Tune in, turn on for Jesus

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MARTYN LEWIS will be pleased. Last week, Britain's first self-proclaimed 'Good News Radio Station' was launched, transmitting the 'good news of Jesus Christ' to three million British homes with satellite dishes - and 40 million more in Europe.

But United Christian Broadcasters' satellite service is not a lone initiative. Britain's airwaves are about to be invaded by soul- seeking Christians.

At the end of this month, London Christian Radio, after consultations with representatives of more than 500 churches, will submit its application to the Radio Authority to run a speech-based Christian radio service across London. LCR's chief executive, Peter Meadows, has already appointed experienced broadcastres and put together a rigorous business plan. Now he is raising more than pounds 1.6m in financing, partly from thousands of Christian supporters - several hundred have already signed up - who will pledge pounds 20 a year.

Last week, another evangelical Christian consortium, Sound FM in Newcastle upon Tyne, submitted its application to run a Christian radio service for the entire North-east. Founded by David Holloway, vicar of Jesmond, itpromises 'family values' with 'soft-gold inspirational' music, and that it will 'provide a Christian perspective'. Sound FM's market research suggests that more than a third of the adult population of the North- east 'definitely or probably would listen to a Christian radio station if it suited their taste in radio'.

But it is not all just business plans and prayer. The prayers are being answered. As well as United Christian Broadcasters (UCB), Wye FM, run by church groups, begins broadcasting this autumn to the people of High Wycombe after the Radio Authority awarded it the local franchise in the face of stiff commercial competition.

Geared to the local community, it will accept most advertising, says director Geoff Curtis, but 'there will be no sexual innuendo as you sometimes find in radio adverts, no heavy breathing. Our style will be Christian'.

Gareth Littler, director of UCB, which has been aiming for a national Christian service since forming in 1986, said that its pounds 300,000 of funding to date had come from 3,000 Christian supporters.

'They are Christians like me who wish to share the good news of Jesus Christ and his love with this generation,' he said.

The Radio Authority allows fund-raising on religious radio stations, but only for designated charitable purposes - not for the station's own running costs as happens in the United States.

All of Britain's new army of Christian radio operators shy from comparison with Christian radio in the US. In North America there are thousands of such services, accounting for up to one in 10 of all radio stations and drawing 2 per cent of all radio listening.

Mr Meadows of LCR says that his bid bears no comparison with US Christian radio. There will not be healing services in which listeners are invited to lay hands on the radio, nor would there be 'a cringe factor'.

LCR, he says, will offer advice, care, help, refreshment, entertainment and spiritual values, but will not be overtly evangelistic. 'Most people come to faith in Christ slowly, through a friend, and we intend to become a friend for a lot of people so that they can make that journey with us.'