Published July 6, 2010
"Conversation - Part 1"
As you know, this is The Gospel Greats program's 30th anniversary year. Back in May, Christian Voice Magazine published an interview with Shelia and with me about the anniversary, the program, Southern Gospel music and much more. With their permission, we'll reprint the article here, with part one this week and the remainder next week.
"The Gospel Greats" Celebrates 30 Years Of Broadcasting
A Conversation With Paul & Shelia Heil
By John Lanier
Celebrating thirty years on the air, The Gospel Greats is one of the longest running syndicated gospel music radio programs heard around the world. As creator and host of the popular show, Paul Heil is undisputedly the most beloved and well-known radio personality in gospel music. His wife, Shelia, works faithfully behind the scenes, handling most of the listener correspondence, scheduling interviews and managing the office. I find Paul and Shelia to be very gracious people of strong faith, unwavering conviction and Christian integrity. It is always a pleasure to visit with them. Here are highlights from our recent interview:
John: Paul, you're actually now in your fifth decade of radio, television and commercial announcing. Take me back to where your career began how did it all start?
Paul: I've had a fascination with broadcasting - and, more generally, the news media - for almost as long as I can remember. By late grade school I was editing the school newspaper. I was editor of the high school paper my senior year. But my interest was turning to radio. By 7th or 8th grade I had built a little radio station in my bedroom closet, and it actually broadcast to the neighbors (FCC Part 15 restricted radiation device, if you're curious about its legality). Before I was out of high school I was working part-time at a local radio station. And I've been involved directly in radio ever since (although I was a television news director for two years back in the late 70s).
John: The Southern Gospel music industry and fans have honored you with numerous awards for your involvement in Southern Gospel music over the years. In addition to hosting your radio program, "The Gospel Greats," you were a founding member of the Southern Gospel Music Guild and served as president of the organization for nine years. You also served as vice president of the Gospel Music Association, and you're a member of the advisory board for the Southern Gospel Music Association (Hall of Fame and Museum). You obviously have a great love and appreciation for Southern Gospel music. When did this interest begin?
Paul: My interest in Southern Gospel music goes way back.' My folks had LPs in the house by the Blackwood Brothers, Statesmen and other major groups of the day, and we'd listen to them regularly. And we'd attend major concert events, such as those the Couriers did (the all-night sings) in Harrisburg, PA. But my actual professional involvement didn't begin until I started "The Gospel Greats" program. My brother had a singing group and read the Singing News, a copy of which he shared with me. Their Top 40 list seemed a perfect basis for "The Gospel Greats" program, and remains so to this day (with a once-a-month Top 20 Countdown).
John: And here you are thirty years later still enjoying the success of "The Gospel Greats." Happy 30th Anniversary!
Paul: Thank you! "The Gospel Greats" program was first aired the first weekend in February, 1980. The first program aired on a handful of stations, but the first to actually sign up was WRIS in Roanoke, Virginia, a station that still carries the program to this day. "The Gospel Greats" has always been a syndicated program. It did not start as something local and then expand. In fact, the program wasn't even heard in my hometown until many months after it became available.
John: Working mostly behind the scenes, your wife, Shelia, has been a tremendous asset to the program. Wasn't it shortly after the premier of the show that the two of you met and later married?
Paul: We met a year or so later at a local Christian radio station that was carrying my program. (What a surprise, huh?) One day, when I stopped by the station to deliver a tape, I met this young lady who was doing volunteer work there. She was familiar with the program, but not the host...
Shelia: ...When someone at the station told me who he was, I refused to believe it, thinking that the program must be done in Nashville or somewhere else, surely not locally. In time, that misconception was cleared up. And the rest, as they say, is history.
John: (To Shelia) Paul attributes much of his success to your faithfulness and tireless labors you endeavor together, and you both are a tremendous blessing to your audience. How would you describe Paul in one word?
Shelia: Integrity. Paul is a man of integrity. His integrity comes across in that he feels his production should be as good as - or better than - any secular show, since this program is associated with, and for the glory of, God. And that concern is shown by the amount of time it takes to produce a "little" two hour program. He holds to high standards of living. One time I remember Paul telling me that if there was anything that he did that would bring down the name of Jesus, he would quit producing the program. He feels strongly that how he lives needs to reflect Jesus Christ. That is integrity. I am proud of Paul. I'm proud of what he has accomplished. Most of all, I am proud of the way he lives his life - for Christ - and with integrity.
(Continued next week....)
The above was reprinted, by permission, from the May 2010 issue of Christian Voice Magazine. Article Copyright 2010 Christian Voice Magazine. Information about how you can subscribe to this quality publication which covers music and issues of interest to all Christians can be found on their website, www.christianvoicemagazine.com
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