From DJ To Minister (Jacksons mentioned)
Chattanoogan: Bernie Miller Went From DJ To Minister
by Suzanne Walker
posted August 24, 2006
While many local people know the name “Bernie Miller,” his
name extends beyond Chattanooga and is known widely by people such as Yoko Ono
to President Bush.
Rev. Miller, now the pastor of New Covenant Fellowship Church, first gained
publicity in Baltimore, Md.,when he became the youngest radio DJ at the age of
16. When he was 17, he was promoted and became the youngest program director,
managing both an AM and FM station. “I was a teen in charge of a bunch of older
guys. It was good management training,” he said.
Through various DJ jobs Rev. Miller “gained “a lot of recognition for being
ahead of the times in the songs I picked to play.” His notoriety eventually led
him to the record business.
Rev. Miller said one of his most unforgettable experiences
as a DJ was meeting the Jacksons. He said he attended a broadcasters’
convention and was invited to a party that Jackie Jackson attended. He said the
host of the party asked Jackie to run an errand to the store and suggested that
Rev. Miller go along so Jackie could play his latest record for him. Rev.
Miller said he was surprised to find himself “riding in a Rolls-Royce with
Before returning to the party, Jackie took Rev. Miller to his mother’s house.
“I went in the house and there was Janet, watching TV, and then LaToya walked
in. A few minutes later Michael and his mom came in.” Rev. Miller said he
couldn’t believe he was there. “They were very shy guys. They seemed very
guarded and protected one another.” He and Jackie kept in touch for many years.
In 1972 he was working in Memphis as a staff writer for High Records when he
co-wrote a hit song that has been recorded multiple times. Rev. Miller and Don
Bryant collaborated and “I Can’t Stand the Rain” was produced. Since then the
song has been recorded again and again by various artists including Ann
Peeples, Tina Turner and Michael Bolton. The song even received a Grammy
nomination several years ago when Missy Elliot recorded it.
According to a book by Mae Pang, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” was the late John
Lennon’s favorite song. In 1989, Rev. Miller attended the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame, where he had the opportunity to meet John Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono. He
said when Yoko first saw him “she jumped up, gave me a hug and told me that
John always wanted to thank him because ‘I Can’t Stand the Rain’ was his
favorite song.” He said he had a poster of John Lennon that he always wanted
signed so Yoko signed it for him.
After working as a DJ in cities all over the country, Rev. Miller eventually
became the vice president of Sony/Epic Records in New York. He worked with 52
artists including Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Kenny Lattimore and the Jacksons.
Rev. Miller said any management position he has now does not seem difficult
after working in the music business. “I dealt with 52 artists, 52 humongous
egos and their 100 or so managers.”
He said he learned that establishing relationships with people is most
important in management and still practices that lesson in positions he holds
now. “You can’t expect people to do things for you if you don’t establish
Rev. Miller said his life completely changed in 1988 when he came across a
sermon tape. “I listened to the tape and it hit me.” He turned on the TV and “a
woman from the 700 club asked her audience to pray with her, so I gave my life
to the Lord.”
“My whole life changed and I didn’t want to be in the music business doing what
I was doing.” He said his job was “very cutthroat” and he “didn’t want to hurt
people. I realized I couldn’t be a believer in that arena.”
When his contract with Sony expired, he answered an ad to be a DJ for a
Christian radio station in Chattanooga. In 1990 he moved to Chattanooga and
worked as a laborer in the Hamilton Place area until the radio station
officially started. “I went from making six digits to making about minimum
wage.” He was shocked and saddened by the way people treated him because of his
new job. “When I would be working, people looked at me with disgusted
expressions. I was hurt to see that kind of rejection. People accept based on
what they see.” He said, “Looking back, digging ditches was a good experience.”
In 1991, he became the senior announcer for Moody’s WMBW. While he was working
there, a young woman brought in an audition tape in hopes of getting a job. “I
was taken by her,” said Rev. Miller, so “I looked her up and I called her. When
I called she thought I was calling about a job, but I told her that I wanted to
get to know her. She kept turning me down, saying she was busy, but finally she
gave in and we went out.” Rev. Miller said on his first date with Madelene they
went to the Loft for dinner and sat by the fireplace. She said she didn’t
expect that they would go out again, but he “kept calling.” The radio station
offered Madelene a job, but management told her that she couldn’t take it if
she planned on “seeing” Rev. Miller. Rev. Miller said she turned down the job
and in August 1992 they were married.
Rev. Miller and Ms. Miller have an eight-year-old son, Zachary. “He is smart as
a whip and loves sports,” said Rev. Miller. Two years ago, his 35-year-old son,
Keith, from a previous relationship, died in Baltimore of heart failure. “I
tried to be a good dad to him. I see Zachary as my second chance to be a dad.”
The church he pastors is celebrating its tenth year, he said. New Covenant
Fellowship Church, located on North Moore Road, has been in its own building
for four years. He said there were 25 founding members and now there are over
1,000 “family units.”
In 2003 Rev. Miller was invited to the White House for the arrival ceremony of
Mwai Kibaki, president of Kenya. He said the experience was amazing and was
“right up there with meeting The Jacksons.”
Rev. Miller also serves as a member of the African American Census Bureau, the
new film commission committee, the Mayor’s Faith Based Advisory Board and just
finished a term as chairman of the Chattanooga Housing Authority. He also was a
County Commission candidate in District 5.
With the various positions he holds, Rev. Miller said he “delegates authority.
I like to involve lots of volunteers.” He said he believes people want to be
involved and politicians don’t involve volunteers enough. “I have always been
involved in the community wherever I live,” said Rev. Miller.