Thursday, August 14, 2003

Aug. 14, 2003, column:
Omissions in the newspaper version of the column made it a little hard to follow, so it is presented here directly in its original form instead of from the Amarillo Globe-News Web site:

Old Channel 4 building has a new mission

By Mike Haynes
The calendar messed up my chance to be the “Birthday Kid” on Channel 4. My name had been picked from the “Birthday Buddy Box,” but I received a two-cent postcard signed by host “Aunt Phyllis” telling me my sixth birthday would fall on a weekend when “For Kids Only” wasn’t on the air, so I would have to settle for visiting the show another day as part of the regular audience.
My memories of 1956 are hazy, but I thought I did get on TV that November. I recall a vague image of myself sitting in a row of kids in a high-ceiled studio. Mom and Dad’s recollection, though, is that I never made it to the show.
No matter. We have pictures to prove I did visit Channel 4 later. The black-and-white glossies from the early 1960s show my family and scores of others from McLean, all lined up outside the station behind Cotton John Smith, the legendary farm-and-ranch man, with horses and covered wagons in the background.
We used to ride horseback or drive wagons 70-plus miles on Route 66, camping out at Conway, clopping past the big refinery on Amarillo’s edge and finishing on top of the hill at 2000 N. Polk St. for a TV appearance promoting the McLean rodeo.
Grandad would have his rodeo beard that made him look like Charlie Wooster from “Wagon Train,” and Cotton John would interview him and call him “the old gray mayor.” It was pretty exciting.
My next visit to Channel 4 was exciting, too. It was a Sunday morning last month, and this time the studio had been made over with plush blue carpet, seats and stage. When I walked in, the site of the KAMR (formerly KGNC) newscast just two years ago had traded spaces with a worship center where six women in tailored lavender suits were making like the Pointer Sisters except with words such as “Look what the Lord has done!”
The singers and band, good enough to lead music at any stadium rally, slowed down to “This is holy ground.” And the next two hours proved that indeed, the old Channel 4 building, donated to Faith Clinic Christian Center Church, has a new mission.
Pastor Lee Simpson and his wife, Pat, both have offices in the facility along with big plans for a computer training room, private counseling facilities, a workout area and more. An antique, eight-foot sign publicizing Roy McCoy and fellow news anchors still leans against a wall in space being converted to ministry, but the renovation is well under way.
Simpson, who founded the church eight years ago, envisions using the former TV station to create videos, CDs and DVDs to spread God’s Word. His marketing background gives him the know-how to package and present the message appropriately for his congregation.
“I’m going to take you for a ride,” he preached. “Not on a roller coaster, but it’ll be a bullet train. God has given us an assignment in this city.”
He focused on hard realities, too. Simpson came from Louisiana familiar with the daily challenges that face many in his congregation, including money. “If you don’t get your credit right, you can’t serve God like He wants you to,” he said. “Men and women of God shouldn’t walk around not paying their bills.”
After a pause, the 44-year-old minister added, “I didn’t hear the amens!”
He talked about freeing people from the “poverty cycle” and avoiding welfare when possible. “If you’re a healthy individual with some ability, you should be out making as much as you can make,” he said. “But you’ll be a miserable failure if you try to change everything all at once. It takes time.”
He cautioned that lifestyle shifts often are temporary because “people change from something, but they don’t know what they’re changing to. So they go back.”
With Faith Clinic’s ministry for single mothers, its programs to help teens and to guide men and its worship services energized with waving streamers and a small but responsive audience telling each other “I believe you’re going to be all right!”, transformation of individual lives appears as certain as the physical conversion of a TV station to a church.
My postcard from “Aunt Phyllis” in 1956 was labeled, “KGNC-TV … 100,000 watts.” There’s more power than that coursing through the old studios now.
* * *
Just wondering
* * *
Just wondering whether Pete Rose is the best choice to speak to Amarillo YMCA kids Saturday (Aug. 16). Maybe he deserves a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame based on his hustle and career, but I’m not sure gambling and self-promotion are values young people should emulate.
* * *
Mike Haynes teaches journalism at Amarillo College. He can be reached at AC, the Amarillo Globe-News or Go to for other recent columns.