To best appreciate the longevity of the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast, consider a few everyday things that arrived after (in some cases, long after) the iconic weekly program’s 1929 debut:
• The helicopter was invented a decade after the maiden “Music and the Spoken Word” episode.
• Black and Decker offered its first cordless drill 20 years later.
• The World Wide Web made its own debut on the 60th anniversary year of the Church-sponsored program.
• Twitter became mainstream two decades after that in 2009.
But with each invention, innovation and trend, “Music and the Spoken Word” hasn’t missed a beat — or a week. Media history occurs every Sunday when the program once again breaks its own record as the world’s longest continuous broadcast.
On Sunday, July 15, “Music and the Spoken Word” will mark another milestone as it commences its 90th season, serendipitously, on the 89th anniversary of its July 15, 1929, birthdate.
So what’s the secret of success behind this venerable 30-minute program designed to spiritually uplift and inspire its global audience each week?
It’s all about consistently presenting songs and messages that transcend generations and technologies, said choir president Ron Jarrett. “It’s the music that reaches hearts,” he said.
Yes, media and technology have dramatically evolved over the past 89 years, added “Music and the Spoken Word” announcer Lloyd Newell. “But people remain hungry for light, inspiration, goodness and something positive.”
The original broadcast aired shortly before the devastating stock market crash of 1929. It quickly became trusted balm for the ailments of the day. But today’s challenges are just as real, said Newell. The weekly broadcast remains essential.
“I receive letters from many viewers, including people who are not members of the Church, who tell me it’s the bright spot of their week,” he said.
Viewers at Sunday’s “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast — whether sitting in the Conference Center or tuning in via radio, television or on the internet — will witness a program that’s grown a bit since its first airing.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s website captures that inauspicious moment:
“That summer day, a local radio crew ran a wire from their control room to an amplifier in the Tabernacle nearly a block away. The technicians put the station’s sole microphone on a ladder not only to capture the music of the Choir but also so an announcer could introduce each number. Nineteen-year-old Ted Kimball — son of the Tabernacle organist and the designated announcer — perched on the ladder for the duration of the program so that those listening could hear his words.”
The broadcast further shaped its legacy about a year later with the hiring of 24-year-old Richard L. Evans as its first regular program narrator. His voice would become synonymous with “Music and the Spoken Word,” as he delivered weekly words of comfort and guidance for the next 41 years. He never missed a broadcast during his tenure, even after being called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“Music and the Spoken Word” made its television debut in 1962. Today, viewers across the globe tune in via YouTube, Facebook and the choir’s website, mormontabernaclechoir.org.
Jarrett said the choir and technical teams have always utilized the latest technology to allow for the largest possible worldwide audience.
After 28 years of ongoing association with the broadcast, Newell said he never finds himself at a loss for words whenever he crafts a spoken message. He simply pays attention — reading the newspaper and interacting with everyday people navigating life challenges and opportunities.
“It’s a blessing and a wonderful privilege to be associated with this choir and the broadcast,” he said.