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Amazing story behind massive crossover hit 'I Can Only Imagine

Mike Opelka
(Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Billy Hallowell, reporter for FaithWire, joins Mike Opelka to discuss the early-2000s Christian and crossover hit song "I Can Only Imagine" and the strange story behind its runaway success. According to Billy, a group of shock jock radio hosts decided to play the song on Wild 101 FM's "The Fitz Show" as a joke in January 2003, four years after it was originally released to modest success in 1999. To their surprise, countless listeners began calling in to request the beautiful MercyMe tune be played again.

From there, the song rapidly went viral, eventually topping two million digital downloads, a mark no other Christian single has yet reached. Mike and Billy share their amazement that such an explicitly Christian song achieved such mainstream success.

Billy informs Mike that a film based on the life of the lead singer of MercyMe, appropriately titled "I Can Only Imagine," is currently in production.

"It was a song that forces people to feel something," Billy says. "Even people who might not have believed, it really made them think. And I think that is a rare thing and an interesting thing, and so I'm hoping the movie can do the same thing for people."

To see more from Mike, visit his channel on TheBlaze  and listen live to “Pure Opelka” weekdays 7–10pm ET & Saturdays 6–9am ET on TheBlaze Radio Network.

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