Monday, December 30, 2013

Why not a Lutheran Broadcasting Station?

In March of 1923, horribly offended by science lectures on the radio, Walter A. Maier wrote an editorial that was published in the Walther League Messenger “Why not a Lutheran Broadcasting Station?” [SOURCE] The Messenger was a monthly publication of the a Lutheran group, the Walther League Synodical conference based in Milwaukee, WI. Walter Maier had been it's editor since at least 1922.
"The other night we adjusted the head-piece of our radio set, found the sensitive spot on the crystal and broke into a lecture on the subject: “How Old is Man?” that made our ears tingle because of its open and unveiled contradiction to the Bible. When the lecture was over the question suggested itself: “How many of our people and other sincere Christians have just heard this insult to Biblical Christianity? “...the hope presented itself that at some point in the not distant future our Lutheran church might establish a broadcasting station that would send a one hundred percent Gospel message from coast to coast, yes, even to the ships that ply the oceans, and, with the continued improvement of radio, even to Europe."
Religious programs predate the act of licensing call letters. Indeed, the first religious program on KDKA-AM was broadcast less than two months after it was licensed. In January of  l921 KDKA did a remote broadcast from Calvary Episcopal Church with the Rev. Edwin Jan van Etten. Maier was well aware of this precedent and even referred to another in his article "...a catholic writer in 'Current Opinion' claims that his church has already won converts by radio."  In short, if radio was a tool for education, debate, recruitment and conversion, then the Lutherans needed one as well.

In August of 192 they broadcast portions of their convention. They launched a Lutheran radio program on KPO-AM in San Francisco. then in May of 1923 they began fund-raising. The new station, designated KFUO was funded by the Walther League,the Lutheran Layman’s League, and even seminary students. Thea 500 watt station began broadcasting from Concordia Seminary on December l4th, l924. It operated at 545.1 meter wavelength from the middle of the mid-west. 
Maier was not done. Now that KFUO was running he moved on to a new goal of notationally syndicated evangelism. He began by contacting NBC in early 1930. He learned that it was NBC's policy not to permit paid religious air time. Maierwent down the line and contacted CBS. They did accepted paid religious programing but the rates were very high. The cost would be $4,500 per half-hour... an annual cost of over 200k.   The Walther League collected $94,000 and signed the contract with CBS.  The Lutheran Hour premiered on Thursday, October 2, 1930 at 10:00 AM.  Despite good ratings, financial concerns disrupted their broadcasts from June, 1931 through 1934.The program returned in 1935 on the Mutual network and later also the Don Lee Network in California. Maier continued to speak on the program until his death in 1950.