Not more than one in 35 of the religious television stations across the country can claim genuine organ pipes on the studio walls and stained glass that gently filters daylight onto the control room console.
WTKK ("Witnessing the King of Kings:), a Northern Virginia mom-and-pop operation that started out two years ago on little more than a prayer and a borrowed studio set, is the one.
Broadcasting on Channel 66 from an abandoned Baptist church in Manassas, WTKK is the brainchild of ex-ABC News engineer Lew Raker, 40, whose start-up budget was so tight he moved his family into the church to keep a roof over their heads.
The struggle to get on the air and stay on has been "an exciting walk with the Lord," says Raker, who begged the station's first and only studio backdrop from the set of ABC's "Good Morning, America" in Washington.
But the miracle is that little WRKK not only survived but also is growing.
Virtually every religious station in the country had major supporters to back it at infancy, says Ben Armstrong, president of the National Association of Religious Broadcasters. "Les was a loner."
Raker's $264,000 budget still is humble compared to the giants of the religious broadcasting industry. The Praise the Lord Club, a popular syndicated show based in Portsmouth, Va., hauls in $52 million a year in donations. Rev. Jerry Falwell, a Lynchburg, Va., television evangelist, attracts a cool $40 million yearly from viewers.
Raker's staff is loyal, if tiny.His wife, Kay, handles the books. His older son, Tony, 20, is studio director, when he's not in school. His daughter, Leslie, 19, is the programmer and his younger son, Patrick, 14, "is one of the better cameramen around."
The station's signal is considerably weaker than Raker's faith, in the project. With a 39-mile radius, it is received by some homes in the District but can't be captured even in Manassas by others.
"You just can't predict where it will be picked up," said Raker, who nevertheless is tempted to think that WTKK might be received at the White House.
The station's live programming -- enough to meet FCC requirements -- makes up only one-third of WRKK'S 12-hour broadcasting day. It consists largely of a two-hour religious talk show hosted by Ken Connolly, a transplanted California evangelist, a children's show called "Beyond the Blue," and 15 minutes of news that carries occasional religious overtones.
Raker, a fundamentalist Christian, feels strongly his kind of religious approach is needed in Washington to spread the Bible's message and help combat the sins of more conventional TV programming.
"My gift is broadcasting and I knew Christ wanted me to use it to perpetuate the gospel," he says. "What I wanted was something that would offer people an alternative to the garbage of commercial television."
Network prime time, he felt, "was embarassing to watch. My family and I don't use that kind of language or have the kinds of conversations they put on television, and we don't want to hear them in our home."
When he felt "a calling from God" to do something about it, Raker set out for the FCC in 1972 looking for a vacant broadcasting frequency. At the last minute the FCC legal department found one -- if the station were based in Manassas.
"I had moved my family to Manassas when I came to Washington in 1969, for what I thought was no particular reason," Raker said. "I knew then that the personal calling I had from the Lord had to be fulfilled."
Even so, the road was not smooth.
Raker borrowed $105,000 from a friend's company in Florida, got the Praise the Lord Club and another gospel show to pre-pay the fees for a year's programming, and "begged enough donations" to convince the FCC he was worthy of a station license.
Used studio lights and the set were handed over by "Good Morning America" in Washington. Raker and one of his sons drove cross-country to pick up a used transmitter and trucked it back to Manassas themselves. There were endless nights of searching for funds, begging equipment and gleaning support from local churches.
Finally, the National Christian Broadcasting Corp. which Raker created to serve as the station's parent company, leased the 100-year-old Baptist Church. Pews were removed to make room for the studio, and lights were hung from the old church's oak rafters.
WTKK was on the air, if not exactly on the broadcasting map. Marvin Blumberg, of the A.D. Ring engineering firm that did most of the start-up work at Channel 66, said he now can't believe how little money Raker had. "If I had known that," he said, "I probably would have discouraged him pretty heavily."
Despite the early donations, the station almost foundered for the first year. Raker sold his home for $25,000 to stave off creditors, and moved his family into four dimly-lit rooms in the back of the church.
It was only after Raker managed to persuade Connolly, a Los Angeles evangelist, to move east and help raise money that WRKK'S financial vital signs improved.
"I had no choice but to come," said Connolly. "I don't think there's a station anywhere in the country that has the importance this one has. (The apostle) Paul said a major concern was to get the message into Rome. Washington is unquestionably the Rome of the world today..."
Connolly arrived last March and ran two telethons that brought in a total of $330,000, enough to pay for the transmitter and edge the station into the black.
Connolly stayed on to host the two-hour daily talk show that features religious leaders and politicians including Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (I-Va.).
With the financial boost from the telethons -- the key to which was "talking shoulder-to-shoulder with people and telling them what we needed to stay on the air," Connolly says -- the station plans to double its transmitter power within the next two months.
That would increase its broadcasting radius by eight miles and improve reception in Northern Virginia and the District.
After that, the station will be able to concentrate on upgrading its programming.
"This calling isn't nearly completed yet," Raker said. "The purpose is to fill a need in the Christian community and we have just begun to do that. There's a lot we really want to do, but I'm encouraged now it can be done."