JOFF -AM – the forgotten Jesus Music radio pioneer

Approximate location of JOFF, north of the capital city of Naha
Approximate location of JOFF, north of the capital city of Naha | Source

After World War II ended a group of businessmen gathered together and pledged to use radio as a way to minister to those in the Far East whom it was difficult to reach with the gospel in any other way. The new ministry, Far East Broadcasting Company, was immediately fruitful and began putting a string of AM and shortwave stations across Asia.

One place that became a mainstay for FEBC was the island of Okinawa. Scene of the some of the bloodiest battles during the war, the United States kept control over island up unto the mid-1970s when it reverted back to Japanese sovereignty. Because the island was under American jurisdiction it was easier to work with.

Okinawa was very important as a military base for America and as the Vietnam war went longer the importance increased. The Marines and Air Force had major installations, while the Navy was also well represented. Along with the civil service workers, and the typical camp followers that have been around armies since the beginning of time, the mid-1960s through the next two decades saw an estimated 1,000,000 Americans living on the small island at any one time. The island was dominated by the American culture.

There were only three English speaking radio stations on the island during the early 1970s. The Armed Forces Network had a station that programmed some pop music with a mixture of specialty programming. There was an FM that did a fairly good job of mimicking a typical Top-40 station in the States, and there was JOFF, one of the FEBC stations.

Unlike any of the other FEBC stations throughout Asia, JOFF was dedicated for the English speaking audience. The day was filled with many of the typical teaching programs such as “Back to the Bible” with J. Vernon McGee, but once 4:00 PM hit the station changed…and did it change.

From about 1972 to 1976, when FEBC had to give up the station because of the Japanese formally taking control over the government, the Americans were exposed to some very interesting and different music.

From 4:00 to 10:00 PM Monday through Friday, JOFF played a mixture of what today would be called adult contemporary, and what could be described as the very beginning of the Contemporary Christian Music songs.

Andy Williams and Barry Manilow were heard side by side with the 2nd Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Love Song, Debbie Kerner, Parable, The Way, Barry McGuire and many others. Yes, it was soft and not exactly Jesus Rock, but there were electric guitars and even some smokin’ drums in many of the cuts. Saturdays also featured the same mix of music.

During this time the number of stateside stations playing extensive amounts of Jesus music could almost be counted on two hands, and even fewer gave it the number of hours that JOFF did on weekly basis.

A young high schooler by the name of Randy was the DJ from 4:00 until 6:00 on Monday through Friday, and Randy ran a mean set. Other volunteer DJs took over from 6:00 until 10:00 PM when the station shifted into programs for the night. I am thrilled to say that I was one of those DJs for a period until I was transferred back to the states in March of 1976.

I distinctly remember hearing around the station that it was a good thing that the “powers that be” back at headquarters in California were not quite aware of what was going on musically, as it probably would have been stopped in a heartbeat.

Understand that these were not ordinary citizens who tuned into JOFF. The listeners were mostly military families who then traveled from Okinawa to around the world or back to the States, carrying the joyous music in their heart that they heard for the first time on JOFF. They helped bring it into churches, fellowships and radio stations everywhere they went.

The spread of Jesus Music as a world wide phenomena can be credited to many instruments that God used for his glory, and I am so happy to have been a small part of JOFF -- a big instrument ran by dedicated Christian managers who had big hearts for the glory of God.

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