Member Spotlight: Tom Evans keeps Family Radio 'laser-focused' on the Gospel

Michael Miller  ·  Jul 24, 2020

Tom Evans strives to keep Family Radio “laser-focused on our mission to spread the Gospel and comfort the saints.”

The CEO is leading the network, which has 76 stations with a potential market of 70 million people throughout the U.S., into a digital future and new headquarters as the reach and influence of over-the-air radio fades.

“We call ourselves a 60-year-old startup and we’re looking for ways to capture the changes but keep the essential part of what we are,” Tom says. “Our challenge as a Christian broadcaster is how can we go where people are? Our job is to present the Gospel. There are so many digital opportunities now. The digital marketplace is opening like crazy. Every Christian broadcaster needs to embrace technology for new ways of bringing the Gospel.”

Family Radio has seen “a tremendous amount of growth” on its streaming sites. Right now, it has two streams but is looking to multiply those by three or four times. More people are tuning in to those streams, using the FR app on their phones.

Smart speaker usage to listen to Family Radio is also increasing, Tom notes.

“It’s just becoming more apparent that more and more people, young and old, are gravitating towards these types of things and using radio less and less,” he says. “How much longer is radio going to be viable? We don’t know. Five years, maybe? Ten years? It’s a transitional step. That’s why we’re putting more emphasis on podcasting and on-demand content.”

Some of that content will soon include regionally focused storytelling along the lines of NPR’s This American Life. Right now, Family Radio is a “hybrid.” “We’re about 65 percent music and the remaining portion is talk and teaching,” the latter divided among syndicated programming from such teachers as John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, and Ken Ham.

Growth and controversy

The network has come a long way since Tom began his tenure there in 1987.

The California native first became aware of Family Radio, started in 1958 in the San Francisco Bay Area, while he was a history major at University of California-Berkeley. During his night shift with the campus parking service, Tom would work on term papers—“even my senior thesis!”—and listen to Family Radio’s open forum featuring founder Harold Camping.

After establishing a friendship with Camping, Tom landed a job at Family Radio when he graduated. His first job was supervisor of the print facility, then facilities manager, and then media manager, overseeing Camping’s interviews. He eventually became assistant general manager and then the GM in 2014.

But Tom’s time at Family Radio also has been marked by turmoil over Camping’s infamous predictions that Jesus would return on a specific date in 1994, spelled out in the book 1994? When that didn’t happen, the Family Radio founder set another date and then another. None of those predictions came to pass, of course, but, in 2005, Camping predicted the Second Coming for 2011. When it did not happen, Tom says, "we had to completely rethink our mission."

Tom Evans says Family Radio is firmly grounded in Scripture./Photo by Sarah Harrison

In a March 2012 letter to the “Family Radio Family,” Camping admitted his May 21 return prediction was a “sinful statement,” though he asserted that many people were made aware of the reality of Christ’s ultimate return through his failed predictions.

Around that time, Family Radio’s rehabilitation in the evangelical mainstream began. First, Family Radio removed any endtimes books from its catalogue. Other books by Camping, who died in 2013, were allowed to be depleted from Family Radio’s stock without being replaced.

“Then, in 2014, we onboarded new programming and basically removed Mr. Camping’s teaching altogether,” Tom says. “That caused great consternation to the Family Radio board, but nevertheless God put it on our hearts. By 2017, everything having anything to do with Mr. Camping was removed.”

The current CEO of Family Radio admires his late boss’s willingness to admit his errors.

“He still maintained his trust in God and he still maintained his trust in the Bible,” Tom says. “There were periods of time that he had clarity of mind after his stroke and he realized the damage that he and Family Radio had inflicted on the Church and a lot of people.”

Lessons learned at Family Radio

While the nearly 20-year-long controversy hurt Family Radio and its relationship with various Christian ministries, its resolution has strengthened the network’s Biblical roots.

For one thing, Tom says, the episode emphasizes the importance of studying Scripture on one’s own and listening to a variety of teachers.

“I think a lot of us assumed and really ceded our understanding of the Bible to an individual,” Tom says. “Yes, God uses teachers, and we need to honor pastors and teachers God has raised up in the Body. But there are no shortcuts, and we ourselves need to be in the Scriptures. Ministries that depend too heavily on a single person can run into trouble. That’s why God has given pastors and teachers to the Body. One is to edify the Body but also to help the members of the Body not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. That’s one reason why we have a variety of pastors and teachers on the air now. It gives a broader cross-section of teaching.

“I would say that, in God’s mercy, God never fails. He’s always teaching us. We can’t depend on ourselves. We can’t look at ourselves. We really need His Spirit and good shepherds to guide us.”

Now, Tom says, “we’re one among many ministries that God is using.”

New programming about to launch

Family Radio is feeling God’s guidance as it shifts headquarters from the San Francisco area to Franklin, Tennessee. For one thing, since most of Family Radio’s employees were already working remote, the network was able to continue operating without skipping a beat as stay-at-home orders were issued by several states due to COVID-19.

“We’re all used to working remote just because of the nature of radio today,” Tom says. “Most of it can be done from home studios.”

But Family Radio also has built an audio production center in Franklin with several studios to help with original programming and, eventually, live programming.

“It’s all with the idea of targeting regional markets to be more responsive to the needs of individual markets,” Tom says.

The new programming created by the “small, dedicated, experienced, and savvy staff” of 39 went live July 1. And, although the approach to the content may be different, the essence will remain the same.

“We are trying to bring comfort and lead our listeners to focus their attention heavenward, to remind them of God’s many promises and blessings,” Tom says.