In 1922, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was one of the first religious organizations to enter the commercial radio broadcasting field – a technology that was still in its infancy. Shortly after going out over the air on the initial broadcast, the Watch Tower’s second president, Joseph F. Rutherford, gave one of the very first long distance radio sermons.
That first broadcast on April 16, 1922 (from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) went out to an estimated 50,000 people listening in several surrounding states.
Rutherford soon realized that the recent invention of long-distance radio transmission could be the very tool to use to spread his religious message to a broader audience. He quickly went shopping for property and radio equipment to set up his own radio station. With license in hand and the call letters WBBR-AM assigned to him by the government broadcasting agency, the first broadcast from the “Watchtower” radio station located in Staten Island, New York, was on February 24, 1924.
The “Bible Students” (the name that Rutherford’s followers were known by at that time) believed it “exceedingly interesting to note that the first time the public discourse ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’ was delivered from Los Angeles, California, on February 24, 1918. Just six years later to the day (February 24, 1924), the ‘Watchtower’ radio station put on its initial program.” They felt this accomplishment was clearly due to God’s hand being involved in the matter.
However, after only thirty-three (sometimes stormy and often confrontational) years of broadcasting, WBBR was sold to a commercial broadcasting company. The last program by Jehovah’s Witnesses from WBBR aired in April of 1957. The directors of the Watch Tower Corporation gave a number of reasons for getting out of the broadcasting field to Jehovah’s Witnesses – formerly known as the “Bible Students.” Witnesses were told that personal contact made possible by Jehovah’s Witnesses making house-to-house calls were far more effective than radio broadcasts to generate converts. Was this also “God’s hand in the matter?” Jehovah’s Witnesses were led to believe that it was – at least at that point in their history.
Now, in the early part of the 21st-century, Watch Tower has returned to the broadcasting industry in a big way – spending millions of dollars to advance their message through a technically different broadcasting medium: streaming video delivered worldwide via the Internet.
What happened to their belief that personal contact was a better avenue to make converts? Is this evidence of God’s hand in the matter to reach millions of people to promote the JW’s message? To listen to Jehovah’s Witnesses talk, it is. But a careful look at the historical record of WBBR, and to examine their present claims, is quite a “revelation.”
For an expanded history of WBBR and the Watch Tower’s history as “pioneers” in broadcast and multi-media methods to reach their members and generate new converts, go to our WBBR history page. There you can find additional text, video, and audio resources for your enlightenment.