Began 100 years in the past at Pittsburgh Church | Reside radio sermons faith

PITTSBURGH – Before Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Joel Osteen, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and famous radio evangelists like Father Charles Coughlin and Aimee Semple McPherson, there was Edwin Van Etten.

It was Rev. Edwin Van Etten, far from a household name, who helped popularize the live radio sermon. It began on January 2, 1921 at the Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh on the young KDKA radio and lasted for decades on Sunday evening. And Van Etten, rector of East Liberty Church, initially shied away from this idea.

Exactly two months after KDKA’s historic first broadcast of the results of the Harding-Cox presidential election in 1920, the station put together the first live long-distance broadcast of Golgotha.

Broadcasting pioneer Harry P. Davis – a vice president of Westinghouse Electric, which owned KDKA – wanted to sell “radios,” as they were called at the time. To do this, he needed programs of all kinds to give people a reason to buy them.

“Davis wants to be successful. He wants this to be a major trading company for Westinghouse, ”said Anne Madarasz, chief historian at Senator John Heinz History Center. “And the more quality programs and the more diverse they can offer, the better the opportunity to sell radios.”

Plans were made for all types of live telecast, but that of Golgotha ​​turned out to be KDKA’s test case, according to Madarasz.

“Two weeks later, Herbert Hoover gives a speech at the Duquesne Club and they do a long-distance broadcast from there,” Madarasz said. “They’ll box until April, the Davis Cup and Pirate Games until August, college football in October. So you are literally walking straight to this one from the Calvary show. “

How Calvary Episcopal was chosenGolgotha ​​was chosen for this first church broadcast from an ancient tradition: someone knew someone.

Davis wanted to do a religious show on Sundays. A Westinghouse employee named Fletcher Hallock – a choir member on Calvary – suggested his own church.

Van Etten was open to the idea but expressed concern about how distracting the show would be. He and others also feared that if they could just hear it on the radio, people might be less inclined to go to church in person. However, he never suggested not trying.

“Golgotha ​​was always relaxed and inviting when it came to accepting new things,” said Rev. Jonathon Jensen, since 2014 Rector of Golgotha.

Even so, Van Etten decided that radio was a fad and would just be “a bubbly”. So he canceled that first broadcast and delegated the duty of preaching the radio’s first sermon to his assistant, Rev. Lewis Whittemore.

But there was a lot of planning and rehearsal in church before Whittemore stepped on that live mic.

“The (engineers) practiced moving the transmitters and microphones for two weeks to get the best reception,” Madarasz said. “They used three microphones – one with the organ, one with the choir, and one with the pastor – and it takes two engineers.

“They had a Jewish engineer and a Catholic engineer, and they wore choir coats the first week so they would interfere and not distract the crowd.”

The sound was transmitted back to the KDKA studios via telephone lines and broadcast from there.

You would think all of this caused great excitement among Golgotha ​​believers. Not so loud Jensen.

To ‘nonevent’ …“The service 100 years ago was almost not an event,” said Jensen. “There are two small paragraphs in the bulletin about it. The first radio broadcast received a little less attention than the results of the basketball league. “In the church calendar, Van Etten announced that” interesting arrangements have been made for today’s service. The International Radio Company (Westinghouse) has installed wireless telephone receivers in the choir, and tonight’s music, sermon, and services are flashed through space within a 1,000 mile radius. “

But on Sunday evening January 2, 1921 at 7:45 a.m., something magical happened. The Whittemore sermon was titled “The Wood and the Sword.”

“My friends, you would not lose the opportunity to speak and be heard by the radio community,” said Whittemore. “He would want to say something that could be of use, strength, and meaning to anyone who could hear his word.

“He wants to point out with all seriousness that the real dangers and dangers of life are never the external ones. It is never the difficult tasks that prove fatal to life. The real dangers to life are always the inner insecurity, the inner entanglements and the inner incompetence. “

Jensen noted that Whittemore’s address was long by today’s standards.

… becomes a sensationBut more importantly, it was a huge hit with radio audiences.

“Apparently this radio broadcast was reaching people a thousand miles away,” Jensen said. “People sent letters thanking them. They loved it. They started sending in pennies and nickel, and so we ended up paying for the plaque on the front of the church, “reminding of the shipment.

Van Etten is reported to have said that radio should not be used to raise money for churches.

However, after seeing how well the broadcast was received, he decided to take on the lead role when the Sunday night broadcast became a weekly event, becoming the first regularly heard radio evangelist. He gained an impressive following.

Any concerns that the radio would keep people away from the Church turned out to be unfounded. On the contrary, people came up to Van Etten and said they would come to church because they heard him on the radio.

Other churches also wanted to be on the radio.

“Soon after KDKA aired, other radio stations across the country started doing it,” Madarasz said. “They realized that there was a market for it.”

“The KDKA Chapel”“By March they had the KDKA band, as they called it, in operation. They bring in a rotating row of churches and they do other telecasts too.

“You dedicate three programs to the service on Sundays.”

The following year, KDKA broadcast a guest sermon from William Jennings Bryan, the politician and popular speaker for the Point Breeze Presbyterian Church. (The church building on Fifth and Penn Avenue is now home to St. Paul Baptist.) It was Bryan’s first radio broadcast.

The weekly KDKA broadcasts from Golgotha ​​would continue until 1962.

On Sunday, Golgotha ​​was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first broadcast. Some of the music from the 1921 service – “The Angels and the Shepherds”, “Carol of the Russian Children” and “Jesu Bambino” – should be performed along with one of the hymns.

A reproduction of the 1921 Service Bulletin appears at the bottom of Calvary’s online newsletter.

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