RADIO AND TV PREACHING IN THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT
On February 5, 2018, as part of the 82nd Annual Freed-Hardeman University Bible Lectureship, I was privileged to speak at the “Friends of the Restoration” luncheon on “The Power of Radio and TV Preaching in the Restoration Movement.” Following is some of the anecdotal history I presented on that occasion.
In 1948, from the small Florida panhandle town of Crestview, W. B. Hughes preached the gospel on the radio. A few miles away, in the little village of Baker, FL, U. L. Allen, a 23 year old blind man, sat expectantly by the radio waiting to hear brother Hughes’ sermon. He hung on every word and absorbed the simple gospel that brother Hughes preached. On August 5, 1948, at great personal cost, U. L. Allen was baptized into Christ by Burl Hughes. U. L. was immediately expelled from his home by his father!
Seven months after his conversion to the undenominational way of the New Testament and with a Braille Bible as his only resource, U. L. preached his first sermon. He went on to serve as minister of churches in Blackmon, FL and Baker, FL, then devoted his life to evangelistic meetings. He established several congregations. His meeting work took him to fifteen states (including Hawaii), as well as to Canada and Africa. He preached on the radio and baptized many people, including, eventually, his father, mother, sister, and several other relatives.
I spent my early boyhood years in the Florida panhandle, heard W. B. Hughes in many gospel meetings, and was privileged to know U. L. Allen. He regularly attended area gospel meetings, was known by nearly all of the brethren, and when anyone would greet him by saying, “I am glad to see you, brother Allen,” he would respond with “I am glad to SEE you, too!” – always with a big smile on his face.
The last time I remember seeing U. L. was in Clarksville, TN in the late 1960s. He and Howard Blazer, Sr. came by the Madison St. church building to visit me one morning. It was Ladies’ Bible Class day, and I asked U. L. to teach the class. The ladies were all utterly captivated by him and his mastery of the Scriptures. How many souls will be in heaven because of the preaching of U. L. Allen – converted to Christ by radio preaching?!
My own experience in radio preaching began early – in the summer of 1957 at the Clements Street church in Paducah, KY – when I was 19 years old. I preached that summer at Clements Street while Frank Gould held his meetings – some nine or ten. It was a tremendous experience for a young preacher still in college.
The work included a live fifteen minute radio broadcast Monday through Friday. I would get to the church office early and begin working on my radio message for the day. It aired at noon. I knew exactly how many typewritten pages I needed for the thirteen to fourteen minutes I would be on the air.
I did not attempt to talk about the authorship of Deuteronomy, how many “Isaiahs” there were, or any of the various millennial theories! I stuck with the basics – things that I knew: faith, repentance, confession, baptism, the establishment of the church, the identity of the church, worship, daily Christian living, etc. I don’t know that I converted anyone that summer by my radio preaching, but the gospel was preached, the program that Clements Street had conducted for many years continued, and a young preacher grew in grace and knowledge and gained invaluable experience.
Frank Gould, an outstanding Bible student and a great gospel minister, preached at Clements Street for fourteen years, and I am sure that many were converted to the Lord and strengthened in the faith by his radio preaching. The power of radio preaching was felt throughout Western Kentucky, Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri, and Northwest Tennessee.
Down in Jasper, AL Gus Nichols for many years conducted two daily thirty minute radio programs – one at 8 a.m. and one at 12:15 p.m. The 8 o’clock program aired seven days a week. The 12:15 program aired six days a week. Think about it! Thirteen live thirty minute radio programs per week! Six and one-half hours of gospel preaching every week via radio! These programs were begun by the Sixth Avenue Church of Christ in Jasper in about 1946.
The 8 o’clock program would begin by featuring news from the community, including area gospel meetings, funerals of people in the community regardless of religious affiliation, and other similar items. These community announcements created interest in listening to the program. According to James Horton, brother Nichols’ assistant for many years, no civic or secular news was given out.
The phone would begin ringing at brother Nichols’ home by 7 o’clock (or earlier) each morning, with announcements being called in from listeners and the local funeral homes. The program was heard by hundreds, if not thousands, every day. Brother Nichols was known out in town, in the hospitals, and at the funeral homes – as much or more than anyone else in the city. Local citizens knew him by his impeccable reputation and his sterling character.
Many conversions were made as a result of these programs. Word would come by phone, letter, or personal visits of those who were baptized as a result of the program. The most notable conversion was that of William Woodson who grew up in Jasper. William heard brother Nichols on the radio and asked to come and talk with him (a response of many listeners over the years). After a few study sessions, William was baptized into Christ, and the rest, as they say, is history! William went on to become one of the great scholars in the church in the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, holding teaching positions and Bible Department Chairmanships at both Freed-Hardeman University and David Lipscomb College, chairing the Graduate Program at the latter.
Late one afternoon a man came by brother Nichols’ home to ask brother Nichols to preach his funeral. The man said he was going to commit suicide and said he had heard brother Nichols many times on the radio and that he was the one he wanted to speak over his body. Brother Nichols was taken aback by the man’s request but said to him, “Yes, I’ll preach your funeral, and since you will not be aware of my sermon, I will tell you the passage of scripture I will be using. It’s Luke, chapter 16, which tells about a man who ‘lifted up his eyes in HELL,’ for that is where you will be if you go through with your decision to kill yourself!” The man abruptly left. He had heard all that he wanted to hear.
Seventy years later the gospel continues to be preached daily on the radio in Jasper, Alabama!
(To Be Continued)
February 20, 2018