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Schuller Airs a $3.2-Million Appeal : Broadcasting: The top-rated ‘Hour of Power’ will die in several cities if its 1.8 million viewers cannot offer more support, the Crystal Cathedral’s pastor says.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Rev. Robert H. Schuller said Tuesday that without $3.2 million in viewer donations, his religious television program, “Hour of Power,” will go off the air in several cities.

Schuller’s program is the top-rated religious TV show in the United States, with an estimated 1.8 million viewers.

Schuller blamed the soaring cost of commercial air time, which has not been matched by donations. While the budget for the broadcasts has been slashed this year to $32 million, the cost of buying air time across the county has jumped from $12 million to $14 million in the last year, he said.

The 63-year-old Crystal Cathedral minister said he will take to the air Sunday to explain the problem and start a five-week fund-raising drive aimed at keeping the program on the air in 179 U.S. cities.

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Schuller said the program has already been dropped from several stations.

After the five-week drive, Schuller said, “we’re going to take a hard look at every one of those stations. And if they’re paying their way, we keep them. If they’re not, we will have to lose them.”

Schuller declined to specify the cities from which donations do not cover air costs, but he said the list includes one of the largest TV markets in the nation.

That station, he said, has asked for a 30% increase in the cost of air time, to $26,000 per week.

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“If the viewers respond and the contributions are increased to match the increased costs, we will continue to air the program,” Schuller said.

“My prediction is that we’re going to have a generous response and that people will keep this ministry alive and stronger than ever,” Schuller said.

This is not the first financial crunch the Crystal Cathedral has faced.

Donations dried up during the 1987-88 scandals and controversies involving televangelists Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts and Jim Bakker, although none of those uproars touched the Crystal Cathedral. By May, 1988, Schuller had laid off about 40 of the broadcast’s 150 workers.

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Facing what he called a possible “meltdown” in 1988, Schuller threatened that “Hour of Power” would be taken off the air unless viewers contributed enough to keep the broadcasts afloat.

Within a month, Schuller said Tuesday, viewers sent $5 million in donations.

Nevertheless, in October the ministry’s multimillion-dollar Maui estate was sold to former U.S. Treasury secretary William E. Simon. The price for the 43-acre estate was not disclosed, but at the time Schuller said the transaction had poured millions of dollars into a $23-million Family Life Center now nearing completion.

Despite chronic fund-raising problems, the audience for “Hour of Power” continues to grow. According to the latest rankings by Arbitron Co., the program had about 1.8 million viewers in February, up from 1.6 million in November, 1988.

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In second place is “The World Tomorrow,” produced by the Pasadena-based Church of God. Its viewers have fallen from 1.3 million to about 1.1 million, the Arbitron ratings show.

The latest survey also shows Kenneth Copeland’s religious program in third place with 645,000 viewers, outstripping Swaggart, Roberts and D. James Kennedy.

Schuller said the legacy of the scandals may continue to hinder fund raising, despite the show’s popularity: “This whole generation has been so shocked by this that I think we probably will have to wait 20 years for a generation that doesn’t remember the scandals.”

Schuller said he is trying to create a $50-million endowment to give the 20-year-old TV ministry a more stable source of income.

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