013, Norma was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was a shock. She went through initial surgery and chemo that followed and seemed to be doing well. Soon, she was able to travel again. In early 2014, she seemed to be doing fine. She even attended NRB. However, only two months after NRB, they were told that very aggressive ovarian cancer had returned. They were told in mid-March that she had 6-12 months to live, but 3 weeks later she was gone. “We were all with her,” Wayne says, “Our children and I were holding her hands in our living room at home. We were praying and reciting psalms as she departed into her heavenly body. That was the hardest and loneliest time of my life.”
But God had a plan. Wayne and Norma had both known a friend. Her name was Willi and she had gone through cancer at the same time as Norma. Late in 2014, Wayne and Willi went hiking together as friends and immediately connected at a deep level. Nine months later, they were married at Glen Erie in Colorado Springs. “I’ve been blessed with 2 wonderful marriages in my life, with 2 wonderful women who love the Lord, love me, and who are so supportive of the work that I am involved in. First, Norma for 45 years and now, Willi, for the last 8 years.”
Today, Wayne and Willi live in Florida and Wayne continues to consult ministries and they serve on several ministry boards together. They travel frequently to the Middle East, as part Joel Roseburg’s Ministry. Wayne also works with Far Reach Broadcasting which works in Ukraine, Korea, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other unreached places. “I just can get away from that original call.” he says, “The fourth quarter of life can be the most satisfying season of your career. It is a sweet time!” He also survived his own cancer scare in late 2022 but is recovering well and he’s feeling stronger each day.
Wayne’s most embarrassing moment
The Billy Graham Leadership Team came in Minneapolis in the mid-90s. All of their leaders came as they were planning a crusade at the Metro dome. Billy Graham was there, along with Cliff Barrows, and Bev Shea. Wayne was part of the local committee involved in the strategy meetings. During a few minutes of down time, Wayne pulled out his Marantz cassette recorder and a mic and asked, “Mr. Graham, would you have time for an interview?” To which he responded, “yes!” The two sat down and did about a 7-8 minute interview, until… at the end, Wayne looked down, and realized that his tape had popped out of the recorder and none of the interview was recorded. NONE! He was so embarrassed. It was his chance of a lifetime to interview the Reverend Billy Graham! He didn’t know what to say or do. So, he just apologized, and said, “I am so sorry, but do you mind if we do it again?” And Mr. Graham graciously said, “Sure, it’s ok. No problem.” A few months later, when the actual crusade was happening, Wayne was able to go back-stage and meet the Evangelist and team again. He introduced himself, “Hello, Mr. Graham, I’m Wayne Pederson.” Graham quickly replied, “I remember you!”
Dear CCM Radio,
If I were to talk to my 20 years old self, I would encourage that young guy with the words that Paul told Timothy, “Above all, guard your heart.” The CCM industry has grown beyond our wildest dreams. We could have never imaged that we would have audience numbers that we now have. Or the income that some of our ministries have. But with that success can come complacency and even pride. So, I encourage you again with this…“Guard your heart.” Make sure that everything you are doing is for the right reasons…not cutting corners… not with selfish gain in mind. Back in the early says of CCM radio, we had no choice but to fully rely on God. I can’t help but wonder…Do we rely on God as much today as we did in the early days? Also, remember to stay humble the Lord, continue to be teachable, and finally to be accountable.
Blessings to you my Dear Friends,
Wayne’s story is now available in a book titled “The Journey. A Memoir by Wayne Pederson.” It is self-published. To order a copy for just $15, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Who is a CCM Radio Pioneer that should be featured in a future article? Reach out to me at email@example.com.
Faron Dice has been in Christian Music Radio for almost 40 years. He is the former Chief Content Officer for WayFM, and currently loves working with radio stations and artists as National Director of Radio and Artist Engagement for OneChild.