A television evangelist in rural Illinois hopes cable companies will pick up his Christian network.
Danny Shelton leaned into a speaker phone toward the end of talks with a satellite company promising to sell his Three Angels Broadcasting Network to thousands of cable operators across the country.
“Let’s call it a deal,” he said. “It seems the Lord is opening up these doors.”
There was no time to celebrate. Shelton was out of his seat and already headed across the parking lot to the recording studio at the Christian broadcasting network he founded in Thompsonville, Ill. It was time to run through hymns for a new CD.
The former carpenter and devout Seventh-day Adventist has served as everything from road-builder to talk show host to singer for the media operation he has been building for 18 years in the farmland of southern Illinois.
Today, brick buildings and satellite dishes are the nerve center for Three Angels, which sends a mix of religious and lifestyle programs to 10.2 million U.S. households by cable or satellite — along with the 100 free-to-air TV stations it owns.
A production house in Russia sends programs to 170 stations there, and stations in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea also carry the network.
Three Angels — named for biblical characters who warn of the end of the world — is still a relatively small player in the nation’s religious broadcasting industry.
The 52-year-old Shelton hopes his latest satellite deal will win millions more viewers.
Until then, it remains most notable for its ties to the Seventh-day Adventist church, a Protestant denomination whose members go to church on Saturday, shun alcohol and tobacco (many also are vegetarians) and anticipate what they believe will be Jesus’ imminent return.
Viewers get a mix of religion and lifestyle shows, some 80 percent of which are taped at the network’s studios in Thompsonville. Shelton and his wife, singer Linda Shelton, interview visiting preachers and missionaries on cushy couches in their set made to look like a living room.
Other local hosts have shows in English and Spanish like “Tiny Tots for Jesus,” cooking and exercise demonstrations and musical programs. The remaining 20 percent of airtime is bought by preachers, most of them Seventh-day Adventists, who run tapes of their sermons.
The network’s message is aimed at a broader Christian audience but pushes Adventist themes: eat healthy, exercise, and prepare to answer to God at the end of the world, which could be sooner rather than later.
A few times a day, a taped announcement tells viewers they can “send their tax-deductible love gift” to the address on the screen.
Three Angels’ tax filings show it’s collected $12 million to $14 million a year in donations for the past several years. Danny and Linda Shelton each take home about $50,000 a year, Shelton said, and don’t take money for the books and CDs they produce on Three Angels’ label.
Shelton said he hopes OlympuSat, the satellite company he recently hired, will help him win the more than 8,000 cable operators who don’t yet carry his network, the vast majority of the U.S. cable market. Cox Communications, which provides cable television service in Wichita, does not carry it.
The satellite company will bundle Three Angels with other channels and hawk the packages to cable operators.
Shelton says he is driven more by devotion than ambition.
“I’m just going where I think the Lord wants us to go,” he said.