Vernon Turner (1917 – 2006) introduced Christian Radio in Australia
By the end of the 1950s Turner and his staff were producing 800 weekly programs for 100 commercial stations in all states. In the same year he became editor of the 70-year-old ecumenical newspaper The Australian Christian World. He published Victory, a Christian magazine, and wrote articles for the Herald and other journals. His biography, God Gave Me a Microphone, went into four editions.
One Christmas Eve about 20 years ago, the Reverend Vernon Turner, the director of Sydney’s Christian radio station, 2CBA-FM (now FM 103.2), spoke to the Hollywood star Charlton Heston. Turner asked Heston if he would make a guest appearance on the religious radio program – not to play Moses – but to present excerpts from Messiah and other Christmas music. Heston agreed. Free, of course.
Persuasive and with a gift for combining solemnity with charm, the Sydney Uniting Church minister was the sort of man to whom it was near impossible to say no.
Vernon Kenneth Turner, often said to be “the father of Australian religious broadcasting”, was born in Adelaide, where he attended Adelaide High School until his family moved to Sydney in 1931. His love for broadcasting began at age seven when he built a simple but effective carbon microphone from a wooden Beecham pills box and some mica and carbon granules. He broadcast to his friends, inventing his own commercials and reading the entire front page of the Adelaide Advertiser.
In Sydney Turner attended Randwick Boys and Sydney Boys high schools. He excelled in English, economics and physics, but was more interested in “haunting” early broadcasting studios. He also attended St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Bondi.
In 1937 Turner was accepted by the Anglican archbishop Howard Mowll for training for the ministry at Moore Theological College. He and his young wife, May, served terms as bush missionaries in outback NSW. After World War II, he resumed studies at Emmanuel College at the University of Queensland, the training college for the Presbyterian Church, where he was licensed in 1951.
In 1938 Turner began a weekly “church news” broadcast on 2CH, where it ran for many years before it was switched to 2CBA-FM. He broadcast Morning Devotions daily at 9 on 4BC Brisbane, where he also began a hymn-singing program The Sunshine Hour. This was syndicated to commercial stations in all states. He broadcast regularly on 2UW in Sydney and founded the Christian Broadcasting Association.
In 1953 the NSW Presbyterian Church inducted Turner into the Abbotsford-Five Dock churches, where a mini-studio was set up in the church offices. By the end of the 1950s Turner and his staff were producing 800 weekly programs for 100 commercial stations in all states. In the same year he became editor of the 70-year-old ecumenical newspaper The Australian Christian World. He published Victory, a Christian magazine, and wrote articles for the Herald and other journals. His biography, God Gave Me a Microphone, went into four editions.
In 1975 the Australian Government asked the Christian Broadcasting Association to operate Australia’s first ethnic radio station, 2EA, which it did for three years. Turner also started a telephone counselling service, “People Who Care”.
He gained an FM radio licence and 2CBA-FM began broadcasting in 1979. Financially it was, and still is, a risky business. Turner said: “We’re a faith station. When you’ve been nearly broke all your life these things don’t worry you. Faith without works is nothing. The committed Christian has to get off his backside and do something.”
The station’s first chairman, Roger Climpson, was also its “star”. Each month Turner, who liked to do things by the book, would send Climpson a cheque for his services and each month the cheque was returned.
In 1991 Turner was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to Christian broadcasting and a citation from Cardinal Edward Clancy. He retired from official duties with the station in 1999.
Turner was in poor health in his final years. His wife, May, predeceased him by a few weeks. He is survived by seven adult children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
1996, Book, Illustrated edition God gave me a microphone / Vernon Turner.
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