Ninety Years of Radio Ministry


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2012 is the ninetieth anniversary year of Shadyside Church's first weekly broadcast of worship services.  And so, we will supplement our usual topics of architecture and worship with this feature commemorating that initiative.  We are fortunate to have the record of a personal link back to the time of that pioneering effort in the new field of radio ministry.  The following account appears in the church's newsletter The Church Mouse  for August 2012.

 

Links from this Page

Church Mouse Article

 Dr Kerr's 1948 Sermon

WEDO Dr Holland Sermon Archive

Shadyside Presbyterian Church Worship Archive

 

Left Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr; Right, Rev. George Fulton & Mrs. Kathleen Fulton 

Reverend George Fulton’s father was what today we would call an “early adopter of technology.”  Broadcast radio was surely just emerging in 1922 when he gathered his family in Dormont around what Reverend Fulton later described as, “…one step beyond a crystal set.”  He was also a man of vision, explaining that they were hearing a historic event:  the first weekly broadcast of Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr’s Sunday afternoon vespers from Shadyside Presbyterian Church on KDKA Radio.

This weekly connection “through the ether” with the church for young George become more direct fourteen years later, when he met Dr. Kerr at worship.  Reverend Fulton’s continuing correspondence with Dr. Kerr grew out of his custom of taking public transportation (with two transfers) for weekly worship at Shadyside after services at his home church.  The radio broadcast blessed him the rest of his life, including through Washington & Jefferson College , Princeton Theological Seminary, a long and faithful pastorate in Altoona and in Westmoreland County and after retirement – when he and his wife, Kathleen, became integral to Shadyside’s congregation.

Mrs. Fulton says she was not surprised when her husband insisted on listening to two radio re-broadcasts of Shadyside worship, even when they attended services in person.  Reverend Fulton believed his call to ministry came through the church and he corresponded with all of its pastors, including Dr. Howard Scharfe and Dr. Robert Holland.  He saved sermon texts and recordings until his passing in 2001.

Reverend Fulton’s gratitude to the Lord was expressed in two remarkable gifts to Shadyside Church.  His father arranged to record a 1948 sermon delivered in Mt.Lebanon Methodist Church by Dr. Kerr who was then retired.  The transcription was made on twelve 78 RPM lacquer disks, which Reverend Fulton carefully guarded as the only known recording of Dr. Kerr’s voice.  Mrs. Fulton, who now lives in Newville, PA, kindly arranged for Steve Zelenko, the church’s broadcast engineer, to make a digital copy of this audio treasure.  A former Shadyside deacon, she still worships with us (one week late) via our recorded services.

The second remarkable gift brings Reverend Fulton’s story with the Shadyside radio broadcast full circle and extends it into the future.  A gracious bequest from his estate supports our radio ministry.  As his preserved letters indicate, the KDKA relationship was sometimes rocky and Shadyside was heard on numerous stations.  His gift helped return our program, now known as “Sunday at Shadyside,” to KDKA with its night-time signal reaching many Eastern Seaboard states.

Dr. Kerr’s 1948 sermon may be heard on the church's  website at this link.  We all can be grateful for the faithfulness and stewardship of the Fulton family when we hear the broadcast on KDKA AM 1020, Sundays at 11:00 PM.

 

Worship Bulletin from service in which Dr. Kerr's sermon was delivered.

There were unusual circumstances around  Dr. Kerr preaching at Mt Lebanon Methodist on June 20,1948.  He was the guest preacher that Sunday as the Methodist General Conference was meeting in New York. The church's minister, Dr. Lloyd Wicke, was in attendance at the Conference.  The Methodist General Conference is much like the Presbyterian General Assembly, except that they have the good sense to meet only every four years.  It is when they elect bishops.  This was the first worship service at Mt. Lebanon Methodist since Dr. Wicke had been elected to that office earlier in the week.
 
This was likely a blow to the congregation (although it may not have been a complete surprise), as Dr. Wicke was well liked and had served just five years with them.  Some of the remarks (including some by Dr. Kerr) recorded in other parts of the service were clearly meant to comfort the church.  One speaker assured them that the Methodist District Superintendent (along with their new bishop - Dr. Wicke) would appoint an excellent replacement.  They did:  Dr. Ralph Ward - who was also very well liked.  And, in 1960 history repeated itself, Dr Ward was elected bishop.

 

Newspaper accounts place the first broadcast on October 15, 1922.  Listings for Westinghouse Radio Programs, like the one above, began to include the afternoon vespers service during October 1922.  A number of churches participated in this new broadcast technology.  Shadyside soon took a leadership role, as seen in the articles below that speak of broadcasts to the the Poles (starting with a Christmas evening program in 1922).  Beginning in 1924, in addition to programs in the AM radio band, the church's services were regularly carried on short wave, which is more easily received at nearly any point on the globe.  

Left:  Pittsburgh Press, December 21, 1929; Right: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 21, 1931

The church began advertising its services, including the Sunday Vespers broadcast

Clippings from Pittsburgh Press, Left: October 30, 1941 Right: November 8, 1942

The article above, left, shows how Shadyside's first Christmas broadcast was used for a personal, humanitarian message. The article on the right notes the anniversary of the broadcast on KDKA and attendant celebration.  Ironically, shortly after this, Rev. George Fulton's letters point out that the church's relationship with the station became difficult.  The worship broadcast was often "bumped" and eventually was not carried at all.  Over the years, various stations carried Shadyside Church's services, including WEDO, WKJF and KQV.  By the mid-seventies, the KDKA relationship was smooth enough that the church and station jointly published a special issue of the Shadyside Matters newsletter.  As mentioned in the article, WEDO 810 was also broadcasting the service with Dr. Robert Holland's sermons.  The station continues to rebroadcast some of those sermons, and maintains an archive of the audio files on one of their WEBSITE PAGES. In the article below, KDKA noted that it had ceased charging a fee the church for carrying the service.  This arrangement did not persist, which is one of the reasons that Rev. Fulton's generous bequest to the radio ministry has been so welcome.

Excerpt from 1975 publication commemorating radio ministry 

Radio is not the only electronic medium by which Shadyside has connected with worshipers who cannot attend in person.  Cassette tapes & CDs have been important means of outreach.  For the last decade, or so, the church has posted sermon recordings and transcripts, as well as the other worship elements and bulletins on its website archive page HERE.  Little of this could have been foreseen by Dr. Kerr, a broadcasting pioneer, or George Fulton's father, a visionary adopter of technology.  No doubt, men of their spirit would be pleased by the multiplication of ways to communicate the Gospel.

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