Christian radio station manager John Konrad ministered and encouraged people to come to church in an urban mission field: Washington, D.C.
As general manager of WGTS 91.9 FM, he grew weekly listenership to 600,000, up from 10,000 when he took over in 1996, and started a community congregation for station listeners. He also hired a full-time chaplain for the ministry.
Konrad, who died January 2 at age 43 from bilateral pneumonia, also served as a consultant to Adventist broadcasters worldwide, helping several of them replicate the model of providing listeners a congregation and ministerial support.
“He didn’t want WGTS to grow just for the sake of growing, he wanted people to know about Jesus,” said Ty McFarland, WGTS program manager.
Within six months of becoming general manager, Konrad led a format change from classical music to contemporary Christian music. He also set about doubling the station’s coverage area with investments in equipment and hiring only top, on-air talent suitable for a major market.
WGTS 91.9 is now among the top 10 radio stations in Washington, D.C. and is one of the top three most listened to non-commercial, Christian radio stations in the United States.
The station was founded in 1957 and is owned by Washington Adventist University, located in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Born in Hinsdale, Illinois, to a fourth generation pastor, Konrad became interested in radio during high school at Takoma Academy, just down the street from WGTS. The station manager eventually hired Konrad, figuring he might as well put him on the pay role since he was always helping at the station anyway.
As general manager, Konrad learned through audience surveys that about 40 percent of listeners were unchurched. “He wanted to offer them something they would feel comfortable attending,” said Terry Johnson, the station’s full-time chaplain.
In 2008, the station held its first “Night of Hope” evangelism outreach event at a hotel ballroom. The annual event last year drew some 700 people, and about 20 percent typically go on to attend the station's Gateway Fellowship Church, Johnson said.
Konrad also served as a consultant for other Adventist radio stations in Europe, Africa and Australia. He encouraged a station in Liberia to replicate the ministry model, and it now reaches the entire capital city of Monrovia, encouraging listeners to attend a church.
“He’ll be remembered not only for his genius for radio work but his passion for ministry beyond the traditional ministry model,” said Rob Vandeman, who has served as WGTS board chair since 2011. “He reached people who weren’t connected to a church.”
Konrad was also a chief defender of the station when some viewed it as a cash asset for its parent owner. Before becoming Washington Adventist University in 2007, officials overseeing a then struggling Columbia Union College seriously considered offers to sell the station in 1997 and in 2007.
Konrad was also involved in community dog rescue, helping find adoptive homes for nearly 100 German Shepherds. A canine typically accompanied him into work as a station mascot.
Konrad is survived by his parents; his wife, Dawn; an adopted adult daughter, Marina; and a sister.
At his memorial service on Saturday, many speakers paid tribute to their boss, who shied away from the spotlight, but gave generously of his time to help and offer comfort.
A self-described trouble-maker student worker, Kevin Hippolyte said Konrad once drove him to a knee surgery appointment. At the hospital, Hippolyte learned, to his embarrassment, that someone would have to stay at the hospital all day and care for him at home for several days afterward.
“It’s OK, I knew all of this,” Hippolyte remembered Konrad telling him at check-in.
“I was the most rebellious of John’s student workers. He loved me into obedience.”