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After 74 years, church radio broadcast ends

Catonsville church takes message from airwaves to the internet

Once managed by a sound engineer using a radio frequency amplifier, the broadcast emanating from the radio equipment room at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Catonsville is now controlled by an iPad.

For nearly 74 years, those unable to make it to the church at 929 Ingleside Avenue near Johnnycake Elementary School have listened to a live radio broadcast of its Sunday service over the airwaves on WBAL-1090AM.

That hour-long live broadcast, the oldest of its kind in the Baltimore region and one of the oldest in the country, came to an end Sunday, Nov. 23, said Rev. Martin J. Schultheis, 42, pastor of the church for 10 years.

A half-hour pre-recorded radio show called "This is the Christian Faith" will air on WBAL each Sunday at 9:30 a.m. until Dec. 28, when the Sunday service will begin streaming live on the Internet at http://www.emmanuelbaltimore.org, said Schultheis, whose grandfather Vernon Schultheis, engineered the broadcast from its beginnings in 1941 until 2005.

"He was the one running the dials back there," Schultheis said of his grandfather, who died eight years ago at the age of 90. "In his older years, we would give him a hard time that he never sat with his wife during service, because he was always running the machine."

Although the broadcast began on WBAL in 1941, it was aired before then in the 1930s, starting with the Reverend Rudolph Ressmeyer, Schultheis said.

Vernon Schultheis, who managed the broadcast and served as the main radio announcer, did so with the help of others, including Michael MoragneEl and Charles Chalmers.

"It was a joy and a pleasure," said MoragneEl, 69, who worked as professional radio announcer and has been a member of the church since 1988. "That was Vernon's child; he was a stickler for details and made sure everything worked out."

"I don't know how happy he would with it going off the air," Schultheis said of his grandfather. "In terms of the Web casting I think he would appreciate the quality and how much we're able to put out there. It was important to him for people to have access."

Cary Pahigian, general manager and president of WBAL, said the station made the decision to end Sunday religious broadcasting because, "We're expanding our local news commitment and that expansion continued through the weekend to Sunday mornings."

Virginia Schultheis, who was married to Vernon Schultheis for 66 years, said her husband worked hard to raise money to get the broadcast aired on WBAL.

"It would have broken his heart to have it taken off the air," Virginia Schultheis said, adding, "I'm happy it's going on the Internet because it will still be reaching [listeners]."

For some used to the convenience of tuning into the radio, the transition will be difficult.

"I was surprised that they would cut off all religious [radio] broadcasting," said Bernie White, 73, a former vice president of the church, "I'm sure it will be missed by our listeners."

White, a member of the church for 52 years, said he joined the church, along with three relatives, after being drawn by the "powerful" sermons of Rev. George Loose, pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran from 1956 to 1969.

While the radio broadcast helped the church with outreach, it also been benefited members unable to attend church for a variety of reasons, Schultheis said.

In addition, the Sunday radio broadcast helped those who are temporarily disabled and unable to attend church, White said.

"It's been a blessing for those with temporary setbacks, and now it will be cutting some people off without computers," said White, who lives in Catonsville. "It's never too late, but it's a whole different medium."

For Mitch Schull, 35, who has been a member of the church since 2012, the radio broadcast made it easy to participate without physically being at church, which is cumbersome with his two children, Johann, 1, and Sakski, 3, who have a hard time sitting still during service.

"My wife works every other weekend, so you can imagine how difficult it is to bring them to church," Schull said.

Schull said he isn't worried about the transition and believes it will be more convenient.

"As a person used to technology, it's an easy enough transition," said Schull, who lives in Columbia. "But I can understand that for the people without access to technology, it will be extremely difficult."

The church now has cameras set up in the sanctuary, where they webcast the service to their listeners who will also become viewers, Schultheis said.

"We just learned that they're doing a live version of the service with slides so whereas they used to simply hear what was going on, now they can see and hear, and follow the service to see what is being read and follow along," Schultheis said.

Schultheis said he is optimistic that members who aren't computer savvy will change with the technology.

"You certainly reach a different group of people with the Internet, but we have 90-year-olds getting their first laptop to be a part of the service," Schultheis said. "For someone who didn't see much use for a computer before, now they know what they want it for."

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