Everyone tensed as the giant sweep hand on the studio wall clock crept toward air time. Informal chatter trailed off into jittery quiet. The red light blinked on, boldly announcing "On The Air." Rev. Clyde Gault, intense young pastor of the Beacon Gospel Tabernacle in my upstate New York hometown, sped through his welcome and quickly announced the male quartet, which cued themselves into musical gear off mike with a pitch pipe since no pianist was available.
Stepping in close, Hans, Art, Frank and Paul broke into a rousing gospel song, blended by practice and dogged determination. Paul, who sang in that enthusiastic laymen's foursome, was also my father.
Gault preached with rapid-fire delivery, urging his unseen audience to heed the claims of Christ, generously lacing his fervent message with Scripture. Gault's jacket slowly dampened as perspiration soaked his best and only Sunday suit. The quartet cued themselves again, edged in for a final song, and stepped back from the mike, fading down while a closing announcement wrapped things up.
Quickly it was over. The red light winked off, Gault relaxed, and everyone breathed easier. It wasn't very professional, but it was obviously sincere. Farewells were said, and we left for our various Sunday breakfasts and church services. It had all happened before most Christians were stirring and long before most of the world was even awake.
My life's most memorable moment came a few years later when I personally received Christ in a nearby church, but the brief broadcast was filed away for important reference.
For several Sunday mornings, at Dad's invitation, we had driven the 14 miles from Baldwinsville to the downtown Syracuse radio studios of WSYR, he to sing and I to watch. I waited in the lobby, looking through the slanted, double-paned glass separating curious visitors from gifted performers.
That morning, Dad said, "You can come inside, but don't you dare laugh, cough, sneeze, talk or shuffle your feet." Although I had no intention of ever making any of the forbidden sounds, a sudden fear gripped me that all of them would somehow happen at once. But if Dad would trust me, I would risk it. We walked into the studio where programs really happened.
Thankfully, none of those distractions occurred while I sat alone on the risers at the far side of the studio watching the pastor preach, the quartet sing, and the cool-headed engineer brood over his many intriguing gadgets in the tiny control room.
The actual broadcast was brief. Its impact, although indistinct at the time, was permanent. I had witnessed a live radio broadcast. I had observed five early risers who loved their Savior more than sleep. More personally, it was a heady encounter with Dad's living testimony, a vital Christianity without veneer, a Christianity willing to rise early, to use precious gas during the rationing war years so he could serve the Lord and reach the lost.
During that indelible Lord's Day broadcast, it had dawned on my impressionable young mind that the miracle of radio had sped the essence of their devotion to an unseen and unnumbered central New York audience. My vision for a radio ministry began that morning when I was ten years old.
An interim boost between that first impression and its later implementation came from radio ministries at Northeastern Bible College when live Morning Meditations and Sunday evening broadcasts originated from the school, where I was studying for the ministry.
During my five-year pastorate following graduation, Rev. Paul Anderson returned from an evangelistic crusade in Costa Rica and asked my help to fulfill a promise he had made to begin a follow-up radio ministry. We produced broadcasts which went into Panama and the British West Indies as well as Costa Rica
In 1961, I left my pastorate to establish Dedication Evangelism, declaring in my resignation message that I would be "dividing my time betweenpresenting the Lordship of Christ in local churches and gospel broadcasting which can reach millions in minutes." However, it was not until 1964 that the dream of reaching "millions in minutes" inched toward reality.
While conducting evangelistic meetings in a small Pennsylvania town, the host pastor asked me to speak for two weeks on a free daily program shared by the local ministerium and aired on the town's single commercial AM station. Every listener could hear only that station because of the town's relative isolation and the towering hills.
I assumed that Christians would seize this fantastic evangelistic tool which could effectively reach such a captive local audience. The pastor had no broadcast enthusiasm, but at my urging he inquired about the station's rates. Not even the super bargain of 50 cents a minute changed his mind. I suspect that in his boyhood his father had never taken him to an early morning live radio broadcast.
Several months later, my personal negotiations with the station were finalized. On Sunday morning, April 12, 1964, the first broadcast of The Word And The World, then a half-hour program, aired over WFRM in Coudersport, PA. The 30 minutes cost $12.60 a stupendous bargain at less than fifty cents a minute. It began at 7:30 AM, about the same time that the six of us had watched the second hand sweep toward air time 20 years earlier.
Or were there seven in the studio that early Sunday morning in 1944? Jesus reminded His followers that where two or three gather in His Name, He would be there. Six of us had met in Jesus' name in the context of early morning live radio evangelism to fulfill His command to "Go into all the world."
By faith, godly men have always seen and obeyed "Him who is invisible," as Hebrews 11:27 states. I saw only those who saw Him. However, through them, God was lighting a fire in my heart that would still burn long after the igniting spark had flickered out.