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On May 6, 1922, President Heber J. Grant began the first radio broadcast over KZN (later KSL), the radio station sponsored by the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. Pictured left to right are Nathan O. Fullmer, Anthony W. Ivins, George Albert Smith, two not identified, Augusta Winters Grant, Heber J. Grant, C. Clarence Neslen, and George J. Cannon.
by Bruce L. Christensen
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a broadcasting entity. Its involvement in radio and television parallels the rapid expansion of those technologies that began during the early 1900s. In 1921 the Latter-day Saints University in Salt Lake City, Utah, received the first U.S. broadcast license issued to an educational institution. Radio in America developed primarily as a commercial rather than an educational service, as did the Church's broadcasting activities. On May 6, 1922, radio station KZN went on the air in Salt Lake City, and the Church began a long and complex involvement in broadcast and programming innovation.
In 1925 the call letters were changed to KSL when the Church assumed majority ownership of the station and hired Earl J. Glade, one of broadcasting's early pioneers, to manage its operation (see KSL Radio).
KSL affiliated with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in 1929, which immediately began carrying broadcasts of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. These broadcasts continued until 1933, when KSL became a Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) affiliate station. In 1936 the Tabernacle Choir Broadcast program took its present format as "Music and the Spoken Word" with Richard L. Evans as host. This Sunday morning radio program originating from the Mormon Tabernacle on Temple Square continues today as the longest continuously broadcast network program in America. "Music and the Spoken Word" has been translated for radio distribution into several languages. The format and style of this radio program set the pattern for much of the Church's subsequent programming efforts.
Technical innovation designed to improve signal quality and increase geographic coverage enhanced the Church's broadcast facilities. By 1933 KSL-AM was a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Class 1-A clear-channel station transmitting at 50,000 watts, the maximum allowable power. During the 1940s and 1950s, FM radio and television stations were added, and the Church also acquired minority interest in two Idaho broadcast properties. FM radio, black-and-white and later color television, stereo sound, cable television, and satellite transmissions have become a major part of the Church's wide-ranging broadcast capabilities.
KSL-AM and its sister FM radio and television stations emerged as the equivalent of a graduate school in broadcast management, programming, engineering, journalism, and advertising. Many, like Arch L. Madsen, who had worked with Glade during KSL's early years, became leaders of international stature and reputation. Under Madsen's leadership in the late 1950s the regional intermountain broadcast activities of the Church were transformed into their present international scope.
In 1961 the Church expanded its international activities with the purchase of WNYW, call letters for five shortwave radio transmitters near Boston. Daily broadcasts to Europe and Latin America, most of them non-Church-related, were made in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German. Church broadcasts included programs on Church news, values, and culture. The Tabernacle Choir broadcast and sessions of General Conference were also programmed. In 1974, when the newer technologies of satellites, cable, and videotape were developed, the Church sold WNYW.
Bonneville International corporation was formed in 1964 as the holding company for the Church's broadcast properties. Bonneville acquired radio and television stations in Seattle, Washington, and additional radio facilities throughout the United States, giving it commercial licenses for seven FM, five AM, and two television stations in 1990.
Three more FCC noncommercial, educational licenses are held by the Church's educational institutions in Utah and Idaho. Brigham Young University operates KBYU-FM and TV. Ricks College operates KRIC-FM, primarily for student training. The production capacity of these stations also allows them to serve Church educational objectives that are unfeasible for commercial broadcast activities.
The Church also holds interests in satellite communications and cable television distribution systems. The first intercontinental satellite transmission between North America and Europe included a performance by the Tabernacle Choir.
Early commercial network affiliation with NBC and CBS led to a basic broadcast philosophy grounded in a belief that FCC licenses are held as a public trust and not as preaching tools. The Church has avoided an evangelistic style of radio and television broadcasting and has limited the religious content of its programming. It is felt that the value and contribution of these facilities would diminish if the stations were used exclusively for religious purposes.
Most of the Church's programming efforts in both radio and television have been keyed to creating a favorable image for the Church rather than presenting its doctrine and making converts. "Music and the Spoken Word," public service announcements, BYU basketball and football games, and an assortment of public affairs and cultural programs have dominated the Church's primary programming content.
The Church's semi-annual General Conference broadcasts are a significant exception to this rule. The first General Conference was broadcast by KSL in 1924. Since then the broadcast reach of General Conference has been expanded to cover much of the world. Through broadcast, cable, satellite, and videotape distribution, the conferences are translated into several languages and distributed to stations in many countries through Bonneville International productions.
During the 1970s the Church experimented with a more direct approach to broadcasting a doctrinal message through a prime-time special, "A Christmas Child." Since this broadcast, a number of Church-produced programs have focused on specific doctrinal messages. The production of programs that teach gospel principles directly to the audience has moved higher on the list of Church broadcast priorities.
Emery, Walter B. Broadcasting and Government: Responsibilities and Regulations, pp. 37-38. East Lansing, Mich., 1961.
Kahn, Frank J., ed. Documents of American Broadcasting, 3rd ed., pp. xvii, 72-73, 426-27. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1978.
Witherspoon, John, and Roselle Kovitz. "The History of Public Broadcasting," pp. 7, 81. Washington, D.C., 1987.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.1, Broadcasting
Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company
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