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‘Just Kids’ goes worldwide via Armed Forces network

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–An Arkansas-produced Christian program for children has been picked up by the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, giving it worldwide distribution. The partnership will expose “Just Kids,” which has provided children’s educational and informational programming primarily for Christian markets, to the world’s largest radio and television area.

Linda Bennett, producer and host of the weekly 30-minute program, said with the Armed Forces offer, her “initial dream of reaching children in our city and our state has expanded to reach not only a nationwide audience, but a worldwide audience.”

Bennett, who also is executive director of the American Christian Television System affiliate in Little Rock, noted prior to the Armed Forces offer, the program was broadcast to markets with potential audiences of 100 million people. “We are on ACTS and FamilyNet as well as the Worship Channel. … We also, this past year, have gone onto some of the small dish networks such as Sky Angel based in Florida and Primestar.”

Bennett noted the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) had contacted her three years ago about the possibility of featuring Just Kids on their service. “I sent them a tape of the program and the format of the program, but I didn’t hear back from them.”

Then, “just a few months ago, they started contacting me again,” she said. “Larry Henderson had been in a meeting with one of the guys from this area and they introduced themselves … and so we made contact.”

Henderson, who is the top-ranking chaplain with the Arkansas National Guard, also has been a 10-year member of the Just Kids cast, providing a biblical interpretation segment through his talents as a ventriloquist.

Following that contact, Bennett added, “the program had to be approved at the Pentagon and had to meet all of the guidelines for their programming. Once that was done, they wrote a letter welcoming us to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network. They are at this time picking it up from satellite for distribution in 1997.”

In his welcome letter, AFRTS religious programming director Chuck McGathy noted “AFRTS … carefully selects only the best religious programming for our military and Department of Defense personnel stationed far from home. I know, as a father of two, how much quality children’s programming is appreciated by the overseas audience.”

McGathy also said AFRTS geographically provides “the world’s largest radio and television service.”

“With the AFRTS, we have a potential of reaching a lot of adults,” Bennett said. “Our target age range is preschool to sixth grade, but we have a lot of adults who watch. If there is a possibility of reaching a young serviceman on board a Navy ship when he hears the gospel, that’s what it’s all about. Someone out there may hear the gospel for the first time.”

Just Kids, she explained, is a children’s program “that is produced to entertain … educate … and to bring children closer to Christ through teaching them biblical values.”

“Each program revolves around a single Bible verse and we teach that Bible verse through my opening and we bring it in with puzzles and books that might relate to that particular Bible verse,” she said. “Dr. Larry Henderson and his friend, ‘Jody,’ bring the Scripture verse to life in about a three-minute segment where they get into the scripture and share it in a fun way that kids can understand.”

The program is produced on a shoestring budget by an all-volunteer staff on a set at Geyer Springs First Baptist Church in Little Rock, she related. “Just Kids belongs to God. I can tell you that if God had not been in this, there is no way that this program could be reaping the blessings that we are.

“In the secular world, we weren’t supposed to have made it. We have no budget, we have equipment that is not exactly the best and the most updated but … through all that God has taken it and placed it into an unbelievable market. In children’s programming, it’s unheard of for any children’s program to be produced for less than $150,000 per episode and I have $8,000 to produce 13 new episodes coming up.”

The growth in market areas for Just Kids is the result of the demand, brought on by recent legal initiatives, for quality children’s programming on secular markets, Bennett observed. “Because our programming has an element of education and information in it, it is appealing to these broadcasters who, all of a sudden, are finding themselves seeking additional children’s programming.”

She said the program’s recent market expansion has left her “a bit overwhelmed. When I began Just Kids, it was developed for a Little Rock market. All of a sudden in 1991 we went on our network all over the United States and then we’ve gone on others. Then, when we went to worldwide coverage, it was a dream.

“When I get letters from children from California and Pennsylvania and Colorado, then it hits me that we have an audience beyond Little Rock, Ark.,” Bennett said. “It’s unbelievable, from a human sense, that this is happening. When I step back and see that God can take something that we do and make it as big as he wants, then it is overwhelming.”

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  • Russell N. Dilday