“It’s a New Day” celebrates 30 years

WINNIPEG, MB—In 1976, Willard Thiessen had a great job selling rockets for Winnipeg's Bristol Aerospace. One of his customers was NASA, and he travelled the world. But then he and his wife, Betty, felt a call to start "It's a New Day," Canada's first Christian TV talk show.

"My family and friends didn't understand it," says Thiessen. "Most people didn't think the show would survive. But we felt a strong call to do this."

On October 6, the Thiessens celebrated that call—and 30 years on the air—with their 7,224th consecutive episode. Only Bob Barker, host of the show "The Price is Right," has more consecutive daily appearances on a North American TV show.

For Thiessen, 67, leaving Bristol was a lesson in "learning to walk by faith." But the couple felt called to "create a show where people could sense that God was real, and that He cared for them and would make a difference in their lives."

Right from the beginning, they decided it wouldn't be their show. "I wanted lots of guests who shared a diversity of experiences," Thiessen says. "I saw the show like a public address system, with me sharing the microphone with others."

When it started, "It's a New Day" was a once-a-week program in Manitoba on CKND (now Global). Today, it can be seen three times daily on the Omni channel in Winnipeg and Vancouver; once a day on Global in Winnipeg, Regina and Saskatoon; and daily across Canada on Vision. Thiessen estimates that the program draws between 15,000 and 20,000 viewers a day.

In addition to Betty, 68, who co-hosts and takes care of the business side of things, other family members involved in the show include daughter Audrey and her husband, Bob Meisner, and the Thiessen's son, Jeff. Another son, Barry, worked for the show in the 1980s.

Over the years, the show has had its ups and downs, with raising money being the most constant challenge. That was particularly true after the Thiessens received a license from the CRTC in 2001 to launch NOW TV in Winnipeg and Vancouver. He saw it as a previously unimaginable opportunity to expand Christian broadcasting in Canada, but the dream foundered for lack of financing.

Last year he sold NOW TV to Toronto-based media giant Rogers Broadcasting, which operates it as Omni in Winnipeg and in B.C.'s lower mainland.

"I was naïve," Thiessen says, adding they were close to breakeven when he had to give it up. "I believed that if you had a good idea, money would follow. But I couldn't convince people it would be profitable." Today, he says, Rogers is "pretty pleased" with how things are going with the station.

But financial difficulties weren't the only challenge; he also weathered another storm in 1999 when he erroneously believed that God had miraculously implanted a gold tooth in his mouth. In fact, it had been put there earlier by a dentist; Thiessen—chastened and embarrassed—went on the air to apologize to viewers.

Looking back, he can laugh about it now. "It was an embarrassment," he says, noting that when he learned the truth he "was open and dealt with it." The experience was an opportunity to show that Christians do make mistakes, he says, and to explain the Christian theology of "forgiveness and restoration."

As for the broadcasting milestone, Thiessen says he and Betty are grateful to God and to their many supporters "who have shared their passion and given generously and consistently, making "It's a New Day" effective and powerful in connecting people to the love of Jesus Christ."

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About the author

John Longhurst is faith page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He blogs at On Faith Canada onfaithcanada.blogspot.ca and Making the News Canada makingthenewscanada.blogspot.ca