Conversing Over the Air

Conversing Over the Air

Presentation at Eastern Workshop, Takoma Park, March. Concluding portion of "The Personality of Your Radio Voice," which appeared in the June MIN­ISTRY.

By C. E. WENIGER, Dean and Professor of Speech, Theological Seminary

Because speech is practically the only means by which the radio preacher's per­sonality is expressed over the air, it behooves the radio preacher to be sure that the person­ality thus expressed is worth expressing. Ap­praisal of his own personality, therefore, be­comes one of his basic needs. He should be frank and fair with himself. His self-diagnosis should include the whole man—mental, physi­cal, spiritual, moral, social. In the fear of God he should study himself, and should enlist the help of his wife and his friends in this analysis. With the help of God he should seek an amend­ment of those ways that mar his personality, a development of those traits that draw others to him as they see Christ reflected in him.

This process requires deep, prayerful heart searching. One must be willing to face himself squarely and allow God to remove the blemishes and strengthen the potential values. Then, "when one has received the truth in the love of it, he will make this manifest in the persuasion of his manner and the tones of his voice."—The Desire of Ages, p. 142. Then the radio voice will be a faithful expression of the love of God carried in an earthen vessel but wooing men heavenward.

However, this is not enough. Faulty habits of long standing produced by unfortunate fac­tors of environment and unconscious imitation of unacceptable forms are often present to mar this free expression of personality'. Therefore, hindrances to free expression need to be re­moved. Barriers of faulty speech must be broken down before the real personality can shine out through the voice. Moreover, latent powers of speech need to be developed. Speech, the medium of expression, needs training.

Of course, speech training is best pursued under the direction of a skilled instructor, and fortunate is the preacher who has sense enough to put himself into the hands of such a special­ist. Many a successful preacher has studied ' speech years on end while pursuing the regular duties of his calling. Phillips Brooks is a no­table example. In recent years the presidents of the United States have found it worthwhile to study speech under the guidance of successful speech teachers. So great has been their real­ization of the power of the human voice that they have spent many months in such training, and the results have been apparent. Is it too much to hope that Seventh-day Adventist radio preachers may follow such examples, and seek guidance from speech specialists on the faculties of our colleges, or of the universities and colleges near their places of labor? " 'Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished."

Probably the radio preacher's personality is best represented by a voice that has an essen­tially conversational quality. The radio voice should bear the earmarks of live conversation. The radio preacher should converse with the hearers, not talk to them. The radio program should be an experience in comradeship. How can this end be attained?

In that outstanding book on speech, James Winans' Public Speaking (Century Co.), the author maintains that conversational quality is dependent on two elements of the mental state of live conversation : "1. Full realization of the content of your words as you utter them, and 2. A lively sense of communication."—Page 31. Let us briefly inspect these two elements -in the light of radio speech.

Living Realities Reflected in Tone Color

1. Most radio preaching is done from a writ­ten script. No amount of mere rules of inflec­tion and declamation will turn the dead mo­notony of the typed manuscript into living conversation. This transmutation depends upon the creative activity of the speaker at the instant of utterance. Every picture, every word, every meaning symbolized by the typewritten words must be realized at the instant the word falls from the tongue of the radio preacher. Says Antoinette Knowles, in her Oral English, page 29 "He should linger over each group of words as he reads aloud, trying to realize each im­pression intensely, and living in the enj oyment of one idea at a time." A certain rhetorician once put it thus:

"When thou readest, look steadfastly with the mind at the things which the words symbolize. If there be question of mountains, let them loom before thee ; if of the ocean, let its billows roll before thy eyes. This habit will give to thy voice pliancy and meaning."

Herein lies the difference between dull, life­less radio speaking and radio speech charged with vital personality. And that difference has never been expressed more exactly than in these words of Ellen G. White in Counsels to Teach­ers:

"On a certain occasion, when Betterton, the cele­brated actor, was dining with Dr. Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop said to him, 'Pray, Mr. Betterton, tell me why it is that you actors affect your audience so powerfully by speaking of things imagi­nary.' My lord,' replied Betterton, 'with due submis­sion to your Grace, permit me to say that the reason is plain: it all lies in the power of enthusiasm. We on the stage speak of things imaginary as if they were real ; and you in the pulpit speak of things real as if they were imaginary.' "—Page 255.

Successful radio preaching demands that the preacher speak of the eternal realities of God's kingdom as if they were real. They are not mere phantasy. This realization of moods, pic­tures, meanings at the instant of delivery, will breathe the breath of life into such otherwise dull, dead symbols as the words faith, hope, and love. Each symbol thus realized and expressed, will take on the tone color that sincerely rep­resents the idea. Under the impact of complete realization the voice will respond, to the im­pression, and the speaker's message will glow with living fire. Likewise, pictures of the Sa­maritan woman at the well, of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus, of the Saviour of men hang­ing on the cruel cross, adequately realized at the instant of portrayal, will cease to be mere verbiage and will become living realities in the experience of the radio audience.


In effecting this complete realization of feel­ing and meaning, the radio speaker does well to recognize the importance of contextual think­ing involved in adequate vocal expression. The speaker must continually invest his interpreta­tion with a recognition of the meaning and feeling that appear, as it were, between the lines of the script, and that serve as a sort of background to the message to be conveyed.

To the speaker who wishes to develop his powers of expression to the full, a careful study of Mount of Blessing, pages 63, 64, is recom­mended. In this passage, note how many ideas passed through the mental experience of the Master as He spoke the words of Matthew 5: 14-16. Note His realization of the phenomena attending sunrise, of the sharp outline of hill­side towns as the shadows dispersed, of the peasant's one-room dwelling with its single lampstand, as He spoke the simple words re­corded in just three verses of Matthew's rec­ord. The Master's expression not only por­trayed the denotation of the words employed but also pictured the wealth of connotation, of suggestion, behind the simple words used. Rich and abundant was the galaxy of images that filled His mind, and out of this abundance His mouth spoke.

So it is with the radio speaker. He must realize the full meaning and feeling of words as he interprets them, and couple with this process the realization of the pictures that con­stitute the background. In the light of these suggestions, try reading Judah's plea (Genesis 44:18-34), Paul's speech before Agrippa (Acts 26), the shepherd psalm (Psalms 23), John's description of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21 and 22), and the like. Take time to create the idea symbolized in each word of the text, and the suggestions implied between the lines. Think and feel!

Lively Sense of Communication

2. But even this process of full realization of meaning may be inadequate unless the speaker maintains a lively sense of communication. His work is not complete until he has planted the thought symbolized by his words in the hearts and minds of his hearers. To this end he must be constantly aware of his unseen radio audience. He dares not merely speak into a microphone. He must converse with an actual audience. He must see in his mind's eye an actual person or group of persons attending to his message.

For instance, in a wayside farmhouse, sup­per and the evening chores are over, and the radio is on. Father sits in a comfortable chair toasting his feet before the hearth. Mother sits near, knitting. Grandma listens with her Bible open in her lap. Adolescent Mary is busy cut­ting out a dress on the near-by table. Five-year-old John sprawls on the floor making a new model airplane. The radio preacher converses, eye to eye, heart to heart, with this family group, as if he were a guest actually present in the family circle. Or it may be a lone couple in a remote lighthouse, or a bachelor girl in her smart city apartment, or a group of college men in a dormitory room. The important re­quirement is that the radio speaker actually visualize some kind of audience. Only thus may he hope to turn print into living conversation. Only thus may his personality vitalize his mes­sage.

This sense of communication is further strengthened by the speaker's sense of compul­sion. "Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gos­pel!" must be his cry. He must experience a consuming desire to communicate his message in the full spirit of God's message to Ezekiel as recorded in Ezekiel 33. This business of radio preaching presupposes an intense purposeful­ness in the heart of the speaker, an overwhelm­ing desire to save men's souls. He is not just a radio speaker; he is a means of plucking brands from the burning. He is overwhelm­ingly in earnest. But his earnestness is win­some. He is wooing souls into the kingdom of God in the spirit of the invitation: "Come now, and let us reason together."

Does the process seem difficult? It is. But be assured that the results are in direct proportion to the intelligent effort expended to produce them. There is far too much slipshod speaking and preaching on the air, and it behooves Sev­enth-day Adventist ministers to be sure that they are not merely taking time on the air but employing all the means that God has given to convey God's last message of salvation to a world in need.

God has created nothing more beautiful than a loving and lovable personality. The radio speaker can employ no medium more beautiful than a voice that sincerely expresses such a personality. "Your voice is you." Is your per­sonality the kind of you that you want it to be? Does your voice adequately express the you that you want it to express ? These questions are worth thinking about. But more—what are you doing about answering them in the right way?

NOTE: Elwood Murray's The Speech Personality (J. B. Lippincott), a study of the speaker's integration with respect to speech skills, is recommended to every radio preacher in the Seventh-day Adventist denomina­tion. The suggestions for speech analysis are especially valuable.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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By C. E. WENIGER, Dean and Professor of Speech, Theological Seminary

July 1949

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