The purpose of the radio evangelism class at Washington Missionary College is twofold: first, to develop radio speakers capable of broadcasting a good sermon; second, to explore the possibilities of carrying a message of hope to more people than the sermon generally reaches. At first it was not part of our plan to have a project in connection with the class, but merely to study and practice a variety of means of reaching the radio audience. As the class progressed, however, it was gradually felt that an actual broadcast would not only provide valuable experience for the students but also accomplish some good for the community.
We studied the field rather thoroughly and discussed religious radio with station managers and professional radio personnel. Their ideas confirmed what we had already come to believe; namely, that the average sermon on the air attracts and holds a very small audience. The manager of a large, unaffiliated station, who for obvious reasons wishes to remain unnamed, told us he had conducted a survey in his area and had concluded that not more than 2 per cent of his actual audience ever tuned in radio sermons broadcast over his facilities. He estimated also that of this 2 per cent, nine out of ten belonged to the church of the minister broadcasting at the time.
With this information at our disposal, we felt that we would like to reach a larger audience than the sermonic type of broadcast attracted. We discussed the various usable types of programs, and our study indicated that the favorite one in America today, that which is preferred to all others combined by 65 per cent of the listeners, is drama.* We were not altogether clear about using this type. Because of its connotations we as a people have frowned on it, and the class wished to avoid offense. However, we discussed it with a number of the brethren, studied the Spirit of prophecy on the subject, and eventually concluded that a good story, simply told and reverently acted, should' cause no one to stumble and might be an instrument in reaching people who would otherwise not tune in on religious radio.
The particular group we selected as our audience were the youth; consequently we agreed to slant our programs for them, and decided to name our broadcast "Calling AH Youth."
The next thing to do was to find the right kind of story. A number of types came up for study, but the one that seemed best suited to our purposes and abilities was true-life incidents in the lives of young people, preferably students at the college, and thrilling mission stories, all illustrating the power of God. We decided that these dramatized incidents should, like the parables, be brief, and should illustrate only one point; that they should concern such things as deliverance from death, unusual answers to prayer, the power of the gospel, or similar subjects. An announcement was made in chapel at the college calling for stories such as we needed. From those received we obtained some suitable material, but much of what we have used came from personal investigation and solicitation.
We did not intend that the broadcast itself would be an evangelistic agent. We wished, by means of the dramatized incidents, to turn the minds of the listeners toward God, and by means of our announcements to open the door to our correspondence course. No doctrinal points have been introduced.
The general pattern we decided upon was an introductory announcement about one minute long, giving the purpose of our broadcast; a song by the college quartet; a one-minute sermonet related to the theme of the day's story; the story itself; an interview with the person concerned in the incident; and the closing announcement advertising the Bible correspondence course. For the opening theme we chose the melody of the hymn, "God of Our Fathers," number 504 in the Church Hymnal. The college orchestra furnished the music for this.
There were naturally several obstacles to be overcome before we could put on an acceptable broadcast. The first of these was a lack of funds. We felt it advisable to broadcast from our own studios at the college. Here we have all the necessary technical equipment; in fact, we are better equipped than most small stations. Our studios are conveniently located, and the actual broadcast could be conducted under the same conditions as the rehearsal.
But doing this meant direct audio connections with the transmitting station. We learned that total charges for all services would amount to more than three hundred dollars. The ten students and the instructor of the class decided that they would each donate a dollar a week and try to raise the balance by individual solicitation. The latter proved unfruitful, although a number of persons, including conference officials, were approached. Later the class presented in chapel what it had planned as its first broadcast, and after the presentation the student body was invited to make small donations for the support of the project. The result was amazing. The offering amounted to more than two hundred dollars. Thus the first obstacle was removed.
The second obstacle involved personnel. A dramatized program presupposes trained ac tors. Of these we had none. But we really did not want actors, for we had no desire to compete with Hollywood in theatricals. We felt that the sincere representation of a character would be enough to accomplish our purposes. We therefore chose participants from the members of our own class as far as possible, but since there were no young women in the class, and naturally no children, we had to enlist the services of several young women students and a number of children in the Sligo Elementary school. Of course we chose those who could best interpret their lines. The deans in the college homes and the teachers in the elementary school have been most enthusiastic and cooperative throughout.
We were handicapped because' none of the members of the class had had training in dramatic script writing. The speech department offers a course in script writing, but a broad cast program requires a script from a skilled pen. As, a result, though several of the stories turned in by the students were in fairly good script form, revision by the instructor has always been necessary before they were suitable for broadcasting. Many of the scripts were written by the instructor himself, all of them based accurately on the stories told .him by the principles concerned.
To produce a drama requires sound effects as well as theme and background music. We have no organ in the studio, so it was necessary to record each individual theme and piece of bridge music by remote pickup from the chapel, and then play it back at the appropriate time in the broadcast. Many of the sound effects we have used are derived from standard materials we have made ourselves, such as rain and wind machines, a troop of marching feet, a miniature door, thunderball, squeaking hinges, etc. Others we obtained by using records purchased from a supply house.
Our first program was broadcast November 7, 1948. The story we told concerned the brother of one of the students in the class, and this student enacted the part of his brother. The whole sketch was based on the prayer life of the mother of the young man, and at the end of the sketch the mother was interviewed in the studio and confirmed that the life of her son was saved by a prayer-hearing God.
The response to the program was immediate and gratifying. Telephone calls came to the studio from unexpected quarters, and indicated to us that we had found a large audience be yond our own denominational circles. With each succeeding broadcast our audience increased, and favorable comment has come from a wide variety of listeners. We have now presented several programs and have heard no adverse criticism whatever, so we believe that the simple dramatizations we have used have not caused offense. On the other hand, everyone who has communicated with us has endorsed the program wholeheartedly.
In a signed article, the Washington Evening Star of December 17, gave more than two full columns to an unusually complimentary write- up of the program. The author of the article, Caspar Nannes, is a religious editor of the paper. For several weeks the Washington Post placed "Calling All Youth" at the top of its list of "high lights" for listening pleasure among locally produced programs.
Now, a question naturally arises: What practical value will such a program be to a young minister in a small Adventist parish? Admittedly, it would be difficult to create such a program with even a fairly large church group to assist; but the value of the project is not in the program itself. It is rather in the wide experience and the versatility the student has gained in its preparation. We do not expect him to attempt a broadcast of that particular type in his small parish. Rather, we have aimed at demonstrating to him the tremendous, unused possibilities of reaching the people with religious radio. By placing comparatively inexperienced persons before the microphone, we have shown that even members in a small church may be used for a variety of purposes on the air. We have also shown the potentialities of the church school in bringing our work to the attention of the community. All in all, by means of this project, as well as by class instruction in other phases of broadcasting, we believe we have accomplished the purposes of the radio evangelism class.