Christian radio group faces financial apocalypse after Jesus didn't return

10:23 PM, May 14, 2013   |    comments
A billboard on 12th Ave., predicting the Rapture on May 21, 2011, is one of 40 recently unveiled in Nashville. Listeners to a Christian radio preacher organized the project, which has billboards in 8 other US cities. / Larry McCormack / File / The Tennessean
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By Bob Smietana / The Tennessean

A Christian radio ministry may be facing a financial apocalypse after its predictions about the end of the world failed.

Three years ago Oakland, Calif.-based Family Radio Inc. placed billboard messages around the country, claiming that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011.

Forty of the billboards were in Nashville, bearing the message "He is Coming Back Soon."

Some of his followers had quit jobs or emptied their bank accounts to help pay for the billboards, and some traveled the country in a caravan to spread the word. They also set up a website called wecanknow.com and spread the word on T-shirts, bumper stickers and postcards.

Volunteers like Allison Warden, who orchestrated Nashville's billboard campaign, were convinced that Camping's prediction was right.

"It's a certainty," she told the Tennessean in 2010.

When the end of the world did not happen, Family Radio's founder, the Rev. Harold Camping, admitted he'd been wrong.

Now his charity has fallen on hard times.

The group lost more than $100 million in assets from 2007 to 2011, according to Associated Press, falling from $135 million in 2007 to $29.2 million at the end of 2011. It's had to sell of three of its largest radio stations.

Camping, 91, suffered a stroke after his prediction did not materialize and has since said he has no more interest in considering future dates for the end of the world.

In 2012, records show it took out a $30 million bridge loan to keep operating while awaiting money from the sale of the stations.

Board member Tom Evans, who has taken over the network since Camping's stroke, said the network is hurting during the economic slowdown like other nonprofits. But he said it is not closing.

"Sufficient funds were in the bank and, thankfully, we didn't spend everything," he said, referring to the May 2011 prediction. "But it did force us to make quick changes."

Family Radio, founded more than a half-century ago, had 66 full-service radio stations, more than 100 FM broadcast relay stations and a handful of television stations across the country at one point.

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