A SPEECH GIVEN BY THE REV. DR. THOMAS LANE BUTTS ON THE OCCASION OF THE CELEBRATION OF THE 65TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PROTESTANT HOUR/DAY1
MARCH 2, 2010, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
I was pleasantly surprised several weeks ago when Peter Wallace asked if I would speak on " A History of the Protestant Hour/Day 1, A review of how we are doing, and the Future of Broadcasting." "And" I asked, " how much time do I have to cover 65 years of history plus the future of broadcasting?" I could hear him smiling, even over the telephone, as he said: "Oh, ten or twelve minutes
I immediately thought of that profound little book written by Will and Ariel Durant in 1968, THE LESSONS OF HISTORY, in which they distilled the historical lessons of a hundred centuries into a hundred pages. The first chapter, titled, HESITATIONS, ends with these two sentences. "IT IS A PRECARIOUS ENTERPRISE, AND ONLY A FOOL WOULD TRY TO COMPRESS A 100 CENTURIES INTO A 100 PAGES OF HAZARDOUS CONCLUSIONS. WE PROCEED" In that same spirit I proceed with the precarious assignment given me by Peter Wallace. And, in that respect, I have come tonight to play "the fool".
Radio was still a young enterprise when I was born in 1930, but it was beginning to be recognized as an important commercial and entertainment medium. I remember the first radio that came into our rural community in South Alabama when I was about 6 years old. It was to us a species of technological magic. I remember walking 2 miles on Saturday nights to hear the Grand Ole Opry. The whole commmunity gathered around that radio to hear the second Joe Louis and Max Schmelling boxing match in 1938.
In 1942 we ordered a Silvertone radio set from the Sears and Roebuck Catalogue for $15.00. We were anxious to hear the war news since my brother, and other relatives and friends had been drafted into the military service and were already being sent into "harms way". Of course we heard many other programs on the radio, but our main concern was the "war news". The radio was a sacred instrument at our house. It was on a special table in the living room by the fireplace. No one, absolutely no one, was allowed to touch the radio but my father.
I remember very little religious programing on the radio. Now and then we would pick up a radio preacher on a station from Del Rio Texas who belted out his sermons with a kind of breathless religious intensity that was strange, even to us fundamentalist rural Methodists and Baptists. (In our "neck of the woods" there were no Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians or Lutherans). For a contribution these radio preachers offered to send prayer cloths and other religious artifacts that had been prayed over, and which had the power to heal the body, ease a worried mind and save the soul. As poor and unlettered as we were, we did not buy that.
There was practically no religious programing from mainline denominations, at least none that floated down as far South of God as Lower Alabama. I later learned that a few insightful mainline clergy , such as Ralph Sockman at Christ Church in NYC, had effective radio programs, but they were local to the area.
I want to jump ahead to tell you of my first experience preaching on the radio. In 1950 I was appointed as a Student Pastor of a 5-point- circuit near Atmore, Alabama. There was a little radio station in Atmore with a range of probably less than 20 miles. This station sponsored a public service religious program of 15 minutes 5 days a week. The privilege of preaching on this program was rotated among area clergy. I was very nervous when I drove 5 miles to the station to give my first radio devotional. When I expressed my apprehension to the station manager, he told me of an elderly, unlettered preacher who had been on the radio for his first time a few weeks earlier. He said the old preacher was very excited to be preaching the Gospel on the radio. He said the sincere old minister sat at the table before the microphone and waited for the person in the control booth to signal that he was on the air. When he got the signal, he moved cautiously close to the microphone and in a deep and profound voice said: "HELLO WORLD."
That, my friends, was the spirit in which the Protestant Radio Hour was started on Easter Sunday, April1, 1945, when Presbyterian Pastor, Dr. W.T. Thompson preached the first Protestant Hour Sermon on the subject: "Immortality, What It Should Mean to Us", which was carried on 11 stations. The historic first broadcast of the Protestant Hour was not prerecorded, but carried "live". As best I have been able to determine Protestant Hour programs were carried "live", until1948 when prerecorded transmissions were used to distribute the program to the stations. By 1949 the number of stations had grown to 99.
The Protestant Hour was started with four participating denominations: Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist. Denominations moved in and out of the consortium as some tried to develop their own programs. Our preachers now come from 6 denominations: Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, The Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church and occasionally we have preachers from other mainline denominations.
The Protestant Radio Hour has had several corporate name changes as we have moved to more inclusive names. The Protestant Radio Hour, Inc became Day 1 in 2002 and in 2004 Day 1 merged with the Episcopal Media Center to become the Alliance for Christian Media.
The means of recording for distribution has changed as improved technology has become available. We have progressed from Live, to transmission by Disc, to Reel-to- Reel tape, to magnetic Audio Cassettes, to Satellite down-link, to CD.
Before the FCC lifted the requirement for radio stations to give public service time, we broadcast over about 800 stations and the Armed Forces Overseas Radio Network. Our estimated listenership was in the millions, depending on who was counting. In our 65th year, we broadcast over 209 stations and rotate on the Armed Forces Overseas Radio. We have several participating stations in Africa. Our present estimated listenership is over three quarters of a million or more, depending on who is counting.
There are 4 stations which have carried the Protestant Hour for all of it of it's 65 years, and they deserve to be mentioned: WSB, Atlanta, Georgia; WISW, West Columbia/Gaston, S.C.; KWON, Bartlesville, OK; and WSJS, Winston-Salem/Greensboro N.C.. I will also tell you that Station WMFC Monroeville, Alabama has carried the Protestant Hour as a public service continuously since it first began to broadcast in 1952.
The Protestant Hour/Day 1 has experimented with several venues of religious programing, including T.V.. We continue to spread the Gospel through emerging technology: Radio, T.V, the Internet and related media. Just Google Day 1 and you will see the many ways in which we are keeping abreast of rapidly emerging technology.
Peter Wallace is constantly doing things to liven up the radio broadcast. There is a segment of the program called ‘Cross-talk' in which Peter asks questions and makes comments about which the preacher of the week has not been warned in advance. It shocks me! I often want to say: "Peter, why didn't you tell me you were going to ask that?"
It sometimes reminds me of the 90-year-old woman who had suffered the hick-ups for weeks. Her primary physician had been unable to find a remedy. She came in without an appointment one day to tell her doctor he had to do something to give her some relief. It so happened that he could not work her into his busy schedule so he sent her in to see a new doctor who had just come on the medical staff.
After two minutes with the new doctor the 90-year-old came running out of the office into the waiting room screaming and causing all kinds of disturbance. It was such a ruckus that the old doctor left his patient and came out to see what was going on. When he got her settled down, he rushed unceremoniously into the new young doctor's office and yelled, "Why did you tell that 90-year-old woman she was pregnant?" He said: "It stopped her hick-ups, didn't it?"
Peter has a way of shaking us up when things are getting dull.
Our archives enable people to access, read, listen to and in some cases view our programs back to 1996. There are more than 2500 Protestant Hour programs on various formats, going back to 1948. Many of these programs are on discs and tapes that are deteriorating, and must be recovered in the near-term future lest they be lost. It is the goal of the Alliance for Christian Media to digitalize these old gems to preserve these voices and messages, and to make them available to seminaries and the public in general through our archives.
The roster of Protestant Hour Preachers since 1945 reads like the "Who's Who" of the great preachers in our mainline denominations. They were the great voices of the Gospel in their time. They were our teachers and role-models. Many of them courageously touched the hem of history with their words and changed society making our world a better place in which to live. We must not lose their voices through neglect of those stored discs and tapes. Tony Callaway, our Director of Development, has this project on his radar, and is searching for donors with a passion for preserving history.
Over the years we have experimented with many means of communicating the Gospel to the public through the Alliance for Christian Media, and we will continue to innovate through emerging technology. But our main medium has been, continues to be and I think will always be radio. Radio is not going away.
There has always been something special, even magical, about radio. RADIO ALLOWS PEOPLE TO SEE THINGS WITH THEIR OWN EARS. Peggy Noonan once said: "TELEVISION GIVES EVERYONE AN IMAGE, BUT RADIO GIVES BIRTH TO A MILLION IMAGES IN A MILLION BRAINS."
Jesus still calls us to "go into all the world". God's horseman, John Wesley, challenged the Methodists in his time with this assertion: "The world is my parish". I find great hope and take courage in the fact that every week the greatest and most articulate preachers from our several mainline denominations step into the Day 1 studios, lean into the microphone and in the name and spirit of Jesus say:
"HELLO WORLD, ARE YOU LISTENING?"