KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Dick Bott started his first Christian radio station in the basement of the former Blue Ridge Mall, sandwiched between a barber shop and a child care center.
Fifty years later, the Bott Radio Network consists of 91 stations reaching into 15 states, with a combined audience of more than 50 million people.
Programs also can be heard worldwide by satellite, on the Internet and through mobile digital technology.
Ever since he was a little boy growing up in Minnesota, Bott had a love for radio.
It fascinated him that someone could speak into a microphone and be heard at other locations.
After marrying, he and wife, Sherley, went to San Francisco in 1952, where her dad had a radio station and a job for Bott, who began honing his radio skills.
In 1957, the couple bought a station in Monterey, Calif., that featured pop music and it was a success.
“But it just seemed less than fulfilling,” Bott said. “My wife and I were both Christians. And it seemed that there would be a way we could serve the needs and interests of the Christian community.”
Bott said they wanted to encourage that community with Bible-based programs.
He said they chose Kansas City because Bott thought the city’s population was large enough to support a Christian station.
With that in mind, the couple moved to Kansas City in 1962 with their four children and a dog. Their dream, Kansas City’s Christian Voice (KCCV), 1510 AM, was born the same year. It featured some of the country’s top preachers and evangelists and call-in shows about current issues and events.
“I had no idea I would end up with 91 stations,” said Bott, 79, who is chairman of the board. “Size was not the goal,” but to give his life to something he believes in.
Bott’s son Rich Bott, 57, said he reviews each program that wants to join the network.
“They must be Bible-centered, of high ethics and professional quality,” he said.
Some detractors consider the network a wing of evangelical or conservative Christianity.
The elder Bott makes no excuses for the fact that although many denominations are represented, programs that do not fit the network’s format do not find a home there.
From its format comes strong teachings about “the sanctity of human life and the traditional definition of marriage to be between a man and a woman,” he said.
This is biblical, and he wouldn’t accept any program that went against those biblical interpretations, he said.
In 2008, Dick Bott was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame, which is the highest honor of the organization with 1,400 member ministries. He also is one of the longest-serving members of its board.
That same year he was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Carver Baptist Bible College and Seminary in Kansas City.
As a teenager, Rich Bott learned about Christian radio by working at the station. He went to college and earned his master’s degree from Harvard Business School, then went to work at the network full time.
While the elder Bott remains chairman of the board, Rich Bott has moved from executive vice-president to president and CEO.
He also serves as chairman of the National Religious Broadcasters and is on several other boards.
Both men believe that the network’s success is because God has blessed them for making it possible for God’s word to be proclaimed.
For the future, Rich Bott said the network will continue to take steps to help fulfill Jesus’ command to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel.”
The new media tools will make this even more possible, he said.
“What we have tried to do is to make the main thing the main thing,” Dick Bott said. “And the main thing is the word of God.”