Chapter 62: The Crossroads—TV or Radio?
The year was now 1955. The World Tomorrow was on television, coast to coast in the United States—and in Hawaii (it was not yet a state). But it was a harassing experience.
Actually, this whole Work had reached a crossroads.
Shift to Television
I have related how, by the spring of 1955, television had made such a leap in popularity in the United States that we became frightened. It began to look as if radio was going dead. Unless we shifted immediately to television, it began to appear that this Work of God would go dead.
The decision was made. We entered a crash program to get on television—
But we were to learn as the weeks passed by that we were still at the crossroads. Television was not the road to take. Three factors became distressingly plain about television broadcasting. The cost was greater than we were really prepared to meet. Second, it was only a once-a-week telecast. And third, this telecast was absorbing almost 100 percent of my personal time and energy. It was a nerve-shattering experience to keep up with the type of programming we were doing. I was having to neglect other top-level responsibilities—and, if this kept up, it threatened the future growth of the entire Work.
But at the same time, another factor developed. As the weeks and months sped by, during that latter half of 1955, we began to realize that radio was not dead, after all.
Of course, the big-time network shows had all left radio and gone over to television. But people were still listening to radio. We checked and found that radio sets were being sold in greater volume than television. In 1955, about 14.5 million radio sets were manufactured, and 7.8 million television sets.
Many people were beginning to buy two, three or four radio sets per home—placing sets in bedrooms, kitchens and other rooms, while the average home had only one television set.
The trend has been maintained since.
The Crossroads Solution
Yes, in the Work of God in broadcasting Christ’s own gospel to the world, we had reached a crossroads.
Once-a-week network radio, paying for so many small-power stations with only one broadcast per week, had not proved effective. Believing television was totally replacing radio, we had made the plunge into television. But it was too costly for our income at that time; it was once a week only and we had learned that we had a type program that needed to be aired daily; we were on only 13 television stations; it was, under the type programming we were doing, proving too strenuous for me and monopolizing all my time.
And, on top of all these points against continuing on television, we were learning that radio was not dead at all.
We had not gone off radio. We had canceled the once-a-week network, and a few of the once-a-week 50,000-watt radio stations we were using in addition. But we were still broadcasting The World Tomorrow on a daily basis on superpower wls, Chicago; wwva, Wheeling, West Virginia; the powerful border stations xeg, xelo and xerb; besides daily broadcasting in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle.
And we learned that about 99 percent of the income to pay for all this costly television programming was coming from radio listeners—not television. Of course that was to be expected. There is never any appeal for money on any World Tomorrow program. There is no charge for any literature. There is no solicitation for contributions, except to our own inner family of co-workers who voluntarily, on their own initiative and without original solicitation, have become co-workers.
Only an infinitesimal percentage of listeners—either radio or television—ever become co-workers and start sending in tithes and offerings for this Work the first few months after they begin listening. This we well knew. We knew it would be three or four years before any sizable number of newer viewers and listeners to the television program would become co-workers—for we would never solicit this.
Truly, we had reached a crossroads decision. We had leaped to television, but we soon learned that was not the road to go from there.
The decision became obvious. Go back onto radio—but concentrate on putting The World Tomorrow on the major powerful radio stations, and on a daily basis.
That was the road we took until the radio audience did change listening habits.
As the weeks sped by, we found ways to improve the remaining television programs. Our advertising agent, production director and I flew to New York to arrange for the use of nbc film stock.
The one complete film library was owned by the National Broadcasting Co. They had gotten the start on this even prior to the earliest days of telecasting, and had developed a film library so complete that other networks did not try to build one of their own. It was less costly to rent what they wanted from the nbc library.
We found the manager of this library very sympathetic toward our problem. Arrangements were made so that we could have virtually unlimited use of film stock from nbc.
Thus, if I were speaking about Hitler, the viewers would see on the television screen pictures in motion of Hitler, while hearing my voice. If I were talking about the alarming rise of crime, the viewer would see motion pictures of a crime being committed. After each of these sequences, the picture would flash back to me, as I talked. When I read a passage of Scripture, a portion of a page of a Bible would flash on the television screen, with the passage I was reading underlined, and enlarged big enough so viewers could read along with me as I read it.
Toward the end of our 27 weeks of telecasting, I began bringing certain men from the East to appear on television with me in conversation, or as an interview. One was Montgomery M. Green, a World War ii intelligence officer in the United States Navy. I interviewed him on the program about Russia’s super-secret weapons.
Another was Joseph Zack Kornfeder. He was an American, born in Slovakia. Mr. Kornfeder had been a charter member of the Communist Party in the United States. The party sent him, in 1928, to receive special political education at the University of Moscow. Later he became disillusioned with communism, defected, and supplied United States officials with a great deal of information about Communist secret plans. His wife and son were held in Moscow as hostages, in retaliation. He gave our television audience some startling facts about communism.
Leaving the Crossroads
But early in 1956 we left the crossroads dilemma behind. The road to take was that of daily broadcasting on the more powerful major radio stations in the United States.
We were still on Radio Luxembourg, world’s most powerful commercial station, at 11:30 p.m., Mondays. We were on the three superpower bands of Radio Ceylon. From this we received considerable mail from far-off Burma, Malaya and Singapore. Also from India, Ceylon and portions of eastern Africa. We were broadcasting once a week over Radio Loureno Marques, at the border of the Republic of South Africa. By March 1956, we were broadcasting once a week over Radio Formosa.
April 1956 saw a big improvement in the Plain Truth. It was the first issue to come out with a real front cover. Until then, the leading article always had started on the front cover. That first pictorial cover was all black and white, and showed a picture of the Library of Ambassador College. This front cover design has been further improved since, besides adding color and a heavier cover paper. Also that issue made another big jump ahead—it went to 24 pages. Until then, the Plain Truth magazine had never gone beyond 16 pages.
By August that year, we had made our first advance along the new road of daily broadcasting on major radio stations. The abc network originating station in New York—the 50,000-watt wabc—opened a daily weeknight spot for The World Tomorrow. The time was very late, 11:15 p.m., Monday through Saturday. But it gave us one of the major big-power outlets in the United States’ biggest population center. The total listening area had a population of some 15 million people.
A month later we started on karm, Sacramento, California, with a good listening time nightly. This was the first daily broadcasting in the central California area. By November, we were back on the air in our original home-base city, Eugene, Oregon—and on the best local station, 5,000-watt kugn, at the prime listening time of 7:30 every night.
Also by November 1956, we had started broadcasting in Australia. At that time we had started on a small Australian network of eight stations, including Sydney but none of the other major cities. This was only once a week, at the start.
Another Plain Truth Improvement
With the February 1957 issue, the Plain Truth made another important advance. For the first time it came out in two colors! In size, it continued with 24 pages. We were then beginning to announce booklets in the Spanish language, preparatory to Spanish-language broadcasting.
Progress was not rapid in adding important stations for daily broadcasting. Daily broadcasting of a religious program had never been done by the major top-ranking stations. It took time to break the barriers of precedent and convince station managers that The World Tomorrow was really top-quality programming—and that it was a top-rated program that would build a listening audience, rather than lose listeners. But we were diligently working on this new policy. By this time we had a large, more aggressive advertising agency.
By July 1957, we broke ice in St. Louis, Missouri, with daily broadcasting for the first time there. We were now, also, on the air on a network in the Philippines.
With the September number, that year, we published the first installment of this autobiography. At the time I expected it to run for some six months to a year. But the response was such that I continued the series for several years—ultimately publishing these volumes.
By September 1957, The World Tomorrow took a really big leap ahead. Only one more station was added at that time—but it was to prove our most responsive station—the superpower wlac, Nashville, Tennessee. This great station cleared for us the valuable time of 7 p.m., weeknights. Then by December 1957, came the breakthrough in Denver. Station kvod opened a good time for The World Tomorrow—seven nights a week.
New Policy Leaps Ahead
Beginning 1958, we added Radio Tangier International, and we were broadcasting into Franco’s Spain. We were now on Formosa’s powerful station beamed into China twice a week, and on Radio Bangkok five times a week. Also on Radio Goa in India five times a week. We now added Radio Okinawa, and two stations in South America in the Spanish language, at Lima, Peru, and Montevideo, Uruguay. At last the new broadcast policy was leaping ahead, all around the world! By this time the radio log was taking a half page in the Plain Truth.
In March 1958, the giant Radio Luxembourg opened up to us two broadcasts a week, and our British audience grew more rapidly. During the summer and early fall of that year, daily broadcasting was begun in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Springfield, Missouri. Eight more stations were added in Australia, making 16—but still once a week.
But by October 1958, another major radio station, San Francisco’s great kgo, began broadcasting The World Tomorrow every night.
The November 1958 issue of the Plain Truth took another leap ahead. With the first installment of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, the magazine was enlarged from 24 up to 32 pages.
The beginning of 1959 saw the Work of God gaining momentum fast. The World Tomorrow was now broadcast worldwide, on 5 million watts of radio power weekly.
This was the 25th anniversary of this Work. It was now expanding everywhere as a major Work, constantly multiplying in power and scope. Its impact was being felt around the world. By the end of 1959 the radio log was occupying nearly a full page in the Plain Truth. From that time the policy of daily radio broadcasting multiplied rapidly.
I have pursued the progress of the radio broadcasting and the growth of the Plain Truth to the beginning of the decade of the ’60s. But this has brought us considerably beyond other phases of this life story.