Dr. Russell Conwell at the microphone
WOO Radio, Philadelphia
The John Wanamaker Store station

In the summer of 1923, an article about Dr. Russell Conwell, founder of Temple University, appeared in Wireless Age Magazine. We ran part of the story in our June 2013 newsletter and have received several requests to post the entire article. So here it is.


An interview with Dr. Russell H. Conwell
(Famous for His Lecture, “Acres of Diamonds,” Which He Has Given Twice Through WOO)

Article written by W. E. Johnson

“Although the young people are receiving great benefits from the forms of entertainment that are being broadcast today, they are not reaping the benefits that will come to those who will listen in a short time from now,” is the prophecy of Dr. Russell H. Conwell, philanthropist, clergyman, lecturer, and author of the famous lecture, “Acres of Diamonds.”

That immortal address, which has been delivered to visible audiences 6,102 times, has been broadcast twice from WOO, the Wanamaker Store in Philadelphia, and Dr. Conwell says that since then he has received invitations from stations in Boston, St. Louis and Chicago to broadcast his lecture.

“Just as I reached the invisible enormous army of listeners-in on that occasion,” says Dr. Conwell, “so are a number of other people reaching the young folks through the medium of broadcasting. The broadcasting station has become a great public institution. It probably reaches more people than the newspaper or magazine, and it can transmit only such matter as is good and proper for listeners-in, both young and old. If anything objectionable should be broadcast I am sure there would be a storm of protest that would eventually result in the closing of the offending station.

“Chiefly notable at this time is the great knowledge being derived by thousands of boys who are building their own sets, out of what seems to me to be nothing more than a batch of wires and some tubes. Think of the great mechanical and electrical knowledge they are absorbing, which would not have come to them, except through broadcasting. The many forms of entertainment sent out have been inducement for them to build sets and get in on the fun.

“Many stations are broadcasting bedtime stories every night, but as far as I know, I do not think any of them have started to send out Sunday School services. I do not think they should discontinue sending out the bedtime stories, because this is really of great beneficial value to the little tots, and even older children, but I think Bible stories would be just the things for children on Sunday.

“The stations here do not send out bedtime stories on Sunday evenings. I think this is a mistake. Give the children the stories every night.

“The broadcasting of such matter, however,” says Dr. Conwell, “should be at a time when there are no Sunday school classes in session. Many churches throughout the entire country broadcast church services and sermons at the same time that other churches in the same community are having services. I think the church broadcasts should be at a different time from the local services, so that as many people as possible could hear the sermons, personally, instead of using radio as a medium. Radio would then reach those who found it impossible to go to church, without keeping others away from their neighborhood churches.”

Dr. Conwell, whose hobby is “Humanity,” began life as a poor boy, and though he has made more than $10,000,000 lecturing throughout the country, he is known never to have more than one hundred dollars to his credit at any one time because he gives all his money for the education of young people. He is doing two men’s work because years ago a young soldier sacrificed his life for him.

He declares one of the greatest benefits of broadcasting for young people will soon come to pass. “There are plans in progress at this time,” he says, “to have about three hundred colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada participate in a radio movement that will be of individual benefit to each student. Professors who are leaders in their fields in this country, England, France, and other countries, will broadcast their lectures, and these will be received in the classrooms just as if the lecturer were present. It would be practically impossible for visiting professors, those who are considered authorities, to tour the entire country and reach all the colleges and universities that could be reached through broadcasting. Student listeners-in will receive lectures from noted professors even at big colleges such as Princeton, Yale and Harvard.

“Eventually such a system will probably be installed in the high schools, but I think it will be some time before it will ever be used in the grammar schools. Broadcasting, however, can never supplant the individual teachers in these schools. The personal contact is necessary.”

When Dr. Conwell spoke to the invisible audience through the microphone in the WOO studio, he says he experienced a new sensation.

“When I stood up before the microphone the first time, I knew something was lacking. I began to talk in my natural tone of voice. I soon began to feel, however, that I was missing parts of a lecture which I had delivered more than six thousand times. I was even making some slight mistakes. I knew that something had to be done, and quickly, too. I shut my eyes, visioned an enormous audience in front of me, and continued with my lecture without loss of memory or making any mistakes. It was indeed a new sensation.

“I reached an audience far greater than I could have reached otherwise. My family visiting in Massachusetts at the time heard the entire lecture, to say nothing of those in Porto Rico to the south, and Colorado to the west, who heard me.”
It is probable that Dr. Conwell will again deliver his famous lecture over the radio. Though he is more than eighty years old, he is head of the well-known Temple University of Philadelphia, which has over 10,000 students, and is also pastor of Grace Baptist Temple. From the church he receives a salary of $10,000, but it is known that after he pays his bills on the first of the month, the remainder of the salary goes for the education of young people. Temple University gets it, as it does the proceeds of his lectures.

He has no radio receiving set. He would like to have one, but he wants nothing but a good one, the kind that “costs two or three hundred dollars, and you know I can’t afford one like that,” he says. He is an ardent fan, however, because he has listened-in at homes of friends.

From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Article retyped by Broadcast Pioneers member Jackie Strauss
© 2013, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
All Rights Reserved

The e-mail address of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is pioneers@broadcastpioneers.com