By Mike Kinosian
As an example, even if the greatest authorities on the subject were to be asked, you probably wouldn’t get a straightforward consensus on which station began the wall-to-wall Christmas music programming strategy.
Bigger picture: Where was the actual birthplace of American radio and exactly when should we celebrate its birthday?
Considerably more clarity exists with this than the all-Christmas music example, in that, there’s a degree of confidence in proclaiming that 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the medium.
That, however, isn’t without its share of fine-print and semantics.
Of all places, Ocean Bluff – Brant Rock in Plymouth County Massachusetts is said to be the locale of the first AM radio transmission, but that came on Christmas Eve 1906. In addition to a bible passage reading, there was a violin rendition of “O Holy Night,” which could technically qualify as the first stab at all-Christmas music.
Just as 2020 is a presidential election year, so of course was 1920. On November 2nd that year, the first commercially-licensed station, Pittsburgh’s KDKA (still operating with those calls as an Entercom news/talker), transmitted presidential election results. Yet two months prior (8/31), Detroit’s 8MK (now, Entercom all-news WWJ) aired what is regarded as radio’s initial news program.
Quarrels aside, it gets your attention when a specific broadcast has sustained a 75-year history in the generally-accepted 100-year history of our medium.
Albeit that 501 (c)(3) Alliance for Christian Media’s “Day 1” – originally called “The Protestant Hour” – is on once-a-week for 30 minutes, it nonetheless hasn’t missed a beat each and every Sunday since April 1945. “When I started working on it 19 years ago, there were four denominations that actually provided the funding and producer who’d select their preachers for the year,” cites Alliance for Christian Media president/“Day 1” executive producer/host Reverend Peter Wallace. “It was stated in the first meeting when I came onboard in 2001 that we really needed to change the name of the program.”
For openers, it was never 60 minutes in duration and as Reverend Wallace reflects, it was further confusing to listeners because, “They didn’t know what we were ‘protesting.’ It just sounded like an old-fashioned show. We came up with the name ‘Day 1,’ which sounds good in the media environment. We are on several news/talk stations [including Cox Media Group Atlanta flagship WSB-AM] so it fit into that milieu. It refers to when the program generally airs – Sunday – the first day of the week. It’s the day people generally go to church and has an inspirational, hopeful ‘first day’ of the rest of your life feel to it.”
Leaders of the Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations sought to present messages about the bible on radio. They represented Emory University and Emory’s Candler School of Theology; Columbia Theological Seminary; and Agnes Scott College. All are church-based, denominationally-related institutions in Atlanta and Decatur, roughly six miles northeast of Atlanta. “In 1945, radio was still a relatively new medium, notes Reverend Wallace. “The program started live from the WSB-AM studios.”
Many outlets carried “The Protestant Hour” to fulfill a community service programming requirement, thus the number of affiliates ballooned to approximately 600. When Reverend Wallace joined, it was on about 130 stations and he points out, “We are back up to about 200. Stations carry [‘Day 1’] as a public service and they tell us it is very well-produced. In fact, one program director told me it was the best-sounding program on his whole station. It reaches a wide-range of folks across the spectrum of denominations in the Christian church. It isn’t one church or one preacher – it’s a different preacher every week so listeners get a sense of the diversity and breadth of the message we present.”
Particularly around Sunday morning’s breakfast table, “Day 1” is regarded as an “appointment-listening” program. “Our listeners are regular, salt-of-the-earth people who get a message of inspiration and hope for living a positive life, believing in God in this real world,” Reverend Wallace opines. “Many people listen as they get ready to go to church, while it’s the substitute church for those who are homebound. It gives them an opportunity to hear a positive message.”
Partisan of the medium
Having majored in journalism/advertising at Marshall University and possessing a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, exceptionally media savvy Reverend Wallace was formerly a senior copywriter/broadcast producer for an Atlanta ad agency that did considerable radio and video production. “When this job came open in 2001, I asked my pastor to give me some guidance,” he remarks. “I worked for [Larry Smith & Associates Advertising & Design] for 11 years and loved it, but I wanted to ‘do’ what I ‘believed’ into action. It has been a good combination of my experience and my love of radio.”
Ordained as an Episcopal priest six years ago, the past editorial director for Walk Through The Bible Ministries assists Sunday mornings at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Atlanta. “It keeps my connection in a local church and I enjoy that very much,” Reverend Wallace states. “[‘Day 1’] is available on a podcast and our website, but I love the fact that it’s on radio [especially since] radio reaches everywhere. Many people have ‘accidentally’ [discovered] us and told us they’ve found what preachers have said to be very helpful. [Some] people think radio is an ‘old’ medium, but I don’t believe that and statistics show otherwise. It’s a very strong medium and we love being in the heart of it.”
Essentially a half-hour worship service, “The Protestant Hour” featured choirs; a prayer; and a sermon, but in the 1990s, “They started interviewing the preacher-of-the-week,” recollects Reverend Wallace, who became the show’s host in 2005, succeeding Rick Dietrich. “The preacher reads the week’s scripture and we then hear their message for 10 – 15 minutes. There’s a follow-up interview of four or five minutes where we talk about the sermon and how we can live our lives in light of it. There is a ‘hard stop’ at 25 minutes, so the program is available as either 25 or 30 minutes.”
Studios for “Day 1” are on the campus of Atlanta’s Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church and as Reverend Wallace explains, “The vast majority of preachers come from all over the country to record here. They represent a lot more than those four original denominations. Many of them haven’t experienced standing in front of a microphone with no audience feedback, so it’s a new experience for most of them.”
Among those who’ve spoken on “The Protestant Hour” and “Day 1” are: former President Jimmy Carter; Fred Rogers; North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin; Mrs. Billy (Ruth Bell) Graham; pollster George Gallup; and author C.S. Lewis.
Show must go on
Actively engaged on social media and completely syndicated in-house, “Day 1” has an FTP download page for its affiliates. CDs are sent to many smaller outlets, but that distribution method is declining. “More and more stations are downloading,” divulges Reverend Wallace, creator/host of “What Is God Saying to You Today,?” a series of 26 video meditations. “Stations seem to like ‘Day 1’ and we have a lot of goodwill with them. There is a very loyal audience in Atlanta [where WSB-AM airs the show Sundays at 7:00 am]. Listeners are upset when it’s interrupted for a news bulletin or a big traffic problem. WSB-AM is the news/talk station that everyone turns to, so [we understand that] they have to do their job.”
Board meetings and executive committee conferences take up a huge chunk of Reverend Wallace’s week and the eight-time author/frequent HuffPost blogger candidly admits, “The job always seems to require more time than there is. I schedule preachers, set up recordings, and schedule interviews. We have an audio engineer/director of production, Donal Jones, who has been working on the program for over 30 years and is a consummate professional. We do some video features and Donal works on those for our website. Amy Davis is our chief financial officer/director of operations, and we have a [part-time] assistant who keeps in touch with the stations.”
Commemoration of the show’s Diamond Jubilee anniversary includes a summer series of events. Episcopal Church presiding bishop Michael Curry, who delivered a sermon at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, will be part of it, as will the dean of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology; Columbia Seminary’s president; and retired Lutheran minister Barbara Lundblad, who began at “The Protestant Hour” in the 1980s.
Archived audio clips will be woven into an historical overview of the 75-year-old Sunday broadcast, slated to air in approximately five months (August 16); a gala dinner will be held October 1.
While the 65-year-old Reverend Wallace takes occasional vacations, “Day 1” does not. “We have to get it out there because so many people are counting on it,” he maintains. “Everyone in the media who does a daily or weekly show knows that ‘the show must go on.’ I have a few more years until I retire so I see myself doing this for another three or four years; [however], this will definitely continue without me.”
Authentically the “son of a preacher man” (his father was a Methodist pastor), Huntington, West Virginia native Peter Wallace would record “radio shows” from his collection of 45s and LPs on the family’s Wollensak tape recorder. “I guess radio has been in my DNA,” he puts forth. “I never thought I’d become a radio guy, although I guess I kind of am now.”
Mike Kinosian is managing editor at TALKERS magazine. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.