Cameras roll for downtown broadcaster

Posted by Don Fraser, Standard Staff

July 18, 2009                                                     Watch video: Standard

It’s Grace TV under pressure.

With only 15 minutes until cameras roll, the downtown St. Catharines TV studio is humming.

Technicians and floor crew make last-minute adjustments, as the pace quickens and voices tighten.

Megen Thurber, a show producer, dabs makeup on Peter Youngren and his Calgary guest, pastor Anthony Greco.

“When you suddenly have to make changes, it’s very frantic,” Thurber explains. “It could be the format of the program, changing graphics or different video clips.

“Once the cameras start rolling, there’s nothing you can do, so you have to be sure everything is perfect.”

The talkshow Encounter will be filmed and edited on the spot — or “live to tape” — and broadcast later that day.

The men in the spotlight look relaxed before launching a lively discussion about faith.

Behind them is a mock backdrop of a big city skyline.

Youngren banters with a camera operator who insists he’ll never be heard singing on TV, no matter what Youngren wants.

Soon, crew member Nathan Thurber offers a quiet observation: “Umm — we need — a Bible.”

Then, all eyes and cameras are on Youngren, who beams a radiant smile.

“My guest today is one of the most exciting pastors in the whole nation of Canada,” he says, stretching the words out for emphasis. “He makes me laugh and cry at the same time.”

Last month, Youngren’s non-profit World Impact Ministries took over The Christian Channel, which is being rebranded Grace TV.

Youngren started World Impact in 1976 as a ministry that focuses on international Christian evangelical work.

It was based at Niagara Celebration Church on Scott Street, formerly the Word of Life Church, which he also founded.

For 15 years, World Impact has produced TV programs airing on channels like VisionTV and The Christian Channel and on U.S. channels.

It bought the former Royal Bank building at St. Paul and Queen street this year. After extensive renovations, taping for its new national digital channel started two weeks ago.

World Impact is now in the big leagues of 24-hour specialty TV broadcasting. On Cogeco, it’s found on channel 186 and on Star Choice / Star Direct, channel 399.

Christian television vows to be provocative

Nathan Thurber, World Impact’s business administrator and Megen’s husband, said the former bank centre was perfect for Grace TV’s new studio.

A proper site was badly needed, as its old space at the Scott Street church was a tight squeeze.

“The ceilings are high here, so it was a natural,” Thurber said. “We obviously had to put in the lighting grids, flooring and build the set.

“But as far as the room itself, it was perfect. Eventually, we’re going to have several different sets here with different backdrops.”

Other programs will include religious features, on-the-street interviews, and shows by other producers.

World Impact moved its offices from the church into the St. Paul Street building this week. Up to 80 people could be working at the site in two to three years.

Jack Wallace, chairman of the St. Catharines Downtown Association, said the new station is “fantastic” and adding workers in the core will be a boon to businesses.

“Anything that can showcase our downtown to bring residents and tourists downtown is really a good thing,” Wallace said.

“We’re also pleased they’ve taken over that high-profile building.”

Specialty channels like Grace TV are another example of breathtaking changes in the media and entertainment world.

These channels benefit from digital technology that makes them easier to distribute in digital cable and satellite packages, said Chris Waddell, acting director of Carleton University’s school of journalism and communication.

“Speciality channels have done, as a group, quite well financially compared to the over-the-air broadcasters,” Waddell said, adding that’s especially true for larger channels and those bundled into popular packages.

Specialty channels also get revenue from advertising and customer subscriber fees, he said.

“So if you can get a decent subscription base, you aren’t as reliant on advertising, as traditional over-the-air channels are.”

Before this week’s on-air interview at the Grace TV studio, Youngren collected himself in a room that was formerly a banker’s office.

“I’ve been preparing since before I got here,” said Youngren, who is president and CEO of The Christian Channel/ Grace TV.

“I woke up this morning, meditating a little bit, thinking about the Bible.”

Youngren has a high profile as an evangelical Christian broadcaster and made frequent world tours.

A former senior pastor at Niagara Celebration Church, he still preaches there on occasion.

Once known for strong conservative views, the Niagara resident has become a voice emphasizing the positive aspects of faith.

“I’ve always been one not to condemn people,” Youngren said. “But sometimes you’re guilty by association.

Youngren said he is inspired by Jesus’ tolerant teachings, “and how He dealt with hypocrisy and religious bigotry.”

“We’re trying to find producers that complement the message we want to get out to the public.”

He describes his own broadcasting style as an antidote to perceptions Christian TV is Dullsville.

“We’re upbeat and provocative. I think Christian television is too sedate sometimes and any good TV that’s watchable has conflict in it,” he said.

“Christian television tends to be everyone sitting around a table agreeing, saying the same thing.

“It makes it a little boring, even though (what) they’re saying may be exciting and good.”

Youngren said he’d even consider something you’d think a Christian station would never entertain — broadcasting from a downtown watering hole.

“We could have a segment in the pub every night,” he said.

“And we could talk to the people there and see what they think about God.”