It’s 6:30 on a Sunday morning. The midsummer sky turns pink with the rising sun. Mountain shadows stretch long across the valley. The Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square is quiet and empty as bleary-eyed camera operators arrive to set up. Clinks and clangs begin to echo through the building as workers prepare for the weekly live broadcast and recording of Music and the Spoken Word.
Within 45 minutes the morning calm turns to bustle, 360 voices strong. It is 7:15 A.M., and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has arrived for rehearsal. Producers, directors, stage managers, sound technicians, engineers, and assistants are all taking their posts in the Tabernacle and the Conference Center.
At 8:30 A.M. the dress rehearsal begins, and the buzz turns to intensity as all players practice their parts in unison. The director cues each camera in turn. A pair of producers time each note and every word. The choir, soloists, and announcer perform the entire program from beginning to end.
The rehearsal concludes, and they have 30 minutes to make last-minute tweaks. At 9:30 A.M. sharp it is time to go live, and the pace becomes frenetic. As the choir sings, continuous chatter on an audio system travels among groups, and somehow individuals hear the messages meant for them: “Standby on five”; “Ten seconds short”; “Light on Lloyd.” Producers busily keep pace with the music. The director calls out camera shots. There is a microphone problem on announcer Lloyd D. Newell, and technicians quickly address it. There are two songs left, then one. Then the program is over.
“Perfect,” a producer declares. Twenty-seven minutes and fifty-six seconds exactly, and all the audience heard was beautiful music and inspiring words. It was calming, soothing, and otherworldly.
“The purpose of this broadcast is to give comfort, to give peace,” says Brother Newell. In July, Music and the Spoken Word has been doing so for 75 years. As the oldest continuously running network broadcast in the world, it has been a constant and stable force for good for the millions who have tuned in each week during the last three-quarters of a century.
The broadcast began in the late 1920s with an idea that came to Earl J. Glade, founder and manager of what would become Salt Lake City radio station KSL. It struck him that an emerging technology—network radio signals—could be used for a musical broadcast featuring the Tabernacle Choir and organ. Brother Glade convinced the choir, and the first broadcast aired on 15 July 1929 to 30 stations.
The scene was somewhat different from the highly technical and frenzied pace of today’s broadcasts. On a Monday afternoon the choir gathered in the Tabernacle under the direction of Anthony Lund. A single microphone was strung from the ceiling, and a tall ladder was placed beneath it. Nineteen-year-old Ted Kimball, son of Tabernacle organist Edward P. Kimball, climbed the ladder to announce the songs. He stayed on his perch for the entire broadcast. The starting time cue was telegraphed in from New York City, and the broadcast was a success. Music and the Spoken Word was set in motion.
In June 1930 Richard L. Evans was named the official announcer. The broadcast, which started on NBC, was picked up by the CBS Radio Network, which still carries it today. The voice of Brother Evans, who became Elder Evans with his calls to the Seventy and later the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, rang out for 41 years on Music and the Spoken Word. He became a household name, and some not of his faith claimed him as their spiritual leader.
“I belong to the Richard L. Evans church,” one elderly gentleman told missionaries who knocked on his door. Robert D. Monson of Ogden, Utah, was one of those elders. “We could not convince him that the church we represented and the church of Richard L. Evans were one and the same,” Brother Monson wrote in a letter to the choir. “After repeated attempts to convince him, we presented him a copy of the Book of Mormon and parted friends.”
Elder Evans’s tenure came to an end with his unexpected passing on a fall night in 1971. His final broadcast had aired just hours before.
“Richard L. Evans didn’t just belong to this Church; he belonged to the world, and they claimed him as such,” said President Harold B. Lee, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, at the April 1972 general conference.
In 1972 J. Spencer Kinard was selected to be Elder Evans’s successor. Brother Kinard served for 18 years, and in 1990 Lloyd D. Newell became only the third official announcer of the program. Brother Newell continues to serve as announcer, working closely with music director Craig Jessop and producer Ed Payne.
“When you think of what went before, when you think of the history of the broadcast and how beloved this program is, you recognize that it’s part of the American culture. The Tabernacle Choir is so beloved,” says Brother Newell.
During its 75 years, Music and the Spoken Word has received numerous awards; it has received the highest honors and the strongest accolades from peers and industry professionals; it is consistently rated number one in its category in the Nielsen ratings; it has been featured in Life magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and countless other media outlets; and it has been inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
All of that is validating and even humbling. But it does not tell the whole story. “It takes something extraordinary for a program to have longevity in our industry,” said Joyce M. Tudryn, president of the International Radio and Television Society, when presenting the program with an award in July 2003. “Using the airwaves to truly serve hearts and minds in a richly inspiring and uplifting way is no easy task in this day and age, and yet [Music and the Spoken Word] … has provided the quintessential example of how a program can have a profoundly inspirational and positive impact on audiences throughout the world.”
Music and the Spoken Word is broadcast on 2,000 radio, television, cable, and satellite stations on four continents. Iain McKay, director of international media for distributor Bonneville Communications, works with international stations to air Music and the Spoken Word—a program provided at no cost in exchange for airtime. Through his work he has seen an interesting phenomenon: stations will cancel the program in order to sell the time slot to a commercial program, “but then a month or so later they call me up, cap in hand, and say, ‘Is it possible for us to get the choir back? We’ve had an outcry from our audience,’” Brother McKay says.
“I sometimes think we members of the Church don’t really appreciate the power of the choir because we hear the choir all the time at conference,” says Brother Newell. “And frankly, I was that way 15 years ago. But now being associated with them, I realize the power and the strength of the choir beyond the Church.”
Brother Newell and others have had experience after experience of meeting people and receiving letters in which listeners share their personal stories of peace, comfort, and even conversion as a result of Music and the Spoken Word.
Mary R. Jurgaitis of Neillsville, Wisconsin, wrote to the choir and shared an experience from her first day of marriage: “We were married on Saturday, June 25, 1966. Well, at 7:30 A.M. on June 26, [I was] rudely awakened on a Sunday morning with a radio between us on the pillow. My husband of one day explained to me that he had listened to [Music and the Spoken Word] for years and planned to continue to do so.”
Incensed, Mary banished her new husband to the nether parts of the house so his program would not interrupt her Sunday morning sleep, and they went on that way for a year until they moved and lost the broadcast. However, Music and the Spoken Word had ignited a curiosity about the Church that led them to visit Temple Square in Salt Lake City and the Hill Cumorah in New York. At their request, missionaries eventually visited their home, and they were baptized.
“Now my relationship with the broadcasts of Music and the Spoken Word is very different. … I am the one who sets the alarm, and I am the one who makes sure [the radio] is on the right station every Sunday morning.”
When former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite was invited to be a special guest at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s annual Christmas concert in December 2002, he canceled everything on his schedule to attend. Music and the Spoken Word was among his parents’ favorite programs, and he shared with the audience his cherished memories of listening to the broadcast with his parents on their old crystal radio. To share a stage with a choir he loves because of Music and the Spoken Word was “a thrill in a thrill-filled life,” Mr. Cronkite said.
For Myrna Fuller of Preston, Idaho, a particular broadcast had a profound impact in the midst of a bitter trial. Sister Fuller and her husband, Steven, awoke one September Sunday morning to find their six-week-old son lying still and cold in his bed. The couple and Sister Fuller’s father took the child to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. “It was difficult for all of us, including the doctor,” Sister Fuller wrote to the choir. “We left with heavy hearts. But as we entered my father’s van, still clutching the lifeless form, the beautiful strains of ‘I Know That My Redeemer Lives,’ sung by your choir, came over the radio. We listened in silence as we drove home, but all three of us felt the same feeling of peace come over us. The longer you sang, the more intensely we felt the bitter sorrow replaced with the sweet.
“We will always believe that someone was inspired to choose that hymn that day.”
As the creators of Music and the Spoken Word look forward to another 75 years of broadcasting, they consider how to honor the tradition that has made the program what it is while staying relevant, fresh, and current.
Looking back, longtime listeners have heard changes over the years in music, message, and technology. The broadcast has gone beyond the Tabernacle to originate from places such as Royal Albert Hall in London, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and the Opera House in Sydney. “But the format and the guiding principles have not changed from the very beginning,” says Brother Jessop.
Going forward, the program will stay its course as “a trusted friend—steady, reliable, and strong,” says Brother Newell.
“Music and the Spoken Word is an anchor,” concludes Brother Jessop. “Through good times, through bad times, it is an anchor that people can turn to for inspiration.”
15 July 1929
First Music and the Spoken Word radio broadcast airs.
Richard L. Evans is chosen as the announcer for the broadcast.
The broadcast is voted in a national listeners’ poll as America’s most popular classical and religious program.
Music and the Spoken Word begins broadcasting on television.
1 November 1971
Richard L. Evans passes away at age 65. His final message was broadcast the previous day.
21 February 1972
J. Spencer Kinard is named announcer of Music and the Spoken Word.
15 February 1987
3,000th broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word.
Lloyd D. Newell becomes only the third official announcer to do Music and the Spoken Word.
18 July 2004
75th anniversary broadcast airs live from Salt Lake City at 9:30 A.M.
11 June 1944
Five days after D-Day, World War II; given by Richard L. Evans.
“May our sons and our brothers out there be protected and comforted and sustained. And after they have done that which they have to do, may the wounds of the world be healed as men make peace with themselves by setting in order their own lives.”
24 November 1963
Two days after United States president John F. Kennedy was assassinated; given by Richard L. Evans.
“With a sorrowing America, we join this day in mourning the passing of the president. John Fitzgerald Kennedy is mourned by unnumbered multitudes, not only here but wherever there are knowing human hearts.”
31 October 1971
The last message given by Richard L. Evans. It had been prerecorded a short time before his unexpected death on 1 November 1971.
“There is more built-in strength in all of us than we sometimes suppose. And what once we said we couldn’t do or couldn’t live with or couldn’t carry, we find ourselves somehow doing and enduring, as time, reappraisal, readjustment, and sometimes sheer necessity, modify our sense of values and our attitudes, and we find strength and endurance and hidden resources within ourselves.”
15 February 1987
3,000th broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word; given by J. Spencer Kinard.
“Music speaks a universal tongue, for song is every person’s native language. Beyond words, above speech, transcending even thought, is music. Like the towering spires of Gothic cathedrals, music’s prayerful hymns point our hearts toward the billowing heavens, and to God.”
26 March 2000
The turn of the century and the peak of the technology revolution; given by Lloyd D. Newell.
“Vision and faith go hand-in-hand. The Lord taught, ‘All things are possible to him that believeth’ (Mark 9:23). When we have the humility to look to Him and live, we’re blessed with a belief in others and in life; we recognize humanity’s potential for greatness; and we see beyond the here and now. With faith, we cultivate the art of the possible.”
16 September 2001
Five days after terrorists attacked the United States; given by Lloyd D. Newell.
“We are ‘one nation under God,’ and we turn to Him for peace and hope. He is the balm that will heal the wound. He is the calm in the midst of the storm. He has comforted His people through the ages. To Joshua of old, and to each of us today, His promise is sure: ‘I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. … Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed’ (Josh. 1:5, 9).”