A radio program that has inspired millions of people across America and around the world for 75 years has called Atlanta home from the beginning.
On Easter day, April 1, 1945, the first “Protestant Hour” sermon was broadcast from WSB studios to a small but growing affiliate network. Presbyterian pastor E. T. Thompson preached on immortality to anxious families waiting for word from their loved ones in the Armed Forces. He preached to shut-ins whose diminished worlds were enlarged by his words. Listening, too, were soldiers waiting in bus stations and travelers with hissy AM radios in their automobiles.
Every week since then the program, called “Day 1” since 2002, has been on the air offering good news—when times are good and when times are confusing and fearful.
Old newspaper listings reveal other programs on the air that first day: Jack Benny, the violin-playing comedian who stayed 39 years old for decades; “The Shadow,” who knew “what evil lurks in the hearts of men;” and Edgar Bergen, a ventriloquist—on the radio.
This seems quaint 75 years later. But the truth is there never really was a “simpler time,” and the “Protestant Hour” was never “quaint.” It dealt honestly not only with matters of faith, but with important issues of the day—and not with easy platitudes, as these examples reveal:
...February 9, 1947, on race relations: “The southern Christian white man needs to take the lead in this great problem before our nation at this time. All the Negro wants or needs is a fair deal—just and square in every way. Can't we grant that to him?”
...May 2, 1948, on the atomic age: “We are experts in destruction; we are bunglers in salvation.... Three major wars in one generation would stamp this civilization as mad.”
...September 22, 1979, on international co-existence: “We realize our interdependence with the Arab world when our gasoline is cut off…. Independence becomes sinful when it is at the expense of others, whether here or around the world.”
...September 11, 2011: In St. Paul’s Chapel at Ground Zero, “these [spiritual] practices poured out of us with an intensity and passion that actually surpassed the intensity of hate, even as enormous as hate’s smoldering presence and sickening stench still was. As real and vivid as the horror of vengeance, so became for us the truth Jesus teaches, that unlimited acts of mercy free us all.”
Today, 75 years later, the program continues its weekly proclamation with preachers from around the country on more than 200 radio stations, including News 95.5 WSB in Atlanta, online at Day1.org, and on podcast apps. And to help celebrate the anniversary, Church Publishing, Inc. has published a book, “Bread Enough for All: A Day1 Guide to Life,” collecting sermon excerpts from the program over the years on 12 vital topics of faith and life.
It all began when leaders of the major Protestant denominations formed the Southern Religious Radio Conference near the close of World War II to spread the gospel through the growing medium of radio. They represented the Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal denominations and their educational institutions in Atlanta: Emory University, Candler School of Theology at Emory, Columbia Theological Seminary, and Agnes Scott College.
WSB Radio in Atlanta agreed to air the program from the very beginning, originally broadcast live from its studio, and continues to carry the program today. Soon other stations in the Southeast U.S. picked it up. By 1953 the “Protestant Hour” was produced from a 68,000-square-foot building on the Emory campus called the Protestant Radio & Television Center (PRTVC).
In a time of massive growth in the mainline churches, the PRTVC was built for a promising future. It counted among its many features a massive soundstage in the basement for film and television production. As governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter used the facility to practice speaking on television. Years later, President Carter would preach on a “Day 1” program as part of a series on “Faith and Global Hunger.” Popular films such as “Driving Miss Daisy” were partially shot there.
While the PRTVC was built for the future, that future was short-lived. By 2000 it no longer functioned for emerging technologies and required massive repairs. Emory bought the building and the property was redeveloped. The “Protestant Hour” organization moved to leased space in Midtown. In 2004, it merged with the Episcopal Media Center to form the Alliance for Christian Media.
Since 2013 its offices and recording studio have been located on the campus of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Buckhead. During the pandemic, only local preachers have recorded there. Preachers from other parts of the country are recorded remotely at local studios.
As the executive producer since 2001 and host since 2005, I have heard from countless listeners over the years who appreciate the hope, faith, and inspiration they gain from the program each week.
Whether they are hunkering down at home, on their way to church, with others at a care facility, or using their podcast app while exercising, people listen each week all in Metro Atlanta, across the United States on more than 200 stations, in a dozen other countries, and online around the world, in order to hear accomplished preachers speak to their hearts.
Kenneth Kay, who now lives in Decatur, Tex., called our office when we began publicizing our 75th anniversary. He was just a boy in 1945, but he remembers hearing the very first “Protestant Hour” sermon on WSB. He has listened to “Day 1” regularly all his life. And he was so delighted when a Dallas station began airing the program that he had to call and tell us he was a “75-year listener.”
And Keiko and David Carlson, who live in Japan, sent us a postcard to say they have been worshipping at home every week during the pandemic by listening to the program. They said the “Day 1” preacher is now their Sunday preacher.
The world has changed since 1945, but the need for the peace, hope, and love that God offers has not changed. We live now in a challenging time—we continue to struggle with a pandemic, racial injustice, and political division.
Yet week after week, “Day 1” continues as the voice of good news for those who are isolated, fearful, needing inspiration, or seeking God. Our goal is to equip listeners to live their best lives as followers of Jesus Christ by presenting honest, life-giving, biblically based sermons by a diverse array of mainline preachers on the important issues of our time.
Just as they have been doing from the very beginning.