Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion & Popular Culture in America

Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion & Popular Culture in America

Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion & Popular Culture in America

Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion & Popular Culture in America

Synopsis

Blending cultural, religious, and media history, Tona Hangen offers a richly detailed glimpse into the world of religious radio. She uses recordings, sermons, fan mail, and other sources to tell the stories of the determined broadcasters and devoted listeners who, together, transformed American radio evangelism from an on-air novelty in the 1920s into a profitable and wide-reaching industry by the 1950s.

Hangen traces the careers of three of the most successful Protestant radio evangelists--Paul Rader, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Charles Fuller--and examines the strategies they used to bring their messages to listeners across the nation. Initially shut out of network radio and free airtime, both of which were available only to mainstream Protestant and Catholic groups, evangelical broadcasters gained access to the airwaves with paid-time programming. By the mid-twentieth century millions of Americans regularly tuned into evangelical programming, making it one of the medium's most distinctive and durable genres. The voluntary contributions of these listeners helped bankroll religious radio's remarkable growth.

Revealing the entwined development of evangelical religion and modern mass media, Hangen demonstrates that the history of one is incomplete without the history of the other; both are essential to understanding American culture in the twentieth century.

Excerpt

Imagine a wind-scoured farmhouse and beside it a small barn, huddled together under an ashen gray Montana sky. It is 21 January, the dead of winter, so cold that a widow woman will not venture out for anything but to milk her cows—and even then, not too early, not until long after daybreak. She is sixty-seven years old, farming alone, tending her herd with stiffening hands that have known hard times. Grown and now living far away with homes of their own, her children know she faces the farm's chores without hired help. Inside the barn, the air is a little warmer; the cows breathe by snorting clouds of vapor, which hang in the air. the woman sings and prays as she milks, listening to a radio set on a shelf among the pails and coils of baling wire. She sings a familiar gospel song, adding her voice to the rippling chords of a piano and a jubilant-sounding choir in sunny Long Beach, California, thousands of miles away. They cannot hear her, of course, yet she sings. Only the cows hear; the cows, and God.

No photographer captured this scene; no journalist or diarist recorded it. Besides the farmer herself, Mrs. Phoebe Huffman of Richey, Montana, no one witnessed the occasion. the fact that Mrs. Huffman chose to listen to Charles Fuller's Old Fashioned Revival Hour during her morning milking sessions might never have been known had she not penned a letter in early 1954 to the program's preacher. a Christian of “several years,” she appreciated being able to hear religious services at her own homestead—so much so that she folded into the letter a ten-dollar bill to help Reverend Fuller continue the broadcasts over the two local sta-

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