Billy Graham Center Archives

"As this is our first broadcast..."
Clarence W. Jones' article "Get a Television Set" from Christian Life, August 1949

Article from the August 1949 issue of CHRISTIAN LIFE, pp. 9-11, 43-44.  Magazine available in the Billy Graham Center Library.  CLICK TO SEE ENLARGED PHOTO.

The August 1949 issue of the Evangelical magazine Christian Life included the article "Get a Television Set," by Christian broadcaster Clarence W. Jones. In it, Jones speculated on some of the ways TV could be used for evangelism. The article is reproduced here to help illustrate the period in which the Crawfords were preparing their first broadcast. The reproductions and full text transcript of the article appear in their entirety courtesy of Strang Communications Company, which holds the Christian Life copyright. To read the article, continue below. Click here to view the images which illustrated the article. To read the two sidebars which accompanied Jones' article, click here.

"Get a Television Set"

Is television bane or blessing? Before you jump to a conclusion read a Christian leader's view on this revolutionary invention.

A CHRISTIAN PHYSICIAN in a western city stoutly opposed television for his children. But one day he witnessed a television broadcast, and today he is one of the most avid members of the audience viewing television in his living room.

"If the taverns think television is so good, there must be something wrong about it. I'll not have it in my home," asserted a mother of three children. When she discovered her children were visiting neighbors' homes to see television, she changed her position. Today the television set in her home is the center of family life.

Everywhere in America the impact of television is being felt. Attendance at motion pictures has dropped off. Less time is being spent in serious reading at home. Radio listening is drastically curtailed in homes also possessing television. Purchases of new cars are being postponed until television sets are paid for.

It is obvious that any phenomenon making as important an impact as TV upon our families cannot be set aside lightly by Christians. It enters too deeply into the pattern of the way we do things, and this is vital to the church. The meteoric rise of television, its unusual and undeniable appeal, as well as its social and spiritual implications make TV something which the church must seriously and urgently consider while video is still in its formative stages. If evangelical Christianity misses the boat with TV as we so largely did with radio, it will be entirely our own fault, and an unforgivable lack of vision and courage.

It is a hopeful and healthy sign that several alert evangelical leaders are exploring and experimenting with the possibilities of TV, seeking to discover what prospects this new medium of reaching and influencing great masses of people offers the Church in its sacred mission of winning men to Christ. Charles E. Fuller, Dr. Walter Maier, Jack Wyrtzen, and Dr. William Ward Ayer, among others, have already televised their gospel programs, showing that there are discerning evangelicals who are ready to make full use of any means God gives to reach lost souls. Some pastors and other leaders view the TV set with downright fear and distrust, pointing to its easy facility for bringing the world's evils right into the privacy of the family circle. Others see this, too, but contend that we cannot close our eyes to the fact that television is here to stay, and that the Church must meet its challenge with spiritual realism. They say we must learn how to use TV as an instrument for good, both in the home receiver and in the television studio.

All this adds up to one question: "How can television be made a force for Christianity?"

First of all, we must plan to use television for its best purposes, in the home and in the studio. A definite family television code can be set up so that each member of the family knows when and for what programs to use the home TV set. The church, on the other hand, must plan definitely to get into television programming early with constructive broadcasts maintaining the highest professional standards.

This means that, eventually, every Christian home should have a television set, wherever possible. This also means that many agencies of the Church should get busy about TV programs now (tomorrow the time available will all be gone) using specialists trained for the job.

In its present state, television programming is self-admittedly crude even for its general audience, and often objectionable to the Christian family. But, at times, it is also brilliant and worthwhile, providing the family with educational and harmlessly entertaining features impossible or difficult to have otherwise. It is these better programs which we must teach our family to select.

How are we going to meet the "trash and temptations" of the world that television programs could bring into the Christian home? This is certainly a danger, but it can be met constructively, I believe, by the careful, sympathetic and alert parent and pastor.

Recognizing the fascination of the strange and the new, which is the "pull" of TV, we must encourage our young people to make voluntary selective and discerning use of the television set. They will have to learn that there are some things on television programs that are just not worth looking at. We can cut these out in the same way as we have learned to omit certain unhelpful radio programs from our listening habits, to keep our bookshelves free from shoddy cheapening literature, to eliminate certain amusement places because they do not fit our standards of Christian separation.

After all, it is a debated question just how much we can effectively "protect" our children by forever isolating them from the evil contacts of this present generation. We should certainly guard our young people as much as possible, but the "armor of God" and the "Sword of the Spirit" are given for their personal use in meeting the foe outside the home on their own. Our religious cellophane wrappings around children may tend to produce hothouse Christians who will be swept off their feet the moment they step out to meet the world on its own harsh terms.

In terms of television, will it not help and strengthen our youth in their ability to withstand the "world, the flesh and the devil" if parents intelligently and courageously discuss the dangerous pitfalls of sin to be avoided, and thus forewarn their offspring? It is better that a father and son or daughter work out some of these practical things before their television set at home, and pray about it there for victory, than to have the children meet the world's attractions in another home or a tavern with unsponsored groups. Parents have learned how to bring their young people through the dangers that first beset a "motor" age and a "radio" age. We must face the challenge of this "television" age with the same expectation of victory in Christ.

Take a look at the part which the Church as a whole can have in making television a force for Christianity.

If anything of major religious importance comes to pass, we must realize it will not be by accident or even invitation. Nor will it result from studied indifference or haphazard thinking on our part. We must plan to enter into this field to whatever extent the usefulness of the medium dictates. Radio and television programs designed "to serve the interests of the Protestant churches" have been inaugurated by the Protestant Radio Commission serving several large denominations. The Catholic Church is active in television, and evangelicals will have to step fast to produce their share of TV programs or be shut out in the same manner as in some network radio.

There is little doubt that the special requirements and high cost involved in television programming mean that we can best do this TV job in a united cooperative effort. Let it be borne constantly in mind that "better no TV programs than a poorly prepared one." Here is a new field for the services of Christian television experts!

Fundamentally, what are the appeals to the eye that bring people to their television sets so often?

(1) Quick-developing action. Seeing something happen right now! That is why sports have become the chief attraction on television programs.
(2) Immediacy. "Eye appeal" comes from "being there" at some unusual event of outstanding importance while it is going on, seeing items newsworthy or of historic interest such as a presidential inauguration or a speech by Winston Churchill.
(3) "Bigness." Some great attraction of music, drama, or civic moment providing glamour, romance or patriotism, such as Toscanini's symphony concerts; the banquet hall, etc.
(4) Intimacy. Something sentimental with an appeal that touches life and reaches the heart strings, like the Red Cross drives, or CARE for European sufferers.

Some of these approaches we would not or could not use, but others would readily lend themselves, with adaptation, to the cause of Christ. Just as radio preachers have come to realize that good gospel presentation on the air calls for a certain amount of what professional men call "showmanship" (because radio is what it is), so in our approach to television, spiritually-minded Christians will have to recognize the basic values of the educational and informational groundwork in Christian television programs.

Let us not be scared off from a sane, balanced outlook on these things by a few extremists. After all, aren't conservative churches doing something similar in decorations and programs for Christmas and Easter? And who has not attended a missionary convention, with blessing, where the missionaries themselves appeared in full costume spectacularly portraying their fields? Is this not the very finest display of properly combined lighting, color, speech and music to help bring out spiritual truth? The same elements go into the making of good radio and television programming. Let our Christians who know drama and art show us how to use 6ming, settings, lighting, sound and speech for better presentation of our religious programs in television. It is my firm belief that the Church has the consecrated talent, production experts, artists and musicians to do a splendid job in TV for the Lord if we try.

In the field of art, drama and music, for instance, the easiest to produce would be the animated cartoons of Bible episodes drawn by the Christian cartoonist or artist before the TV camera. Along the same line of "action pictures" quickly unfolded might be expert flannelgraph telecasts on scripture topics. Dramatic features portraying gospel themes could forcefully, though indirectly, present spiritual truths done well by trained Christians.

The paucity of good Christian drama on the air in either radio or television is no credit to our vision or courage in evangelical circles. Because it is difficult to make and keep drama spiritual, and thus, useable for gospel purposes, does not imply that it is impossible or should not be attempted! Religious drama for television and movies, in the final analysis, can only properly be done by Christian personnel. Platform presentations (called "variety shows" in radio parlance) combining music and narration offer excellent opportunities for Christian television.

Practically no change in program outline would be needed to make ready for television the challenging missionary productions put on in Carnegie Hall, New York City, by the Missionary Training Institute of Nyack, or the similar presentation of Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis. In Detroit, the ensemble of the "Voice of Christian Youth" creates unusual and appealing musical episodes well worth televising. The snappily uniformed military band of Chicagoland Youth for Christ would show up well in video.

One of the best presentations of this nature I've seen so far is "Vesper Hour" at Bob Jones University. A perfect example of excellent staging and lighting, this weekly feature presents an amazing array of consecrated college talent smoothly knit together into an hour's program with a definite spiritual appeal to the heart via both the ears and the eyes.

Radio makes a very real appeal to the younger generation (as any father or mother knows), and now it is television that bids enticingly for the attention of youth. Taking advantage of this natural attraction, the Church can capitalize on TV to reach this, vital and clamoring-for-a-thrill younger audience for Christ. Television studio parties for children can be arranged with even more success than they have been in radio by various evangelical groups who have had such success in this field.

We can use eye-catching magic to present the gospel. Games and stunts that build toward a spiritual point can be set up. Playlets and action participation in memory-verse tests, and discussions are the means of making the gospel "live" to young televiewers. We may have to be more patient and take more time to get our "point" over because of the necessity and desirability of the indirect approach. But such strategy (being "as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves") will assure our reaching and holding this important sector of the video audience just as it has in commercial radio and video.

In the field of science, let the Bible-believing scientists step up to the television camera and tell us how archaeology and astronomy bring modern evidence concerning the authenticity of God's Word. Let them come prepared with specimens of rock and with pictures and drawings to illustrate their talks, keeping the Bible-science talk and illustrations lively and moving.

Narrative-acting movie combinations of missionary adventure, based on the lives and exploits of great missionary heroes, could offer an appealing and satisfying approach to the millions of televiewers of the country. And, this time, the Church would be drawing upon material distinctly her own, with a message innately power-packed, as full of thrills as anything ever conceived by script writers. Certainly the life and ministry of William Carey, or of David Livingstone, or Hudson Taylor could be made as realistic and dramatic spiritually as any cowboy "westerner"!

Motion pictures could preserve outstanding newsworthy events of the evangelical church and its personages in a weekly religious newsreel. Edited professionally, such a film specialty could prove as effective for TV from our standpoint as it has for commercial agencies. Begun on a national basis by a central office set up for this purpose, the religious newsreel could be expanded to world-wide coverage by proper organization.

The religious newsreel for television would seem to open up another field for attractively interpreting current news events in the light of Bible history and prophecy. It could be handled in non-theological terms for the ordinary man in the street to comprehend and who more than he is the Church trying to reach?

Not to be confused with the short children's feature nor the scientific documentary movie, the religious topic film would be a full length quarter or half hour presentation especially prepared for video purposes. In the field of Christian photography, Dr. Irwin Moon has done a remarkable job in "The God of Creation" and others of like nature. However, while these fill the need for films of a sound documentary nature, there is also a need for Bible drama in the motion picture field. In the religious story or topic type of film several organizations are producing films with increasingly satisfactory results.

Whether the content and professional standards of a good deal of this work meet the approval or needs of many evangelical churches is another question. But the effort is commendable, and growing. Churches, missions and missionary organizations have found a wide acceptance for their own particular films portraying the history and development of individual works. Of these, a few have already been televised.

Some great special events among evangelical groups would be news worthy and of interest to a general TV audience. Such world gatherings as that of last summer in Beatenburg, Switzerland, would symbolize the extent of Protestant world missions and Youth for Christ. Mass meetings of national significance, such as Jack Wyrtzen's Madison Square Garden rallies in New York City, or Chicago's Easter Sunrise service at Soldier Field, could profitably be used on TV.

Local church groups and ministerial associations might make good use of the one minute TV "quickie" station break (either live or by film) for church announcements or city wide campaigns. Such brief spot televising could well point up one-time events as "Bible Week" or a convention of "The International CBMC" in town. Even such a generalized television announcement as "Go to Church Sunday" would be a regular reminder on Saturdays to many televiewers of their church privileges and responsibilities.

What Christians can do to make television a force for Christianity is not a closed issue. The medium is too new, and we have yet to gain sufficient experience in handling it both in the home and in the studio. But the fact remains, television is here to stay for good or bad. It is not presumption to challenge ourselves now with the belief that our present attitude toward TV will help decide for the future how good or bad television programs will be.

Right now, video is influencing millions of people in the United States and in other parts of the world.

Is the Christianity we profess and preach virile and alert enough to make those decisions, in the home and as a Church, that will take the spiritual question mark out of this rising potential, making television a mighty force for good and the gospel?

Our answer is one measuring rod of our spiritual vitality!

Two sidebars, which follow, appeared in Christian Life along with along with the "Get a Television Set" article.

"Five Years for Radio" by Larry Woltiers, from the Chicago Tribune

A few years back people used to say: "Radio is here to stay." Now, some have changed it to: "Radio is on the way out." Television, of course, is the reason. The argument over the future of radio is growing louder. One authority has asserted that in three years radio networks will be supplanted almost entirely by video.

Wayne Coy, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said the other evening: "Five years from tonight most Americans will be getting most of their broadcast information, education, and entertainment from television."

Sound broadcasting, Coy said, although much improved in technical quality because of the use of FM and much extended coverage, would be attracting less of the listeners' attention especially during the evening hours and attracting less of the advertiser's dollars.

There are now 64 television stations on the air in thirty-six metropolitan areas with three million sets in use. This, of course, leaves video lagging far behind radio.

There are hundreds of communities and their outlying sections without television and no early prospect of getting any. These areas, for a long time to come, will constitute an important element in maintaining a big audience for radio.

"TV and Our Kids" by Jack Mabley, from the Chicago Daily News

Nobody knows how television is going to affect the coming generation, but plenty of parents are worried.

The biggest current complaint is that television interferes with homework. But that's an obvious problem that can be worked out. What we don't know is how it is shaping the youngsters' minds.

A friend was watching a show called "Lams Gambol" last Sunday night, and he said it became so vulgar when Bobby Clark was imitating a woman that they took their little girl, 4, from the room.

Such cheapness is unusual, but this was no accident, because the show was on film.

My older girl is just a little over 2. 1 like to have her watch Kukla, Fran and Ollie, and Super Circus, and feel comfortable about Uncle Mistletoe and Howdy Doody.

But she also demands to watch a couple of queasy juvenile shows called Small Fry Club and Lucky Pup, both of which are patronizing, rather loud, and to my mind contribute nothing to the child's welfare, and not too much to her entertainment.

If any parents who happen to read this have ideas on how to adapt television to the children, or the children to television, their suggestions would be appreciated. Other parents need advice, and I know I'd like some.