Family Radio ministry started with a wrong turn in Oakland
Richard Palmquist met Harold Camping after making an illegal left turn in Oakland.
It was 1958, and Palmquist was a salesman for Sacred Records. The wrong turn brought him near a friend's house, and he stopped in for dinner.
Palmquist shared a business idea with the man and his wife.
"I told them I thought the Bay Area needed a Christian radio station, and my friend told me, 'I know exactly who you should meet,'" said Palmquist, now 91 and living in Nipomo, near Pismo Beach.
Palmquist met Camping in April of that year, and Camping -- whose East Bay construction company had just helped develop Jack London Square -- said he would put up $5,000 in seed money.
With Camping's money they printed brochures soliciting donations and raised $20,000 in loans. They bought Bay Area radio station KEIR, beginning the ministry's journey down an often turbulent road, capped off by a 2011 Rapture prediction that drew worldwide attention -- and ire.
Five years into the ministry, Palmquist was pushed out by Camping, who wanted an executive director with a "larger stature," Palmquist said.
With offices on Hegenberger Road in Oakland, the nonprofit Family Radio now reaches listeners around the world in 75 languages -- locally on 610 AM and at www.familyradio.com. It started as a station airing religious songs, hymns and Bible studies, with no commercials.
"Family Radio had been one of the most legitimate, scandal-free religious organizations on earth," said Matt Tuter, Camping's longtime second-in-command. "Most of the people who built Family Radio are theologically conservative people."
Camping began his Judgment Day predictions in the early 1990s.
"Harold is a numbers person. As he looks at the Bible, he looks at numbers," Palmquist said of the onetime UC Berkeley engineering student. "He's one of the most ardent Bible students I've ever met.
"He was a very brilliant man. The irony in what he says is he tells listeners, 'Don't believe what I say, believe the Bible.' But the semantics get reversed, because he wants them to actually believe what he tells them the Bible says."
After his 2011 stroke, Camping felt like his place in the ministry was over, said board member Tom Evans. But at 91, Camping still comes into the Oakland headquarters almost every day.
"His mind is still sharp," Evans said, although acknowledging Camping's memory has suffered since his stroke and "he can no longer do detailed Bible study."
And Evans said Family Radio will continue after Camping is gone.
"Family Stations would continue to operate just fine without him," he said. "We believe God is the power behind Family Radio." By Matthias Gafni