Above left, performers present today and, right, studio audience in 1968
September 2020 – “How do you do?” It’s the opening line of every episode of Unshackled!, a radio series that is celebrating 70 years of dramatizing miraculous stories of lives transformed through faith in Christ. The longstanding ministry is known worldwide for telling powerful testimonies of men and women “when their hearts and minds and lives were unshackled.”
The 30-minute show is an outreach of Pacific Garden Mission (PGM), the nation’s oldest rescue mission. For 150 years, PGM has been ministering daily to homeless and street people in downtown Chicago. The radio series now carries the hope of Christ around the world. Program director Tim Gregory spoke with AFA Journal concerning how the ministry is impacting lives both now and then.
AFA Journal: What is the history of this ministry?
Tim Gregory: The program began under the leadership of PGM’s superintendent Harry Saulnier. He yearned to reach the masses for Christ and earnestly prayed about the possibility of a radio program.
For a short time, Harry had a 15-minute program titled Doorway to Heaven. Here, he related stories of individuals who had been saved at PGM. These stories fueled Harry’s desire to continue to share testimonies of changed lives using the radio drama format.
Thus, in 1950, the first Unshackled! recording session was scheduled. It was recorded before a live audience.
AFAJ: Who appeared on the first recording?
TG: The first program was about Billy Sunday, a famous Chicago baseball player turned evangelist. Following its success, Eugenia Price, a successful and established radio writer, began writing the scripts. With her dedication to quality, Unshackled! became highly esteemed in both secular and religious radio circles.
AFAJ: How has the show impacted listeners?
TG: Many listeners’ lives have been dramatically changed over the years.
One of those people was Jack O’Dell, a professed agnostic and a struggling alcoholic, whose drinking habit nearly destroyed his promising radio career. In 1953, Eugenia Price hired Jack to play a role in an Unshackled! episode. After the recording session, Jack began thinking about the God who can change lives.
As he reflected on his life, he recognized his sin and came before God in repentance.
Jack himself was unshackled!
AFAJ: How do you choose who will be featured on Unshackled!?
TG: We receive testimonies from people all over the world, which are typically submitted online. Once we decide which story is a good fit for the show, we vet it to make sure it is authentic and accurate.
AFAJ: What is your favorite memory from your time working at the ministry?
TG: My favorite memory of Unshackled! is a recurring incident in which either audience members or an actor will become so influenced by the transformative power of Jesus Christ that they will be moved to tears during the program.
AFAJ: What does the program look like today?
TG: Today, the show is produced very much as it always has been. The original music of Don Baddorf is woven through the story live at production time. Now on radio outlets in 148 countries, the program is heard on six continents in 15 languages. More than 15,000 times a week, these testimonies of changed lives are heard around the globe.
The drama can be heard on 3,140 radio stations, the ministry website (below) or the Unshackled! app, free through any app store. It airs at 8:30 p.m. Sundays on American Family Radio.
Caution: Due to the sensitive nature of some episodes, several are labeled with PG ratings to help parents discern if the show is appropriate for younger listeners.
Learn more at unshackled.org or call 312.492.9410.