Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

85th year of choir broadcast

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013

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On Sunday, Aug. 11, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir launched into its 85th year of broadcasting its weekly program of Music and the Spoken Word.

To commemorate the milestone, Mack Wilberg, the choir's music conductor, invited two former conductors of the choir, Jerold Ottley and Craig Jessop, to join him and associate conductor Ryan Murphy in conducting during the Aug. 11 broadcast.

Photo by Debra Gehris
Former Tabernacle Choir directors Jerold Ottley, second from left, and Craig Jessop joined Mack Wilberg, right, and Ryan Murphy, left, in conducting broadcast on Aug. 11.

"Music and the Spoken Word has endured as the world's longest continuously running network broadcast," said Ron Jarrett, president of the choir. "In the beginning, listeners strained to hear the program through the static of their crystal radio sets; now fans tune in through YouTube. Music and the Spoken Word has been a constant during a century of dramatic change."

Brother Ottley conducted the choir from 1974 to 1999 and Brother Jessop from 1999 to 2008. Brothers Ottley, Jessop and Wilberg are the only surviving Mormon Tabernacle Choir conductors. Collectively, they have served for 34 years — comprising nearly half of the choir's broadcast's 84 years.

During his tenure as choir conductor, Brother Ottley traveled internationally with the choir on more than 20 tours, to places like Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Under his direction, the choir also performed at the United States presidential inaugurations of Ronald Regan and George Bush.

Under the direction of Brother Jessop, the choir received the Special Recognition Award from the International Radio and Television Society Foundation and the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush. In 2004, the choir and the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

The program first aired on July 15, 1929, from the Salt Lake Tabernacle. On that summer day, a local radio crew ran a wire from their control room to an amplifier where the choir was singing — more than a block away. With the station's sole microphone suspended from the Tabernacle ceiling, 19-year-old Ted Kimball stood atop a ladder and announced each song. Son of the Tabernacle organist, he stayed perched in place for the duration of the entire program because the mike was "live."

Today, Music and the Spoken Word is produced by Bonneville Communications and is broadcast by more than 2,000 radio, television and cable stations worldwide. Each station donates the airtime, worth millions of dollars annually, as a public service. The 360 members of the choir donate their services each week, continuing a tradition of volunteerism that has lifted hearts for more than three-quarters of a century.