For all we think of 20th century missionary work as tracting, tracting, and more tracting, the missionaries tried a number of innovations at different times and places: Organizing Primaries and Mutuals (YM/YW) to attract non-member youth and through them their parents; fielding basketball and other sports teams in local leagues; lecturing on Mormonism, or Utah, or the American West, with colored slides and movies; entering booths in state fairs and international expositions.
One tool, when a mission had the talent, was to produce regular live radio broadcasts, either as part of a local station’s regular religious programming, or by purchasing air time. The ability of such programs to attract regular listeners depended in large measure on the skills of writers and musicians. Then, besides whatever attention their message got from listeners, other missionaries – even ones who couldn’t sing or speak worth a darn – had another approach for tracting: Have you heard our program? Next Wednesday we’ll be featuring such-and-such singer. Tune in.
The Eastern States Mission was especially well stocked with talent, partly among missionaries but especially because so many Latter-day Saints made New York, Boston, and other cultural centers their headquarters for study or professional work. In 1931, the talent offered willingly to the missionaries included Margaret Romaine Browning (“Romaine” was her stage name; she was one of the Tout sisters from Ogden, several of whom built successful international careers; the Touts, whether in New York or London, could be counted on at any time to assist the missionaries) and Willy Reske, a German immigrant whose music we have seen several times in Keepa’s Advent series and who lived the rest of his life in New York City as a professional organist and composer.
Local radio broadcasts in this era were seldom if ever recorded. We’re dependant for our awareness of what they broadcast from brief notes in the Millennial Star or Liahona, and from the very occasional script that survives in some out-of-the-way collection. Here is one such script for the speeches preceding each of the musical numbers performed by Margaret Romaine Browning and Willy Reske broadcasting from a Pennsylvania radio station (WBAX) in 1931.
Radio Broadcast 14 June 1931, from Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Written by Elder Dee Glen Brown
(Piano begins playing softly)
No. 1 – Announcer:
Again we bring you greetings friends from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a surprise tonite we are favored with the presence of Miss Margaret Romaine, soprano, recently of the Metropolitan Opera house of New York City, with Mr. Willy Reske, composer, assisting at the piano. Both words and music are so harmoniously blended in this first selection of Miss Romaine’s that it is immensely deserving of its ever-expanding popularity. This is “HOMING” by Teresa Bel Riego.
No. 2 – Announcer:
Into the mysteries of tomorrow we cast our eager thoughts and eyes when life with its live experiences begins to fade. Though tears of doubt bedim our enfeebled souls, yet we experience a peculiar certainty that all is well and that this life is not the end. God has willed it so in His plan of eternal progression. There are no fading stars in His Kingdom. All are growing brighter through association with that divine intelligence. This earthly career is but another step in the ladder to higher realms. It is the spirit of progression; it is the fundamental of development; it is the very genius of existence. Progress! has been semaphored from the eternal beacon since the beginning of man. It is the wisdom of a wise creator that such shall exist beyond the grave. There are no fading stars in His realm, they are climbing ever upward, shining ever brighter.
(Sings: ‘THE STAR” by Rogers)
No. 3 – Announcer:
The next of Miss romaine’s numbers is a distinctive product of “Mormonism.” It discloses the personality of God and our existence with Him as spirit children before our birth in the flesh. This melodic old favorite is most expressive and beautiful. “O MY FATHER, thou that dwellest in that high and glorious place, when shall I regain thy presence, and again behold thy face? In thy holy habitation did my spirit once reside? In my first primeval childhood was I nurtured by thy side? For a wise and glorious purpose thou has placed me here on earth, and withheld the recollection of my former friends at [sic] birth. Yet ofttimes a secret something whispered: “You’re a stranger here,” and I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere. When I leave this frail existence, when I lay this mortal by, Father, Mother may I meet you in your royal courts on high? then at length, when I’ve completed all you sent me forth tod, with your mutual approbation let me come and dwell with you.” (Signs: “O MY FATHER”)
No. 4 – Announcer:
From the depths of despair our troubled hearts cry out when life with some of its disappointing realities stares us in the face; when sorrow and bereavement take captive our minds, leaving us with wounded feelings and anguished souls. It is the inevitable consequence of parting with loved ones and friends. Yet, there is One who stands high and above our finite minds and thinking. He views us with a fatherly, loving perspective and is ever-reading to “WIPE THE TEARS FROM EVERY EYE.”
No. 5 – Announcer:
The winter of 1847 found a band of exiles making their gruesome trek across the trackless wastes of Western North America. Unfriendly and savage Indians, together with storm and starvation diminished their numbers from day to day. Unmarked graves and blood-stained trails were the only remaining evidence of the journey. Yes, faithful and God-fearing was this little band which made that incident in American frontier history of which too little is known. At the end of each day’s perilous march the remaining ones huddled around a meagre fire and sang: “If we die before our journey’s through, Happy day! for all is well.” It was a little group of Mormon Pioneers, who in the very face of death, sang the encouraging words, “ COME, COME YE SAINTS.” (Sings: “COME, COME, YE SAINTS”)
No. 6 – Announcer:
Music is so wonderful. Nearly every normal person enjoys it. How well it expresses the beautiful, the good, and the true in life; for by this lofty expression of devotion our hearts are purified, our minds exalted, and our souls ennobled. thro’ this enduring medium the latter-day Saints have always distinguished themselves as praisers of the Most High. Mr. Reske who is with us tonight, is the composer of the music to these beautiful words: “THY CARE FOR ME.” (Sings: “THY CARE FOR ME”)
No. 7 – Announcer:
Reminiscence of sacred things is so pleasing and comforting. It is a refuge for the disturbed and troubled mind which challenges our better natures. It calls forth rich, pure thoughts and leaves the mind serene and sweet. As we leave you now, may there linger in your heart “One sweetly solemn thought.” (Sings: “ONE SWEETLY SOLEMN THOUGHT”)
And so ladies and gentlemen, we bring to a close another program brought to you by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, located at 27 West Market Street in Wilkes Barre. As a special feature tonight you have heard Miss Margaret Romaine and Willy Reske. Drop a card to us in care of Station WBAX and tell us how you enjoyed the program. We bid you all good night until next Sunday at 7 o’clock.