Chapter 42: On the Air in Los Angeles
By Herbert W. Armstrong
By mid-May 1941, the weekly listening audience, over the three stations in Eugene, Portland and Seattle, had grown to a quarter of a million people.
That seemed a huge audience. Indeed, it was a huge audience. The Work of God, having been started so very small, was, as stated before, growing up.
The circulation of the Plain Truth had gone up to 5,000 copies.
We had started on the air in Seattle, on 1,000-watt krsc, on September 15, 1940. By February 1941, the mail response indicated a listening audience of more than 150,000. Beginning with the issue of August-September 1940, the Plain Truth had “grown up” from a mimeographed paper to a 16-page printed magazine, bimonthly. By mid-May we were receiving between 200 and 300 letters from radio listeners every week, and mailing out 5,000 copies of the Plain Truth.
Now we experienced “growing pains” in real earnest. Now we really did have a tremendous problem on our hands.
It was becoming an utter impossibility to continue handling this volume of mail and a 5,000-name mailing list, and mailing out the 5,000 copies, without equipment in that unventilated inside office room.
For seven years we had struggled to build this Work from nothing to its 1941 size, without equipment. We had paid $5-per-month rent for this small inside room. It was without windows, without ventilation, except for two transoms. One transom opened into the hallway. The other opened into a large adjoining room where labor union meetings were held. The only ventilation we received through this transom was stale tobacco smoke from the preceding night’s union meetings. We were able to work in this office room only about two hours at a time without going outdoors for air. It was not a healthful place to work.
We had no modern office equipment, not even a desk. There were a few shelves along one wall. We had no mailing equipment. The 5,000 names on the mailing list had to be kept by handwriting or typing. Each issue, the 5,000 copies of the Plain Truth had to be hand-rolled into thin paper wrappers, stamped, addressed either by hand or by myself on the one and only secondhand typewriter.
After going on krsc in Seattle, this became an impossible task for Mrs. Armstrong and me, without help. Twice we had one girl or woman helping in the office, but now we had to ask several Church brethren for volunteer help to come to the office to address wrappers, and help us roll them and stamp for mailing.
Then on May 14, 1941, a wonderful thing happened. A larger, sunlit office became available to us. It was in the old ioof Building in Eugene, on the third floor, rear northeast corner. There was an inner corner room, and a double-size outer room opening off the hallway. I could not afford to rent both rooms, but the building manager offered to let me have the inner corner office for $10 per month. He also said we could use the larger outer office part time, if necessary, until we could afford to rent the whole thing. A much larger adjoining room was available for future rental, when need and finance arrived.
This office had nice large windows—sunlight—fresh air.
Let me tell you right here, I never was so grateful for sunlight and fresh air in all my life. I had never before realized how thankful we should be for sunlight and fresh air. That is one blessing most people have, but usually take for granted without any thanksgiving! How about you?
I now managed to buy an office desk—after seven years. That same desk was used in the television program in 1955, seen by hundreds of thousands, coast to coast. I continued to use it as my desk, after moving the headquarters of the Work to Pasadena, until 1955 or 1956. It is still doing service for one of God’s ministers.
Our First Equipment
This desk was the very beginning of necessary equipment to administer the Work of God. We had been forced to wait seven years for it.
About the time of moving to this larger office, I managed to buy an antiquated, secondhand, foot-operated addressing machine. With it we installed the first beginning of the Elliott system of stencils for the mailing list. These stencils are cut on a typewriter or machine very similar to a typewriter.
That old foot-operated addressing machine made so much noise that the tenants on the floor below complained vigorously. Perhaps our many employees today working in the large, modern, air-conditioned mailing room may utter a momentary prayer of gratitude to the great God who has provided them with the very finest and most efficient equipment the world affords.
I do not remember now what I paid for that ancient addressing machine. I believe we still have it stored somewhere around the Ambassador College campus. Perhaps we should get out some of this ancient crude equipment and form a museum of our own! It probably cost all of $10 or $15—we could not have afforded more, then. I’m sure many of our employees would laugh at it, today. But it was no laughing matter, then. We struggled along seven years to have it. And I very sincerely thanked God for it!
Think of just the two of us—with at times the help of a girl who knew no shorthand and could not use a typewriter—handling and answering an average of 250 letters a week, besides all the other things Mrs. Armstrong and I had to do! Then having to call in a half dozen Church brethren for volunteer help in addressing 5,000 copies of the Plain Truth by hand. And in those days we had to paste 1¢ stamps on every copy. Mrs. Armstrong had to cook a paste of flour and water at home and bring it to the office to paste those wrappers.
About the time we moved to this new office, I managed to employ a secretary. I believe she started at $10 per week. Also, I now purchased my first filing cabinet. It was a heavy cardboard cabinet, reinforced at corners and edges with very thin metal.
If anyone doubts that this Work started the very smallest, let him realize we had to wait seven years for this cardboard file cabinet—and then we could afford only the one. How many modern steel filing cabinets do we have today? I simply don’t know—but it must be hundreds—not only at Pasadena headquarters, in many different buildings on the campus, but in dozens and scores of offices around the world.
This great Work of God not only started small. It grew very gradually. There was no mushroom growth.
Writing these things makes me realize how grateful we should be—how much we have to thank God for! And all this God has done without requests for money on the air or in any of our literature—all of which is given free, upon request.
New Consciousness of Mission
About this time God impressed on my mind His real meaning of the prophecies in Ezekiel 33:1-19 and 3:17-21. The true significance of the entire book of Ezekiel had been revealed for some time. But now, suddenly, it took on immediate and specific and personal significance.
I had seen that Ezekiel was a prophet with a message for the future. He himself was in the captivity of the house of Judah—the Jews. But he was not set a prophet with a message to these people. The original nation Israel had been divided after the death of Solomon into two nations. The northern kingdom of 10 tribes had its capital, not at Jerusalem, but at Samaria. It was called the house of Israel—not Judah. The kingdom of Israel had been invaded and conquered by King Shalmaneser of Assyria about 120 to 135 years before the Jewish captivity by Babylon.
The people of the house of Israel had been uprooted from their homes, their farms and cities, and taken to the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. But by the time of the Babylonish captivity of Judah, in Ezekiel’s day, some of the house of Israel had migrated northwest to northwestern Europe and the British Isles.
Ezekiel was made a prophet to this nation—not the nation of Judah among whose captives he lived. His message was a warning of invasion and total destruction of the nation’s CITIES. That invasion was for the far future. The prophecy came more than 120 years after Israel already had been invaded and conquered.
God did not say, “Warn the people where you are.” He said, “Son of man, I send thee to” the house of Israel. God said: “go” from where Ezekiel was, with Judah—“go, get thee unto the house of Israel.”
But Ezekiel did not go. He couldn’t! He was a captive of the Chaldeans. And no such gigantic military invasion has ever befallen the kingdom of Israel since Ezekiel’s prophecy was written! The prophecies of the Bible are nearly all dual. They have a two-fold fulfillment—the one, often in Old Testament times, a type of the second, in these end-time days. The Assyrian captivity, more than a century before the prophecy, was the type. The warning is for our day!
Again, there is a story flow—a time sequence running through the book of Ezekiel. Other portions of the book show the prophecies pertain to the time shortly prior to the Second Coming of Christ. The 40th chapter to the end of the book deals with millennial events, yet future.
So now I saw Ezekiel was set a watchman—to watch international conditions as well as God’s prophecies—and when this invasion is preparing, and near, shortly prior to Christ’s coming to rule the world, the watchman is to warn the people who had migrated, in Ezekiel’s day, to northwestern Europe and the British Isles! But Ezekiel never carried that warning! It was not for his time! He was used merely to write it! It now became plain to me that God was to use a modern 20th-century “Ezekiel” to shout this warning.
The realization flashed to my mind with terrific impact that in World War ii—already then under way—America being then drawn closer to participation—that I could see this “sword” of WAR coming! I looked around. No one had ever sounded this warning! No one was then sounding it! I saw numerous prophecies showing how terribly God is going to punish North America and the British Commonwealth people for our apostasy from Him. I saw our sins, individually and nationally, fast increasing!
The conviction came. IF God opened doors for the mass-proclamation of His gospel and of this warning, nationwide, I would walk through those doors and proclaim God’s message faithfully, as long as He gave me guidance, power and the means.
I had no illusions that I was chosen to be the “modern Ezekiel” to proclaim this message. But I did know that no one was sounding this alarm. I did plainly see this sword of destruction and punishment coming. I knew the time was near. Perhaps, with World War ii well under way, it was even then upon us. We could not, then, foresee that God would grant another recess period in the series of world wars before the final round to end at “Armageddon.”
And I did see, plainly, that God said: “If the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned” that God would require the blood of the people—and now whole peoples—at the watchman’s hand!
That was a stern warning to me. At least I was one of the watchmen who did see it coming! God had already placed the broadcasting facilities of three radio stations at my disposal. A quarter of a million people now heard my voice weekly. Possibly 10,000 or 15,000 people read the 5,000 copies of the Plain Truth.
Of course I had been sounding this warning all along—but only in the Pacific Northwest. Now I began to see that God intended to send it to all Israel. And He had revealed to me that this meant, today, the United States, the British Commonwealth and the nations of northwestern Europe. The idea of my being used, personally, in reaching Britain and these other countries did not yet take sharp focus in my mind. But I did now, for the first time, begin to think actively and definitely about this Work expanding to the entire United States!
Door Opens to Reach
God works out His purposes on His definite time schedule. This vision of urgency to warn the whole nation and renewed sense of mission came just when God was ready to open a door nationally
In June that year—1941—Mrs. Armstrong’s sister and a friend were planning a trip to Detroit to take delivery of a new car. Somehow the suggestion came for Mrs. Armstrong and me—with them—to drive our new car as far as Chicago.
Immediately it flashed to my mind that in Des Moines, Iowa, where I had been born and reared, was an exclusive-channel 50,000-watt radio station, who. In those days I could tune it in any night out on the Pacific Coast. Only eight stations had exclusive channels—no other station on the continent on their channels. I knew that who was then the most valuable and desirable station in all the United States for our purpose—located not far from the geographical center of the nation.
Normally, I knew our chances of obtaining time on such a high-prestige station were exactly nil. But then I remembered my uncle, Frank Armstrong, youngest brother of my father. For years he had been the leading advertising man in the state of Iowa. Perhaps his influence might help swing open the mighty door of who. Of course, we could not afford to buy time on so powerful a station—but I would see about it, anyway.
Let me say, here, for the benefit of those not familiar with the radio-television field, there is a vast difference in 50,000-watt stations. Some 50,000-watt stations have far less coverage than others. The quality of equipment, the location of the transmitter, and other factors make all the difference. But who was—and is—one of the very top prestige stations. Its signal was phenomenal. Today, there are many more stations on the air than then. Today, none of these big stations reaches out like they did then.
So we drove our new DeSoto car to Chicago, where the girls took a bus to Detroit. Then we stopped at Des Moines on the return trip.
I had not seen my uncle for 15 years. We had arranged by telephone to have a family get-together at the home of my cousin—his daughter—and her husband in Indianola, a county seat town 30 miles south of Des Moines.
I suppose we were all a little surprised to observe the change that had taken place in the appearance of each of us—after 15 years.
We visited old friends of both my wife and myself around Indianola and Des Moines for a few days.
While there, my uncle called the general manager of who on the telephone, told him about me, and asked him to see me. After I explained about our program, he said he could clear a late Sunday night time, at 11 p.m., except for one Sunday night, each month. The owner of who was Col. B. J. Palmer, owner of the Palmer Chiropractic Institute at Davenport, Iowa. Colonel Palmer reserved the time of 11 to 11:30 p.m. on one Sunday night of each month for a personal talk by himself. Mr. Mailand, the station’s manager, offered me the other three or four Sunday nights at this same hour, at the very low cost, for so powerful a station, of a little over $60 per half hour.
This was a tremendous opportunity—but it was still beyond our reach. I told Mr. Mailand we were not yet ready for it, but hoped to be by the following year. I had felt we ought to go on a Los Angeles station first, anyway. But now, definitely, our vision expanded to broadcasting nationally, as soon as we could grow to it.
Los Angeles Door Opens
We had planned to swing by Los Angeles on our way home to investigate possibilities on radio stations there.
If Portland and Seattle radio stations had been hostile to programming religious broadcasts, I found Los Angeles even more so—although there were a large number of religious programs on the air in Los Angeles.
Station knx, the powerful 50,000-watt cbs outlet, carried Dr. MacLennan of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church; John Mathews, who billed himself as “the shepherd of the air”; and Charles E. Fuller of the Old Fashioned Revival Hour. I had listened quite regularly to all three, since knx came in like a local station at night in Eugene.
But I did not even contact knx. I knew it was completely beyond our financial ability. To me, in those days, these three radio broadcasters on knx were real “big time.” On the human level they seemed to me as giants, and I as a dwarf, so low beside them I would not have presumed to encroach on their valuable time by attempting to meet and shake hands with them. Yet on the spiritual plane, I realized that God had given me a message that was not being preached anywhere, except on our program. But I felt very unimportant in my own eyes.
I found stations in Los Angeles closing their doors to religious broadcasts. Yet when I went over to kmtr (it is now klac), I found the manager, Mr. Ken Tinkham, friendly. He told me the station was cutting down on religious programs, though the station still carried several. It was only a 1,000-watt station, but Mr. Tinkham explained how the transmitter was directly over an underground river, which had the rather freak effect of giving their signal a power equal to about 40,000 watts. Underground river or not, I found it true that the station then had a better signal than any station in Los Angeles, except the 50,000-watt stations. It was heard like a local station in San Diego, 120 miles away, and even in Bakersfield, which is over the mountains.
As we talked, I could sense Mr. Tinkham warming up to Mrs. Armstrong and me. Finally, he said he would try, later, to open up a Sunday morning time for me. I had told him we were not yet ready to go on the air in Los Angeles.
An 18-Day Fast
The long strain of building the Work through 7½ years, without facilities or financial resources, had been taking its toll physically. I had been losing sleep. The constant driving on high tension to keep up with the growing Work had told on my nerves. The weekly trips of 650 miles to Seattle and back added to the grind.
So, on returning to Eugene, Mrs. Armstrong and I, with our boys, went over on the Oregon coast to one of the little-frequented beaches, and rented a small cabin. There I went on an 18-day fast for both physical and spiritual recharging. An unfit man cannot accomplish much. I returned to the new office in Eugene, August 12, 1941, refreshed and renewed, with new vigor. With the kmtr and the who doors standing ajar, just waiting to open to us, there was now redoubled incentive to push forward.
First Airplane Flight
By December of that year, I decided to ease the strain of those long drives to Seattle—at least part of the time. Consequently on Saturday night, December 6, I left my car in Portland and took the train to Seattle. I had found that the overnight train arrived in Seattle in time for the 8:30 broadcast at krsc, if it was on time.
But on that particular Sunday morning, the train was late. But by getting off at Tacoma and hiring a taxicab, I was able to arrive on time.
I had found that I could take a plane leaving Seattle somewhere around noon, getting me back to Portland in time for the 4 p.m. broadcast on kwjj. This was the first time in my life I had ever been up in an airplane.
I shall never forget that night. About 15 minutes after takeoff, I noticed the captain near the passenger cabin. He knelt beside the passengers in the front seats, and in low tones spoke to them. Then he repeated this to those in the second row. My curiosity was aroused.
When he came to me, he said he had just received word over the plane’s radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor that morning, December 7—that the United States Navy fleet stationed there had been knocked out. The captain had spoken so quietly to prevent any excitement of hysteria on the plane.
That meant war!
The United States, it flashed to my mind, was now drawn into World War ii!
Arriving in Portland, I jumped into a cab and got to the radio studio as quickly as possible. I purchased the extra newspapers being sold on the streets. I carefully scanned the teletapes of latest news at the radio station. Out came my portable typewriter. A new broadcast was dashed off.
At 4 p.m. I went on the air with one of the red-hottest broadcasts of my life. I knew that all of my listeners probably knew, already, of the Pearl Harbor “day of infamy.” I merely reported the very latest few items of news, then went into an explanation of the meaning of it in biblical prophecy. This was one of the exciting incidents of my life.
From that point on, my broadcasts took on more and more the nature of news analysis of the war. Listener interest increased now that the United States was in the war.
Music Dropped From Program
It was now, more than ever, that my 20 years’ experience in the newspaper and magazine field profited the Work. Not only did I have long experience in recognizing significant news and in processes of analysis (of news as well as of business and merchandising conditions), but now, with a 14-year accumulation of biblical knowledge and understanding of prophecies resulting from these years of intense and concentrated (as well as consecrated) study, I was able to produce radio programs that carried even greater public interest than those of the network news analysts.
At this time news reporting and news analysis constituted by far the number one listener interest on radio. A number of nationally famous news commentators and analysts gained the public spotlight—such men as Elmer Davis, H. V. Kaltenborn, Raymond Gram Swing, Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid and others—just to name a few.
But these men knew nothing of biblical prophecy. Not knowing the real purpose being worked out here below, they did not grasp the true significance on the world of the future, of the news they were analyzing. They did not know where it was leading.
On the other hand, none of the ministers broadcasting religious programs had the newspaper and analytic background, nor, I may add, the true understanding of the prophecies, to connect that entire third of the Bible with the war events.
Putting the two together—factual knowledge and analysis of war events, with biblical prophecies—put at my disposal a powerful interest-compelling message.
Radio station managers recognized this. At the time, they welcomed and encouraged it. They began to suggest dropping off the music. I have mentioned before that when the program started, the first Sunday in 1934, it was not called The World Tomorrow, but Radio Church of God. It was, actually, the format of a typical church service condensed into a half hour. Only, instead of taking up most of the time with music, announcements and special events with a 15-minute sermon, out of a service of an hour and 15 to 30 minutes long, I did get in a 23-to-26-minute sermon on a 29½-minute program.
We started with our opening theme, then a lively two-verse hymn—never more than two verses on the air—then a short prayer with hummed music background, announcements, a short anthemette, then the sermon, then reminder of announcements about the Plain Truth, and sign-off over closing theme music.
But we noticed that not more than one in a couple thousand letters ever mentioned the music. What evoked interest, and brought response, was the message.
At first I was both reluctant and afraid to drop the music. So I experimented by reducing it. No harm resulted. There was no lessening in the response or expressed interest. I reduced it still more. Finally, it was eliminated altogether. We found, as radio station managers had recommended, that our program attracted and held a much larger interest when it started off with analysis of world events and the meaning, as revealed in biblical prophecy.
I Meet Future Son-in-law
Shortly prior to our summer trip to Chicago and Los Angeles in 1941, our younger daughter had become engaged to Vern R. Mattson, a University of Oregon student. He had joined the Marines and at the time we reached Los Angeles was in boot camp in San Diego. Dorothy was then working in the office with the one secretary we had then employed. She insisted on coming to Los Angeles while we were there, to visit Vern.
When she arrived, it was necessary for Mrs. Armstrong to take the train back to Eugene, to help keep up the work in the office.
I drove Dorothy down to San Diego. It was the first time I had ever met Vern Mattson. I was not sure I approved of the engagement. When he came to the car, he virtually ignored me. I made some embarrassed comment in an effort to be friendly.
“Look, I’m not marrying you; I’m going to marry your daughter!” he snapped.
Mr. Mattson may be surprised when he reads this. He probably doesn’t remember it now. He didn’t really mean to be rude—he was in Marine boot camp—and it has the reputation of being real tough. He was being put through the paces without being spared, and his nerves were taut. Actually, as I learned later, he is one of the friendliest men I ever knew.
I found him to be tall—6 feet, 3 inches—blond, and, as Dorothy insisted, the handsomest man in the world. But with his boot camp haircut and baggy garb, he did not appear quite that handsome—to me. The war was to enforce a delay in their marriage for a few years and when, after having been in the 1st Division U.S. Marines at Guadalcanal, then in an Australian hospital, back to America and Officers’ School because of his outstanding war record, and commissioned a second lieutenant, with grades at the top of his class, the war finally was behind him. I do not want to get ahead of the story at this juncture, but later on—for some 12 to 13 years—Mr. Mattson served as controller of Ambassador College and business manager of the Radio Church of God, in charge of business and financial affairs.
At Last—Los Angeles!
After boot camp, Vern was sent back to Quantico, Virginia, for final training for overseas fighting. In April 1942, Dorothy received word the Marines were shipping out. Vern didn’t know where, but thought likely they would sail through the Panama Canal, with some possibility of a very brief stopover at San Diego, Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Immediately Dorothy demanded I take her to Los Angeles to be on hand if there was a brief landing at one of these three ports. Vern would not be able to get word to her until they landed. There might not be over 24 hours—or even less. It would be impossible for her to reach any one of these ports in time from Eugene.
Of course, I could not leave the Work for any such trip, which might last for several weeks. But, on checking over the state of the Work, I felt we could now, at last, dare to take the step of starting on the air in Los Angeles. To do this I needed to be there in person, and put on the broadcasts live, until we were well established in Southern California.
So with Dorothy I drove to Hollywood, since kmtr was located in Hollywood. We rented a small apartment within walking distance of the station. Mr. Tinkham managed to clear good time for us—9:30 Sunday mornings. The time had come to drop the church-service type program altogether. Since the original broadcast name, Radio Church of God, did not invite a listening from non-churchgoers whom we wished primarily to reach, and since in the world’s language the message of the true gospel—the Kingdom of God—is about tomorrow’s world, I adopted the broadcast name The World Tomorrow!
And so, mid-April 1942, The World Tomorrow went on the air in Hollywood. In Hollywood I was able to do several things to make the program more professional. I was able to obtain the services of a big-time network announcer to put us on and take us off the air.
Although I used four or five different announcers in the next few years, I think the very first one was perhaps the best known of all—Art Gilmore. He was coast-to-coast announcer on such cbs shows as Sam Spade, Stars Over Hollywood and, I believe by that time, Amos and Andy, besides several others. Since 1947, Art Gilmore has been on The World Tomorrow as our announcer, and millions worldwide will hear his voice at the beginning and the sign-off of the program—except some of the foreign overseas stations. We still believe his is the best radio voice in America to precede our program. He also does the announcing on our tv programs. Our readers may be glad to know that Mr. Gilmore is a fine, upstanding, sincere and highly principled man.
Another reason for going to Hollywood was that Hollywood was radio headquarters for the nation. Most of the top-rated network shows originated there. As a result, I could get a quality of recording for our electrical transcription discs there I had never been able to obtain in Eugene. We had now reached the stage where the amateurish, home-made type of transcriptions I was able to have recorded in Eugene would no longer be acceptable on stations like kmtr or who. In Hollywood I could obtain the very finest professional recordings.
While in Hollywood, I recorded the Sunday programs for the Pacific Northwest stations either Thursday nights or Friday mornings, drove to the airport (then at Burbank) and got them off by air-express. These top-level professional recordings, with a nationally known network announcer and the program name, The World Tomorrow, elevated our radio program, at last, to top-quality professional level.