Music and the Spoken Word Begins 90th Year

Contributed By Richard Romney, LDS.org Church News writer

  • 27 June 2018

This July, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir begins its 90th year of broadcasting Music and the Spoken Word, the longest continually broadcast network radio program in the world.

Article Highlights

  • The first broadcast was on July 15, 1929.
  • It remains the longest continually broadcast network radio program in the world.

“Our purpose is to buoy up spirits and make people feel better, to create in them a desire for greater truth.” —Lloyd Newell, Music and the Spoken Word announcer

On July 15, 2018, Music and the Spoken Word, the radio and television broadcast featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (and, since 1999, the Orchestra at Temple Square), will begin its 90th year. That makes it the longest-running network radio program in the world.

It started simply. At the first broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word on July 15, 1929, a single microphone was suspended from the ceiling to capture the sound of the choir and organ. The organist’s son, perched on a ladder throughout the broadcast, spoke into the microphone to announce the songs. The program was picked up by a 30-station radio network.

Ever since that first broadcast, the program has been favorably received. Today its audience numbers in the millions, and some 2,000 television, radio, and cable stations in many parts of the world carry the weekly broadcast, which is also live streamed on the internet.

The anniversary of the first broadcast, July 15, falls on a Sunday this year, just after the choir returns from a tour in California, Washington, and Vancouver, Canada (see related story). Lloyd Newell, who has been the voice of the spoken word and announcer for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for the past 28 years, says that for many people, Music and the Spoken Word is “like a trusted friend.”

He receives letters from around the world, from Latter-day Saints, from those of other faiths, and even from nonbelievers, who say the half-hour of music and the short inspirational message uplift and inspire them.

“We want to bring people to light and truth,” Newell says. “And for so many people, we are a respite from the harsh, darkening world in which we live. Our purpose is to buoy up spirits and make people feel better, to create in them a desire for greater truth.”

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir actually traces its roots back to Welsh pioneers who formed a choir while en route to Utah in the late 1840s. In 1847, President Brigham Young asked the choir to sing at general conference, and they practiced and performed regularly after that. The Salt Lake Tabernacle was formally dedicated in October 1875, and the choir has performed there ever since.

Although the weekly broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word usually originates from the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah, over the years the broadcast has originated from a variety of locations worldwide when the choir is on tour or when the choir is participating in other special occasions, such as Church history events, presidential inaugurations, or the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois.

Over the years, the prose portion of the broadcast has become slightly shorter. With the advent of television, and now with the internet, the quantity of visual images shown along with images of the choir and orchestra performing, has steadily increased.

And what’s in store for Music and the Spoken Word in the next 90 years?

“Technology changes and things come and go,” Brother Newell says. “But one thing remains constant, and that is people’s need for light and goodness, for something positive and inspirational. That’s unchanged, and that’s what the broadcast provides. So 10 years, 50 years, 90 years from now, people are still going to need light and goodness and inspiration. In fact, I think it’s going to be needed more than ever.”

It’s easy to learn more about the broadcast and about the choir. Just go to www.musicandthespokenword.org or www.mormontabernaclechoir.org. The sites provide access to music, videos, photos, a Mormon Tabernacle Choir mobile app, spoken word messages, and updates about events and broadcasts.