Bill Nance and Melody Morris of Faith And Friends Radio interviewing Ken Clarkston, Director of the Dayton Gospel Mission during a break 25 miles into the 100-mile ride last year at their South Main Street campus. CONTRIBUTED

Archdeacon: Faith and Friends and 100 miles

The Lord wasn’t at the wheel of that speeding car that was going 55 mph in a 25 zone, ran a stop sign at Fifth Street and Jersey on Dayton’s East End and hit 11-year-old Bill Nance that evening in the early 1960s.

But as it turns out, He might have been in the back seat because from such a tragic event He helped fashion some real goodness in Bill Nance’s life.

And today that blessing comes to the fore again when the 70-year-old Nance and Melody Morris – the co-founders of Faith and Friends Radio and the popular co-hosts of the Christian internet station’s morning show – embark on their annual, 100-mile charity bicycle ride through the Miami Valley to raise funds for the Dayton Gospel Mission on Burns Avenue near downtown.

Their effort is especially important this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has overburdened so many people here, some of whom who have turned to the inner city mission for all forms of help.

The Gospel Mission, just as it did before the coronavirus crisis, serves daily meals to anyone in need, runs a food pantry and other services, holds Sunday worship and regularly provides a safe space and spiritual help to many.

But this year, because of social distancing measures to keep people safe, the Mission can only allow a certain number of people in its facility at a time. To leave no one unattended, the Mission has doubled its workload to provide two sessions where once there was one.

That’s why the funds from the Faith and Friends ride will have added impact this year. At the same time, the pandemic has provided Nance and Morris with a timely slogan for their station:

“Social distancing with others – Closeness to God.”

This is the 21st year for the ride, which begins in Troy and ends in Milford and in between has numerus stops at places like RiverScape, the Gospel Mission, Beaverceek, Xenia, Spring Valley, Oregonia, Fort Ancient and Loveland.

Nance and Morris collect pledges for their ride and for part or all the trek they are joined by listeners who also bring pledges.

(To donate, visit the station’s website or send a check payable to: Dayton Gospel Mission, in care of the radio station at PO Box 24855, Dayton, Ohio, 45424)

In years past the ride has been successful — raising around $4,000 to $5,000 a year and once topping $14,000 – because of popularity and commitment of the two hosts. especially Nance.

As Morris described him: “He’s Mr. Radio through and through.”

Inducted into the Dayton Broadcast Hall of Fame in 2007, Nance has worked at several area stations in more than a half century in the business and started Faith and Friends with Morris in 2011.

But his career actually got its inspiration following that childhood accident that left him crumpled on an East Dayton street and in a coma for three days.

At the time, it was just Nance and his mom – his dad died when he was 4 – and that first evening in the hospital he said one medical staffer tried to convince her to take him back home.

“She said, ‘No! He’s unconscious!’” Nance said. “Later they did X-rays and found I had internal bleeding. When our doctor got there the next morning, he told my mom if she had taken me home, I would have bled to death overnight.

“I later saw that as God taking something that could have been tragic and turning it into something good. He saved my life and that triggered what I wanted to do in my life. That pointed me to a career in radio.”

Nance said some people sent him Get Well cards with a dollar or two inside and when he got healthy enough, his mother took him to a shop in downtown Dayton where he bought a transistor radio.

Bill Nance and Melody Morris in 2013. SANDRA BAER/CONTRIBUTED

“I hadn’t listened to radio much before that, but I came across WING, a top 40 station, and two songs soon caught my attention,” he said. “I heard the theme from My Three Sons, which was a popular TV show then and I heard ‘Let’s Get Together’ from the movie Parent Trap with Haley Mills. I’d just seen it at the Victory Theater downtown.

“After that I started listening to other music and the DJs and I thought that’s pretty cool. From that moment on I wanted to be a DJ.”

And soon he was.

He and another kid from his neighborhood, Keith Griffith, started a radio station in the basement of Keith’s house on S. Sperling Avenue, just off East Third Street.

“We tried to imitate the DJs at WING,” he said. “We played music and took requests and wrote our own commercials.

“It was just 1/10th of a watt and we only reached out about seven to 10 blocks, but neighborhood kids called in requests.

“The neat thing was that while we just reached our little neighborhood, our station was just three doors from Third Street. And if you drove back through downtown and all the way out West Third to Gettysburg, you could hear our station because the trolley bus lines up above carried the signal along.

“But if you pulled off on a side street out there, the station went dead right away.”

He started to laugh: “My first station reached out just a few blocks and now our station reaches all around the world. About five years ago our statistics found the station was picked up in every country in the world.”

Rising to the challenge

Nance worked his way up from the bottom of the radio business, wearing costumes for station promotions, filing records and manning the night switchboard at WING to take song requests

After graduating from Patterson Co-Op, he would do three stints at WING, along with working at several other stations, including the Christian station WFCJ for 22 years as an on-air talent.

He and Morris, a Wittenberg University grad with a business administration degree, teamed up there as co-hosts in 1999.

“We could see how listening habits were changing,” Morris said. “Terrestrial radio seemed to be losing ground in terms of the AM/FM signal. They weren’t losing audiences necessarily. It’s just that people were listening in different ways, using their computers and tablets.”

Their internet station, which offers a mix of mostly contemporary Christian music and traditional hymns, makes its money through a pair of fund raisers. It has an annual chocolate festival that this year is slated for Oct. 3 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, but the spring concert at the Victoria Theater was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Morris said they never considered taking part of their funds from today’s bike ride to offset that loss:

“We felt strongly that every penny should still go to the Gospel Mission. They have really shown how, in times like this, everybody kind of rises to the challenge.”

‘Seeking calmness’

“We’ve been hit hard the past year,” Nance said. “The tornadoes, the Oregon District shooting, COVID 19 and now the recent issues and protests. It leaves people unsettled. They are seeking calmness. They are seeking answers: ‘What is God trying to tell us with all these problems.’”

He said they have heard from people across the world who are seeking help in these troubled times.

Cyclists who completed the 100 miles at the finish line in Milford with Melody Morris and Bill Nance (red shirts, white helmets) last year. CONTRIBUTED

Their annual bike ride addresses that, as well, though this year the pandemic has added a new challenge.

In the past, they would ride a tandem bike the entire 100 miles.

Now with social distancing they are each pedaling their own bike. and while they have been in training for it, Morris thinks Nance is about to learn a valuable lesson.

“Our tandem bike has synchronized pedaling, but Bill won’t ever let me in the front,” she laughed. “He forces me to be the backseat driver and then he accuses me of sitting back there eating chocolates and reading.

“Well, this year he’s going to find out I don’t sit back there and eat and read.”

Then again, he should have learned long ago, regardless of the driver, the backseat presence can be the saving grace.

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