WHEATON, IIL--The last half century has wrought mind-bending changes in everything from medicine to basketball. The same can be said for the so-called "electronic church," with all its flaws and accomplishments. Today Christian television programming is ubiquitous, with several religious networks broadcasting news, features, current events programs, and evangelistic sermons. But until fifty years ago, there had never been a coast to coast television broadcast of a Christian evangelistic program in the United States.
The first such broadcast was of Percy and Ruth Crawford's Youth on the March program on October 9, 1949, from the Philadelphia area. Fifty years later on the World Wide Web, people can view this pioneering progarn again.
On October 9, 1999, the Archives of the Billy Graham Center (BGC) at Wheaton College will open on its Web site a new virtual exhibit about this first broadcast, thanks to the kind assistance of the Crawford family. The exhibit is called "As This is Our First Broadcast... " Percy and Ruth Crawford and the Birth of Televangelism. It can be found online at www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/crawford.htm
With a popular ministry focused on young people, the Crawfords were no media neophytes. Based in the Philadelphia area, they had hosted an evangelistic radio broadcast for eighteen years. The television program followed a format similar to the radio show's. Approximately two dozen stations from the ABC network carried the first Youth on the March program. Besides a testimony from a local weight lifter, the inaugural program, like those that followed, included several instrumental and vocal music selections led by Ruth Crawford. She was a talented composer and arranger who directed all the musical aspects of their work. The show concluded with a simple, direct sermon by Percy Crawford, followed by an invitation to the viewers to commit their lives to Christ.
A contemporary newspaper reviewer remarked, "The 'Youth on the March' program is the best thing that could have happened to TV." Users of the Web after October 9 will be able to judge for themselves the seed from which great changes grew.
The BGC Archives collects material on nondenominational North American Protestant efforts to spread the Christian Gospel. Its hundreds of collections include the records of mission agencies, evangelistic organizations and service associations; the private papers of missionaries and preachers; oral history interviews and the files of congresses and conferences. Percy Crawford, a 1929 graduate of Wheaton College, is one of many Wheaton alumni represented in Archives materials. Anyone may use the processed collections of the Archives.
The Billy Graham Center is located on the Wheaton College campus at 500 College Avenue in Wheaton, Illinois. For further information, call the reference archivist of the BGC Archives at 630/752-5910 or use the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web site at http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives>