Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Question: Televising General Conference

Question: Televising General Conference

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 03, 2012

The Church has generally been an early-adopter of new technology, whether that meant Brigham Young sending the first message once the overland telegraph had reached Salt Lake City, using commercial radio to broadcast performances of the Choir, or mastering some aspects of the Internet.

So, how early do you think we adopted television technology? When was the first televised General Conference? How far was the reach of that first broadcast? Make some guesses this morning, and I’ll post again later in the day with an answer. (And yeah, you could Google … but should you always trust what you find on the Internet, no matter how many people repeat a claim?)



  1. How’s this for overkill?

    -Some History of the Church using Technology:

    1897: First use of audio-visual technology, wax cylinder recording of Wilford Woodruff.
    1922: Church purchased first radio station (KZN, precursor of KSL); first radio broadcast by Heber J. Grant.
    1925: First radio broadcast of General Conference.
    1929: First radio broadcast of Tabernacle Choir.
    1936: Church received license to operate its own shortwave radio station and made first broadcast of General Conference on international shortwave radio to Europe. (See article, IE, May 1936, pp. 270-73)

    1948: First closed-circuit television broadcast of Genereal Conference to other buildings on Temple Square.

    1949: First televised public broadcast of General Conference.

    1952: First closed-circuit direct-wire broadcast of general priesthood sessions of General Conference.

    1962: First satellite broadcast of Tabernacle Choir, beamed to Europe from Mount Rushmore.

    1962: General Conference broadcast in English to Europe and Africa and in Spanish to Latin America.

    1973 Church puts out the first commercial recording of conference on a set of cassettes.

    1980: First satellite broadcast of General Conference.

    1996: Satellite system changed from analog to digital.

    1997: General Conference broadcast with live audio in multiple languages over the Internet.

    2001: First published edition of General Conference put out on VHS and DVD (April 2001).

    Comment by andrew h — August 3, 2012 @ 9:01 am

  2. And no, I did not use Google to get the information I posted above :-)

    Comment by andrew h — August 3, 2012 @ 9:02 am

  3. Without reading other answers, I’d guess local broadcasts in the 1950s. I feel like I’ve seen video of Harold B Lee?

    I’m a young’un, so I could be absurdly off base.

    Comment by HokieKate — August 3, 2012 @ 9:16 am

  4. Does any know how far back recordings of General Conference go? And if these recordings exist and are easily accessible?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — August 3, 2012 @ 9:47 am

  5. Gary, I know the Church History Library has sound recordings of isolated talks going back to the 1930s, publicly available (they may not all have been digitized yet, and I think that you have to request a digitized version before you can hear it — I don’t think they ever just hand a vinyl record, or anything even more fragile — to a researcher to use!) But as far as recordings of full conferences, I have no idea. I’ll see if I can find out.

    HokieKate, anything before our own experience seems waaaay back there, doesn’t it? You’re close. I’ll post the answer as soon as I finish this comment.

    andrewh, you show-off, you!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2012 @ 9:59 am

  6. Gary,

    The Church is in the process of putting mp3s and video of all of the Conference sessions back to 1971 on its website. Recordings back into the 50s are in the archives but I don’t know how accessible they are. Many would be on formats of video tape that are not user friendly to the general public. Hopefully the Church will digitize all of them too

    Comment by andrew h — August 3, 2012 @ 10:02 am

  7. Were there ever movie reels of Conference? “LDS Leaders Past and President” (1948) is a very cool movie. It’s mostly a few decades of silent footage of General Authorities walking together past the Salt Lake Temple with a narrator identifying them. It adds a lot to see James Talmage’s animated eyes and the twinkle in Joseph F. Smith’s. And George Albert Smith’s eyes, oh my! Very striking when he’s slowing turning his head for the camera. A little motion adds quite a dimension to the faces familiar from only photos. It was retitled for a more recent church history DVD as “LDS Leaders from the Past” and the organ prelude was cut out.

    Comment by John Mansfield — August 3, 2012 @ 10:23 am

  8. John, I see in the CHL catalog the availability of video recordings back to at least October 1962 (I don’t know whether it’s a complete series — I’d have to go through the finding aid to know). Otherwise, I don’t know any more than what is in my earlier comment, or what andrewh reports.

    I love what you say about the difference it makes to see moving as contrasted to still images. It would be wonderful to have a “movie reel” made up of, say, testimonies or other talk highlights from as many Church leaders as possible, clips that would preserve a sense of these leaders as living human beings.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2012 @ 10:46 am

  9. I would love to watch or listen to historical clips of past leaders.

    I hear reports of spell-binding preachers from the past–e.g. B.H. Roberts saying “Lazurus, Come forth!” and the entire congregation rises involuntarily to its feet–and I wonder at the cause.

    Is it due to:
    a) Seeing the past through rose-tinted glasses.
    b) Better speakers due to street-corner preaching and constant practice before hostile audiences.
    c) Better speakers because the emphasis was on extemporaneous verbal delivery–rather than pre-written material destined to be parsed phrase by phrase in the Ensign
    d) Better listeners with longer attention spans and better imagination, who were forced to develop the ability to see a mental picture based on words only.

    I don’t know. I suspect the correct answer is “all the above.”

    Comment by The Other Clark — August 3, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

  10. I suspect you’re right with the “all the above,” Clark — and I’d add that I suspect such occurrences were really rare. Somebody in our generation might identify and list a dozen and that sounds like a lot, but spread out over how many years?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  11. On your timeline, I see that you listed the first streamed broadcast as 1997. It doesn’t make a huge difference to anything, but actually, I led a small team that streamed the first General Conference audio & video over the Internet in April 2000 — for the first time. Hope that helps!

    Comment by Carolyn Goates — September 26, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

  12. Thanks, Carolyn. Andrew’s 1997 date should refer, I think, to the first Internet posting of the text of the current General Conference, rather than to a live broadcast.

    And, by the way, nice thing you started. :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 26, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

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