The Rev. B. Sam Hart, 80, founder of The Grand Old Gospel Hour, who began to spread his message in the 1970s and 1980s through the Phoenixville radio station he owned, died Thursday, Jan. 19, of complications from dementia at Edgehill Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Glenside.
A son, Tony, president of the Grand Old Gospel Fellowship in Lansdale, said the fellowship continued to present the Grand Old Gospel Hour through worldwide syndication, as well as on Sunday evenings on WFIL (560 AM).
Dr. Hart began Philadelphia-area broadcasts on WYIS (690 AM) in Phoenixville in August 1978, with religious programming from 8 to 10 a.m., followed by talk shows with personalities such as Donald Barnhouse, a former commentator on what is now NBC10.
President Ronald Reagan recommended his appointment to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in February 1982, but Dr. Hart withdrew his name after civil rights groups opposed his views on social issues.
A profile in Inquirer Magazine in June 1982 stated that "he has started 12 churches on the East Coast of the United States, five in Philadelphia, always passing along the pastorship to someone else once the congregation is large enough to be self-sustaining."
"Having turned over to his brother the pastorship of the church he founded and built in Germantown . . . he holds services and preaches from a makeshift pulpit in the American Legion Hall in Ambler."
By 1983, he had gone farther afield.
As a member of the Montco Bible Fellowship in Ambler, The Inquirer reported, he was preaching on Sunday mornings from the back of a pickup truck at the parking lot of the Budco 309 Cinema Four in Montgomeryville.
The congregation sat in its cars.
Dr. Hart explained that he was there "to attract those who would not otherwise get to church. . . . We are taking the church to a parking lot, where people are."
His son said he founded his last church, to house the Montco Bible Fellowship, in the 1980s in Lansdale.
Dr. Hart sold WYIS in 1988 and continued preaching into the early 2000s.
Born in Harlem of Jamaican parents, Berlin Samuel Hart grew up in Jamaica, where his preaching career began when he was 14, substituting as a preacher for his father at a prison near their home.
His son said Dr. Hart attended Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., and was ordained into the Plymouth Brethren, an evangelical denomination.
Dr. Hart began radio broadcasts of The Grand Old Gospel Hour on what was then WBYO in Boyertown, Berks County, in 1959, his son said, and incorporated the Grand Old Gospel Fellowship in 1961.
Besides his son, he is survived by his wife of 60 years, Joyce; another son, Robert; daughters Sharon Thomas and Patrice Carr; two brothers; 13 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. A son, Bradley, died in 1984.
A viewing was set from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Germantown Christian Assembly, 610 E. Mount Pleasant Ave., Mount Airy. A second viewing was set from 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 27, at New Covenant Church, 7503 Germantown Ave., before an 11 a.m. homegoing service.