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When the Eyes of Canton Were on Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker

photos of guests variety show
Youtube; Denny Hazen II
WJAN was owned by Jim Bakker's PTL ministry from 1977-82. His religious variety show hosted guests such as KFC founder Col. Harlan Sanders on Dec. 3, 1979 (top left). Bea Medlin (top right) came to Northeast Ohio with her brother, Rev. Ernest Angley, before starting her own show on WJAN in 1975. Newsman Carl Day began his career at WJAN before becoming a legend of Dayton TV (seen there in 1984, bottom right). And General Manager Denny Hazen interviewed scores of people, such as future First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1976, on "Our Day in Canton."

The new film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” chronicles the rise and fall of the PTL empire run by televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. But nearly a decade before their downfall, the couple established an important connection to Northeast Ohio.

The scandal which brought down the Bakkers first broke in 1987: a sexual assault, covered up by hush money that was supposed to be used for PTL’s ministry, which included one of the largest cable networks in the country. That network was built from a series of small, mom-and-pop TV stations which dotted the nation, such as “family television” WJAN TV-17 in Canton.

WJAN TV 17 Building.jpg
The Janson brothers built the WJAN studios on Rt. 62 in Canton.

Mike Tonges has owned Image Video Productions in Canton for almost 40 years, but he got his start in the business watching — and then working at — WJAN.

“I started working at WJAN-TV when I was a junior in high school. [WHBC-AM News Director] John Baker started doing news there," Tonges said. "I remember watching him as a kid. By the time I started working there, he had moved on to another career or retired.

"We did have Carl Day, who was a very well-known broadcaster," he continued. "And when he left Channel 17, he moved on to Dayton and was the main anchorperson at WDTN, Channel 2. I ran into him a couple times [when] we went down there and televised some Wright State basketball games. He was at one of the events, and I got to see him and talk to him. It was kind of neat to see somebody that you worked with back here in Canton, because he was like the Ted Henry-type since people would recognize him because he was the main anchor in Dayton. We had a lot of career starts for a lot of people."

19680507 Canton Rep.jpg
Canton Repository
WJAN's schedule for May 7, 1968, included local news, industrial films, and coverage of that night's primary election. Voters considered ballot measures on control of school funds by the state, methods for filling vacancies in the Statehouse, and a reorganization of Ohio's judicial system. Channel 17 was on the air Monday through Saturday at this time, but would add Sundays on May 12.

Mike Tonges recalls, “We had some famous people coming through the station. Andre the Giant was there when we were doing wrestling. They played [wrestling] tapes on Sunday afternoons, and the wrestlers would come into the studio and do live hits between the segments. ‘Wrestling fans, tonight at the Canton Memorial Auditorium! I'm gonna kill him!’— that kind of stuff. But Andre the Giant was there one time, and he took an apple and just literally squished it with his hand down into a pulp. So, I mean the guy was pretty strong. We had Rosalynn Carter there [and] a lot of politicians. I know Sen. Howard Metzenbaum was there once.”

Ed Thomas
Cleveland Classic Media blog
WJAN was part of the MDA "Love Network" for the Jerry Lewis Telethon, based in New York when this photo was taken in 1972. Jay Andrews (third from left) hosted these local segments in character as "Milton the Milk Man" along with announcer Tim Davisson (center). News Director Max Heywood (far left) was also known for his radio work at WMJI, WMMS, and WCUE, before passing away in 2017.

Channel 17 went on the air in 1967, christened WJAN after its owners, the Janson family. The programming was a mix of regional sports plus religious and secular news and entertainment. Denny Hazen hosted and produced shows in all of those categories.

Denny Hazen Sr. and Denny Hazen II WJAN TV-17 JEEPERS CLUBHOUSE KIDS SHOW 1974 WJAN.jpg
Denny Hazen II
Denny Hazen (left) hosted and produced numerous news, entertainment, and sports programs on WJAN until the mid-1980s. This 1974 episode of "Jeepers Clubhouse" also featured his son, Denny II, who today has gained fame both for his work in Cleveland media and for his music career as "Blazin' Hazen."

He passed away in 2015, but his son, Denny II, remembers accompanying his dad to work. Today, the younger Hazen works behind the scenes for several Northeast Ohio media companies and television stations and has gained fame for his series of “Blazin’ Hazen” music videos.

“[My Dad] did a lot of sports: football, basketball. We did a lot of stuff from the Canton Civic Center. Back then, the sporting league in Stark County was the Federal League. So, we did a lot of Federal League games.” That includes this 1983 edition of the Blue and Silver Game:

WJAN's 1983 Girl's High School Basketball Broadcast - Blue/Silver Game

Very little Channel 17 programming was saved, since videotape was expensive back then and the few tapes which were archived are mostly unplayable almost 50 years later. Recently, a series of shows were unearthed from 1975, hosted by The Rev. Ernest Angley’s sister.

BM-001 Bea Medlin Possessing That Which God Has Given You Cavalry Crusade

Bea Medlin passed away in 2010. Her friend, Barbara Davis of Ravenna, worked as part of Medlin’s traveling ministry for many years.

“The purpose of those TV shows was to get people to go to church — any church. She believed in healing; she had an angel who stood by her right side [but] no one else could see the angel. In fact, one time [I was standing next to her onstage], she said, ‘Move out of the way. You’re blocking the angel,’” Davis said.

WJAN was also the local affiliate for the annual MDA telethon, hosted at that time by Jerry Lewis in New York. In a smaller city like Canton, funding and resources were limited. Tonges remembers some creative ways they kept the lights on, such as buying government surplus equipment.

“This may be a broadcast urban legend, but there were five Norelco [PC-70] color cameras which were used on the [U.S.S. Hornet during the] Apollo 11 splashdown recovery. When those cameras came back, they sold them; three of them were purchased by [WAKR] channel 23 in Akron, and the Jansons bought the other two.”

Jim Bakker PTL Club with Colonel Sanders 1979

Another source of revenue was syndicated programing like Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker’s daily “PTL Club.” Hazen recalls meeting the Bakkers when they visited the station in the 1970s.

“I have four sisters. My younger sister was sitting in one of those fold-up chairs — those old wooden fold-up chairs — and she kind of fell off the back and cracked her head. Well, Tammy came over and held her and helped her stop crying. I think she had stitches. I'm not sure, but I remember Tammy really was sweet and helped her with that," Hazen said. "So yeah, we got to see them, and they were nice people. Jim Bakker had a great vision, and God blessed him with many things. Now, just like anything in life, it takes a lot of responsibility when you're endowed with so much.”

Tonges, too, recalls actually driving down to North Carolina to tape shows on-location with the Bakkers, not long after they left PTL in 1987. When Jim Bakker learned that the crew would be driving straight back to Northeast Ohio, he insisted they stay and have a cookout before hitting the road.

19790127 ABJ p1 newspaper.jpg
Akron Beacon Journal
In January, 1979, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that North Carolina-based PTL was reorganizing WJAN.

The Bakkers even bought Channel 17 outright in 1977, the only station whose license they owned.

And that’s when the trouble started.

Fundraising was a cornerstone of North Carolina-based PTL. The “Charlotte Observer” regularly covered PTL, as it would any large, local employer. After reporting that $350,000 earmarked for a Korean PTL broadcasting hub had never actually made it overseas, the FCC began investigating. Bakker himself took to the airwaves, including on Channel 17, to make his case.

“What we want is what every American wants: a right to worship our God as we want to be. We do not want this church, or any other church, destroyed or intimated by the government,” he said.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Bakker and PTL

An FCC report was delivered on the matter in 1980 but would languish under a newly appointed chairman after Ronald Reagan took office. Mark Ethridge, the managing editor of the “Charlotte Observer” back then, says it’s not a stretch to view the situation as politically motivated.

“It seems to me, in retrospect, that it was very clear that the top people in the Reagan administration put the brakes on any investigation of Bakker by the FCC or the Justice Department. I think that's indisputable," Ethridge said. "Now, why did they do that? Was it out of a sincerely held belief that this was unwarranted prosecution? Or was it an attempt to curry favor with the evangelicals?”

Eventually, the Bakkers transferred the station’s license to another ministry, thwarting the investigation as well as any further government scrutiny of PTL for a few years. The station soldiered on as WJAN before changing call letters to WDLI and the TBN network, dropping all local news or programming.

Hazen’s family severed ties with the station soon after.

“Paul Crouch and TBN were very aggressive and pretty cold-hearted for being Christians," Hazen said. "They bought up stations around the world and what they do is they're kind of like the Gordon Gekko of ‘Wall Street.’ They'll buy up a station, let everybody go, and then put their satellite signal in from California. Paul Crouch walked in and said, ‘Pack up your stuff and the doors are getting locked.’ My Dad asked him if he could buy airtime and Paul Crouch refused.”

The legacy of Denny Hazen
Denny Hazen TV 17 Our Day in Canton Howard Metzenbaum.jpg

Today, the Channel 17 building on Rt. 62 in Canton sits idle. WDLI is now a digital subchannel running Court TV and based in Akron. And the original call letters, WJAN, belong to a small Spanish-language station in Miami.

ABANDONED TV Station (WJAN/WDLI) Channel 17

Rev. Abraham Allende was also part of WJAN in the early days. After a career in radio in North Carolina, then working for Akron Public Schools, he made his way to channel 17 under his on-air name, Allen Davis.

"I went in talked to Lee Atwell, who was then the general manager. A couple months later he called and offered me the position as the sports anchor and also to do play-by-play of the high school football and basketball games.

"We covered the Canton City League. Canton had four schools: McKinley, Lehman, Lincoln and Timken. We covered the Federal League and the All-America Conference and some of the schools in Youngstown. But all the games we did were from Fawcett Stadium."

One of the most memorable was his first Massillon-McKinley game, in 1973, in a stadium which usually held 12,000 people.

"I had never in my life been in a stadium that big -- you had 20,000 people and it was packed to the gills. Massillon was heavily favored and Bob Cummings was the head coach [and] went on to become head coach at the University of Iowa. McKinley upset them, and of course that was a shocker to a lot of people.

"I will always remember doing a game in front of 20,000 people. Even though the crowd doesn't see you, you feed off their energy. I think I probably called one of my best games at that Massillon-McKinley game."

Allende also remembers hosting local cutaways from the annual MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon.

"Each of us took a turn hosting the local parts of it. It was a big learning experience for me. I was good at play-by-play because you can describe the action in front of you. But just coming up with things off the top of my head, if it weren't for the fact that every so often we had to announce the numbers, I wouldn't have known what else to say. It was educational and helped me to learn how to think on my feet and just talk extemporaneously. That sounds ironic for a person in broadcasting to say."

Allende recalls the station had a small but close knit staff -- many of whom were high school students getting their first jobs in broadcasting.

"There were only four or five of us on-air. The pay wasn't much; it was just something you did because you aspired to bigger and better things. But we still got along great. There wasn't the competitiveness among staff that you might see at some bigger stations.

"We just wanted to do our best and do a great job for Canton. Actually, the station did not have that much respect because WHBC radio was the King of Broadcasting in Stark County. People kind of looked down their nose at WJAN. So, the one thing we wanted for the station was respectability."

Still, he left for WEWS channel 5 in November, 1974, after 13 months in Canton.

"The station was experiencing some financial problems and basically they ended up cutting a lot of the staff. And so I had to find a job and it happened that [WJAN alum] Ted Wesley was at channel 5 and let them know that we were all going to lose our jobs in Canton. They actually asked about me and if I was interested in interviewing for a position there."

Allende later worked at WKYC channel 3, and eventually followed his calling to become Bishop of the Northeast Ohio ELCA Synod, retiring in 2020.

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. While a Kent State student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.