In the week following the historic stock market crash of 1929, we ran this front-page story on an early foray into Christian broadcasting at a radio station in Wichita Falls, Texas. We know little of radio evangelist Paul Henry Packard, and we do not know how many months or years his program was broadcast (though a March 1933 news item indicates Packard would soon move to Kentucky).
In 1929, radio was still in its infancy. Less than 10 years earlier, in 1920, KDKA in Pittsburgh became the first commercially licensed radio station.
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Hungry for Pure Gospel
Broadcasting the New Testament message in purity, a national evangelist gets a startling revelation of the desire for Christianity freed from human creeds
November 2, 1929;
Good morning, World—This is Station KGKO, the National Security Life Insurance Station at Wichita Falls, Tex., bringing to you the Radio Revival program of “THE CHURCH OF THE AIR.”
Who would have expected to hear such an announcement a few years ago? And yet, hundreds of thousands of people watch their clocks each day, and a few minutes before 10 A. M. tune in to KGKO so as to be sure they do not miss a single word of the Radio Revival, and then write their regrets that Wednesday is a silent day.
This daily religious service began July 22 as an experiment, to find out whether or not the millions of radio fans were interested in religious features or whether their tastes are confined entirely to popular and jazz programs. The first week of the experiment brought almost one thousand letters to the studio thanking the management for this service and requesting a picture of the man who in six days had captured the radio fans of the entire Southland and middle West, and whose voice had brought comfort, peace and increased faith to thousands of people. Since that first week mail from fans has increased to such an extent as to require the services of two young people to “sort out song requests and those for spiritual advice.”
The service each day, known as “The Church of the Air,” is conducted by Paul Henry Packard, who is widely known as an evangelist of unusual success.
NATURE OF THE SERVICES
The services are conducted each morning at ten, excepting Wednesday and Sunday. “The Church of the Air,” is silent on Wednesday, but on Sunday gives to the world the International Bible-school lesson from 8:30 to 9:30 A. M., and is on the air again at 9:30 Sunday night in the “Back Home Hour.” The “Back Home Hour” comes to thousands who are “back home” from their own church services, from visiting friends and from the Sunday evening jaunt over the highways, and seeks to restore to the American home the evening period of devotion before retiring.
All services are strictly evangelistic, and nothing but the plain, simple gospel is given to the world. Dr. Packard takes a few minutes each day to answer questions sent in, but refuses to discuss controversial questions over the air. Such questions are answered by correspondence. The services are “undenominational.” The Word is preached as found in the New Testament, and folks are asked to stand upon it, and not on men’s personal ideas of the Word. Hundreds of people have phoned, written and even wired in, asking what “denomination” the radio preacher belongs to, but all such queries are answered with: “This is not a denominational movement; we are simply endeavoring to preach the Word, and asking the world just to accept Christ and obey His commands.” And there is sufficient evidence that hundreds have done that very thing.
IT KEEPS THEM GUESSING
One woman who has been a Methodist for threescore years is deeply moved by the unusual heart appeal which characterizes all of Dr. Packard’s sermons, and declares he is a Methodist.
A Baptist minister, of fifty-four years’ service, declared Dr. Packard’s refusal to “dodge” baptism indicated very strongly that he is a Baptist, although he had never heard of him in the ranks of the Baptist ministry. . . .
Each Friday a special service is held in honor of “shut-ins,” the aged, the lonely and those in hospitals. At this service none but the oldest hymns available are used, and men and women all past sixty years of age make up the chorus. The “Baldwin Grand” is deserted and the old-fashioned “melodion” is used that the singing may be as nearly as possible as it was sixty years ago. The old folks listening in are urged to join in singing the old hymns with the chorus, and the letters received following the “old folks” service are nothing short of pathetic. One woman writes: “It was a foretaste of heaven to watch my old daddy and mother, ninety-five and ninety-three years old, both of them blind for many years, turn their sightless eyes toward heaven, see them wipe the tears from their cheeks, and see their chins quiver as they tried once more to sing the old songs which made Christianity so real to them fifty years ago.”
People phone and wire from all parts of the South and middle West while the service is on, and it requires four telephone girls to handle local and long-distance calls coming in during this hour. On a recent Friday, 261 local calls, thirty-six long-distance calls and five Western Union telegrams were received in one hour.
NO COMPROMISE ON THE GOSPEL
“The gospel is never compromised in any particular. The authority of the New Testament, the New Testament church, the plan of salvation, are all forcefully declared,” says Bro. Packard.
“I preach the same gospel I preach in my regular revival work. I started the ‘Radio Revival,’ giving about ten days to arousing the church from her indifference, and seeking to bring church members back to God, to prayer and spiritual power. I followed this series with a group of messages on ‘The Authenticity of the Bible,’ ‘The Divinity of Jesus,’ ‘Did Jesus Die a Real Death?’ ‘Did God Actually Raise Jesus from the Dead?’ ‘The New Testament Church,’ ‘Can a Man Be Saved Outside the Church?’ and ‘What Must I Do to Be Saved?’ When we came to baptism the issue was not evaded, but boldly declared. Peter’s answer was sounded frequently, and the conversion of Cornelius, of the eunuch and of Saul were all proclaimed with no uncertain sound.”
“I shall have to admit,” says Dr. Packard, “I greatly feared the criticism of ‘denominational teaching’ when we had positively assured the world it would be the plain, simple gospel (which some do not yet understand), but my first duty was to God. I must not betray my convictions. I must be a true watchman, even though it should mean the early termination of my radio contract. To my surprise, letters poured in by the thousand, and the most flattering of these were those commenting on ‘the true, faithful ring of the old gospel, and thanking God for one place where people could hear the genuine gospel.’”
WHO IS REACHED?
These services have been heard in cities one thousand miles distant, which is very unusual for daytime broadcasting. Mail is received with consistent regularity from listeners within a radius of six hundred miles. . . .
The services go into the old-fields where people live in “company houses” fifteen and twenty miles away from a church. They . . . reach the lonely dweller in his mountain cabin. They have gone to the far-flung plains where a new town has sprung up and the church has not yet arrived . . .
Here is a letter from a man of fifty-five years. . . . He says: “I am thanking God this morning for the Radio Revival. Ten years ago I lost faith in practically everything. I doubted the existence of a God and ridiculed the idea of a life after death. But it’s all right now. You have shown me the way back to Christ and the old-time faith. I’m through with unbelief, and through His mercies I am walking again in the old paths.” . . .
[We also] must tell of one man, living in New Mexico, who walks seventeen miles every Friday to get the “Old Folks” service, and the man and woman, sixty-two and sixty years of age, who walk six miles to a radio each morning to get this “spiritual manna.” . . .
Bro. Packard says:
“I know ‘The Church of the Air’ is a pioneer in the field of ‘preaching the gospel to every creature’ in this way, but I predict that ten years from now we will have many such churches, and I believe God is challenging us to adopt some such method of giving our plea to the whole world. No finer investment could be made on the part of our people than the erection of a high-powered broadcast station where the message of the New Testament church can be given every day. Why preach it on Sundays only? We should have a radio station as a people with a radio minister proclaiming the message every day.”
KGKO invites your comment, and, as is stated at the close of each of its services:
“We shall be glad to receive your comments, and you can address your communications either to KGKO or direct to Dr. Paul Henry Packard, at Wichita Falls, Tex.”
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An editorial in this same issue commented on the front-page story.
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“How Shall We Feed Them?”
Here is another impressive demonstration that a large part of the world to-day is literally starving for the message we have.
. . . [W]e must do something to get this message to the people over the radio. It has been said before . . . that we are the stingiest people with the greatest message of the age. We have never contributed adequately of our means or our talents to the proclamation of this message. Think of these people starving for the message, eager to listen to it when they hear it, and we [are] content to sit back in our comfortable church pews and hear again what we have heard hundreds of times or could discover for ourselves if we were not too lazy to open our Bibles.
. . . The people are ready for it, hungry for it . . . ravenously hungry. We have the food. There are ways to get the food to them. What are we going to do about it?
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Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard