Every genre whether it be in music, film, television, or radio has a voice that transcends generations.
In Southern gospel music, we have been not only blessed but fortunate to have such a man. He’s a man
of integrity and vision. That man is Paul Heil.
Scoops: Congratulations on 40 years! What inspired you to get into radio?
Paul Heil: My interest in broadcasting goes back about as far as I can remember, perhaps as an outgrowth of my interest in journalism, especially newspapers. I was probably one of very few middle schoolers whose allowance went toward subscribing to the second daily local newspaper at home. So my interest in broadcasting involved the news quite a bit. In fact, I was news director at a local radio station for about seven years (just out of college) and then at a local TV station for two years (before beginning The Gospel Greats
program). Both of those stations were market leaders. But the production aspect of radio
always intrigued me, and, growing up, a particular local radio station was known for its outstanding production. That inspired that interest in me. I was also interested early in syndication and networking. During college I created a 12-station live network of college radio stations throughout southeastern Pennsylvania for a half-hour nightly news block.
Scoops: Who were some of your broadcast influences?
Paul Heil: My all-time radio hero; was Paul Harvey. When I was in 7th grade I smuggled a little transistor radio into school so I could listen to his noon broadcast during lunch.
Much later, when my family and I were vacationing in Chicago, one of the stations carrying The Gospel Greats program arranged for us to meet Paul Harvey at his offices. Shelia and I were, in fact, allowed to sit in his studio during his live noon network broadcast. Here’s the “rest of the story:” http://www.thegospelgreats.com/ciphph.htm
Scoops: Tell us about your days on television in Lancaster. How did that shape your career?
Paul Heil: Actually, I was not on television — except for some voiceovers. I was behind the scenes as news director. Fascinating work. However, a change of ownership at the station created some tense times, and I think the Lord used that to help make me unhappy enough there to move on to do what He had in mind for me all along.
Scoops: How did you come up with the concept of The Gospel Greats?
Paul Heil: My interest in radio and radio program production and syndication led me to look for some way to put this interest to good use. My brother, John, had a local singing
group and introduced me to a monthly publication that included a Top 40 chart. Having been a fan of some of the syndicated Top 40 radio shows on the air in those days, I thought, Why not Southern Gospel? So the concept was born and launched — with the first broadcast on the first weekend of February, 1980, on a handful of stations around the country. Conceptually, though, I wanted to include the voices of the artists telling their stories, rather than doing it myself (as Casey Kasem did on secular radio). That became thes sound of The Gospel Greats program since the very beginning.
Scoops: Over forty years, I’m sure you’ve had some unique experiences and some memorable interviews. Is there one in particular that was your favorite?
Paul Heil: Lots of them. I remember one particular poignant interview with the late J. D. Sumner, whose public persona was quite often somewhat gruff. But when I asked him how he would like to be remembered in years to come, he said simply, “I would like them to remember the real J. D.,” Indeed, those who knew him said he had a heart of gold in his dealings with people he was trying to help. Another interesting interview was with the late Kenny Hinson. We were interviewing in a classroom at a high school where the Hinsons were to sing. We finished up, walked out into the hallway and Kenny got this look on his face. He heard the concert starting — with the Hinsons starting to sing without him. He rushed out, in his street clothes, grabbed a mike and never missed a beat. Perhaps one of my favorite interview experiences was when George Younce co-hosted The Gospel Greats program’s 20th anniversary edition in 2000. This was just after the Cathedrals had retired, and we actually recorded the program in George’s sunroom in Stow, Ohio. George was a very special man, always (along with Glen Payne) very supportive of what we were doing.
Scoops: Is there anyone that you wish that you had had the opportunity to interview?
Paul Heil: I would have loved to interview Albert E. Brumley. He contributed so much to this music and had quite a story to tell. (We’ve always considered his son, Bob, to be a good friend, too.) Actually, as I think about your question, I must say that we have been extremely blessed to have interviewed so many of the veterans of this music who have
passed on to Glory — stalwarts such as James Blackwood, Brock Speer, George Younce, Glen Payne, J. D. Sumner, Rex Nelon and many others. In retrospect, those experiences
become even more precious.
Scoops: How do you see radio evolving over the next five years?
Paul Heil: Next question? No — I really don’t know. Radio, as we’ve known it for decades, has succeeded best when it did an outstanding job at what it does best –communicate. In Christian radio, we have the greatest message of all to communicate — the Gospel. And, of course, the Gospel deserves our very best. Southern Gospel radio entertains to communicate. But the message is the most important element here. Technological changes may bring ears to radio in different ways in the future, but those ears; will only stay tuned if we make it worth their time.
Scoops: For someone reading this who is contemplating a career in broadcasting, what advice would you give them?
Paul Heil: Have you considered farming? No, seriously, there are great opportunities in broadcasting. But, as is the case in most endeavors, you have to give it your best. You have
to learn the fundamentals. People used to look at me strangely when I suggest to someone wanting to get into Christian radio that they first work in, and get trained by, an outstanding secular station. That was my background. When the skills are in place, then it’s time to take and use those skills in Christian radio. Do whatever the job requires — and gob that.
Scoops: With all of the experience you have, what is something you wish you could go back and tell your younger self?
Paul Heil: My greatest problems, professionally, have been the result of spreading myself too thinly among multiple projects. I’ve always had more interests than time to pursue those interests fully. I would tell my younger self, to focus more on the primary jobs — or job –that I believe the Lord gave me to do, which is, for the past forty years, The Gospel Greats program. Don’t get me wrong — I think the Lord has blessed my other endeavors over the years, too, but that was His grace at work and not necessarily His perfect will.
Scoops: Another aspect of your life is Springside Marketing. For those who may not be familiar with it, tell us what it is and how you came up with the idea for it.
Paul Heil: Springside started back in 1986 when we had so many people writing in to our program to say that they just didn’t know where to get all of the music we were playing on the air. Bookstores that even had music departments seldom had a very good selection of Southern Gospel music. So we started selling records and cassettes by mail through a catalog, and have continued to this day. Of course, today it’s CDs and DVDs, primarily. The website for that is www.springside.com.
Scoops: Tell us about Paul Heil when he is off the air. What are some of your favorite activities?
Paul Heil: A favorite activity of mine these days is being with our little 2-year old granddaughter (who will soon have a sibling, thank the Lord). She is amazing. I also like to do interior renovation work at the house, finish carpentry, drywalling, electrical (but not plumbing), etc. I’ve often told Shelia we’re moving into a new house, one room at a time. But the press of work makes any such projects drag out for a very long time.
Scoops: Do you and Sheila have any favorite vacation destinations?
Paul Heil: Not particularly. We’ve taken some bus trips to sightsee in the past. We go on the Singing at Sea Cruise most years. But we really don’t get away much.
Paul Heil: The best answer would simply be “the Gospel.” That’s the bottom line, as it should be for all of us. How can we get it out there, how can we reach more people? I feel SO blessed that the Lord gave me a love for the work I do which, by the way, just happens to get the Gospel out there. And, as someone recently pointed out to me, with the internet
the Gospel (through our program and many others) can literally be heard around the world.
Scoops: If you hadn’t gone into broadcasting, what career do you think you would have pursued?
Paul Heil: That’s a tough question. Perhaps something in journalism. My dad was a pastor, but I’ve never felt a call to preach, per se. I do feel that the Lord called me, instead, to the work I’m doing now. Nevertheless, He did let me experience preaching occasionally as a lay preacher for about ten years in our home church at the time. So, I don’t know a specific answer to the question, other than to say I’m sure the Lord would have directed my paths because that would have been my desire.
Scoops: You have interviewed countless people but now it’s time to turn the tables on you. What is one thing people don’t know about Paul Heil?
Paul Heil: You may not know that at the present time our business is entirely our family – Shelia and I and our two sons, Jason and Andrew. What a blessing it is to see them and
work with them every day! And there’s one thing that most people, I hope, do know about Paul Heil — but if they don’t, it’s this: first and foremost, he loves the Lord.
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