The intent of this article is to provide a concise account of the history of the Reformed Witness Hour and a brief look at the present work, of a select committee to seek ways of increasing the effectiveness of the radio broadcasts.
“Our aim is that the Reformed Witness Hour serve as a propaganda agent for the Protestant Reformed Churches and a testimony to the truth of God’s Word as we confess it. We have a definite contribution to make to the church world. Why shouldn’t people learn to know about us and recognize us as a group of strong Reformed churches?” The preceding quote appeared in the first issue of the Reformed Witness News, January, 1945. However, the Reformed Witness Hour had its birth four years earlier. The following is a quote from the souvenir program of the 1000th broadcast of the Reformed Witness Hour; “the Reformed Witness Hour, formerly known as the Protestant Reformed Hour, is the fruition of an idea born in the minds of a group of young men during a discussion of the decisions of the Synod and Classis East of the Protestant Reformed Churches in regard to Radio work.” It was no surprise then that the Young Men’s Society of First Church in Grand Rapids sponsored the first four years of radio broadcasts. Later, in 1945, the consistory of First Church sponsored the program. We are thankful that these programs have been a faithful witness to God’s Covenant of Grace.
The first broadcast was over WLAV on October 12, 1941, featuring Reverend Herman Hoeksema. Rev. Hoeksema consistently maintained that God is the Lord; did not compromise the truth in order to satisfy the fancies of the radio audience; did witness to the Reformed conception of the Word of God. Indeed, through the generous labors of Rev. H. Hoeksema, the Radio Committee, and the Radio Choir, the Reformed Witness in its early years was a true testimony to the Word of God and His Covenant of Grace.
Rev. H. Hoeksema as the radio pastor spoke on many themes. The theme of the first radio broadcast was “God is God.” In 1944 he spoke on the theme “The Wonder of Grace.” He also spoke on advent and lenten themes which were later published into hardcover books. For several years many people identified the voice of Rev. H. Hoeksema with the Reformed Witness Hour broadcasts. During those several years that he was the main speaker, many people heard the faithful witness to the wonderful truth that God is God.
The early history of the Radio Committee was characterized by a steady, moderate growth in members and budget. In 1941 the Radio Committee consisted of three members and a yearly budget of $1200.00. In 1944, the yearly budget was $5,500.00. In 1945, the committee consisted of thirteen members who worked with a monthly budget of $1,100.00. The number of Radio Committee members has remained the same over the years. However, as the ability to broadcast on more stations has increased, so has the yearly budget increased. The committee was mandated in 1945 by the consistory of First Church to “maintain, direct, and advance the cause of the ministry of the Word of God by means of the radio, as this means is utilized by the Reformed Witness Hour.” By God’s faithfulness to us, His covenant children, and to His Covenant of Grace this mandate has been carried out for nearly forty years, involving almost 2,000 broadcasts. A note of interest is that our present Editor-in-Chief of the Standard Bearer was the main radio announcer for the broadcasts in the early years. He was at that time referred to as Mr. Hoeksema.
The Protestant Reformed Radio Choir was developed in the year 1941 at the request of the Radio Committee. Originally there were twelve members. In 1945 the membership increased to eighteen members. The Radio Choir supplied music for three out of four broadcasts and rendered several concerts each year. The original theme song was from Psalter 308. This was later changed to the present Psalter number 276. A note of recent interest is that almost a year ago another Radio Choir was formed to begin the task of recording suitable music for the radio broadcasts. Over the past few years the tapes of recorded music have become well used and worn-out, so that the need arose to produce a fresh quality to the musical aspect of the broadcasts. Even with this recent change, the radio broadcasts still begin, as in the early years, with the Radio Choir singing:
“Thou, O Lord, art God alone:
Everlasting is Thy Throne;
Through the ages men shall sing
Praise, to heaven’s eternal King.”
In the early 50’s the Radio Committee saw a sudden reduction in its membership and stations. During this time the recording equipment was moved into the basement of one of the committee members. Even during these difficult years the broadcasts continued to be faithfully presented. John M. Faber was president during 1953 when the committee was reorganized. The two stations maintained at this time were WFUR and CHLO. God preserved our ability to proclaim His Word over the air waves, and to Him we are thankful.
The 1960’s promised to be a time of increasing growth. Our covenant God enabled us to broadcast our radio programs overseas to many European countries by the means of Trans-World Radio, located at Monte Carlo, Monaco, in southeastern France. A quote fromGod’s Covenant Faithfulness, edited by Gertrude Hoeksema, sums up the work, “The Radio Committee has usually engaged stations in the areas of Protestant Reformed Churches, or in areas of home mission work. But in the early years of the 1960’s, the Reformed Witness Hour was broadcast in Europe by way of Trans-World Radio. The committee sent the tapes of the, Reformed Witness Hour to Monte Carlo in Monaco, where the program was beamed toward England, the Netherlands, and surrounding countries. Although this Trans-World broadcast proved too expensive for our small denomination to underwrite, the various branches of the denomination still have requests for our literature from people who became acquainted with us through our European broadcast.”
The 1970’s was a time of reorganization within the committee. Many of the people who became members of the committee are still members today. We also began to realize the importance of the means of the radio in our mission endeavors. Many small groups of people outside our denomination listen to our broadcasts. The mission committee of Synod has sponsored stations in areas where there appears to be interest, in order to proclaim God’s Word to His people. Sometimes this yields positive fruit. We are confident that the Reformed Witness Hour continues to be a strong Reformed witness in many areas throughout our nation.
The latter part of 1980 was a time of sorrow for the Radio Committee. Our chairman was Mr. Larry DeMeester. After a long struggle with cancer, our Lord took Larry into glory during the Christmas weeks. “For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:14).
The Reformed Witness Hour is being broadcast over fourteen stations within the United States. The yearly cost of this work is now $22,000.00 or more. This cost includes the buying of new tapes, the printing and mailing of every broadcast to 383 listeners, the payment to the ministers in our denomination for going on the air, and the expenses related to radio work. Many of our stations are funded by the Mission Board of Synod. First Church continues to assume the payment for WFUR and other radio stations. We have stations that broadcast our program in the states of Washington, California, Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Colorado, and Michigan. Sometime in May we will be celebrating our 2,000th broadcast, D.V. We have an appointed committee making preparations for this momentous event in our history.
We also have an appointed committee known as the “Select Committee” mentioned in the beginning of this article. The Select Committee is made up of two Radio Committee members, two ministers from our denomination, and two people not on the Radio Committee but interested in radio work. This committee is directly responsible to the Radio Committee. The purpose of this committee is to investigate all of the aspects of the radio broadcast and to determine their effectiveness. The Radio Committee is vitally concerned with the success of our programs. We need to know whether or not we are using the money that comes to us from our churches, Synod, and individuals in the best possible way for the cause of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Over $22,000.00 a year is a lot of money and we want to be sure we are getting all that we can for every dollar we spend. We also need to know who our listeners are so that we can determine who we are trying to reach with our program. We need to know whether or not the format of our program is effective in presenting the truth of God’s Word. It is for these reasons and others that the Select Committee has been working hard to determine the effectiveness of the Reformed Witness Hour. It is our sincere desire that the proposals which the Select Committee makes will increase the fruit of our labors. We are responsible before God and to the consistory of First Church to carry out the mandate given to the Radio Committee many years ago. We are confident that God will continue to use us to be a faithful witness to the truth of His Word.