“WHAT are all of those for?” asked George Naish, pointing to a heap of 60-foot (18 m) logs at the armory in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The timber, he was told, had been used to build signal towers during World War I. “It occurred to me that we could use those logs to build radio towers,” Brother Naish later related, “and thus the idea for a theocratic radio station was born.” Just one year later
Roughly the same size as Europe, Canada was an ideal place to witness over the radio. “Thanks to our radio broadcasts, the truth reached many people whom we could not personally contact,” said Florence Johnson, who worked at the station in Saskatoon. “And since radio was then a novelty, people were eager to hear anything that was broadcast.” By 1926, the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called) were operating their own radio stations in four Canadian cities. *
What would you have heard had you tuned in to one of these broadcasts? Singers from the local congregation often performed musical numbers along with instrumentalists and even small orchestras. Of course, the brothers also delivered sermons and conducted Bible discussions. Amy Jones, who participated in the discussions, recalled, “While in the field ministry, I would introduce myself and the householder would sometimes say, ‘Oh, yes, I heard you on the radio.’”
Bible Students in Halifax, Nova Scotia, employed what was then an innovative radio format
Like the apostle Paul, the Bible Students received a mixed response to the message. (Acts 17:1-5) Some listeners liked the message. For example, when Hector Marshall heard the Bible Students mention Studies in the Scriptures on the radio, he ordered six volumes. “I thought the books would help me to teach Sunday school,” he later wrote. By the time he finished reading Volume I, however, Hector decided to leave his church. He became a zealous evangelizer, and until his death in 1998, he served Jehovah faithfully. In eastern Nova Scotia, the day after the talk “The Kingdom, the Hope of the World” was broadcast, Colonel J. A. MacDonald told a local brother: “The people of Cape Breton Island heard a message yesterday that was the best that was ever listened to in this part of the world.”
On the other hand, the clergy were angry. Some Catholics in Halifax threatened to blow up the station that hosted the Bible Students’ programs. Urged on by religious leaders, in 1928 the government abruptly announced that it would not renew broadcasting licenses for stations owned by the Bible Students. In response, brothers and sisters distributed Who Owns the Air?
Did this dampen the spirits of the small group of Jehovah’s servants in Canada? “At first, it certainly seemed like a great victory for the enemy,” admitted Isabel Wainwright. “But I knew that Jehovah could have prevented it had it suited his purpose. So it must have meant that we should adjust to another and more outstanding way to publish the good news of the Kingdom.” Instead of relying heavily on the radio in order to witness, the Bible Students in Canada began to focus on personal visits at the homes of people. In its time, however, the radio certainly played a mighty role in broadcasting ‘the best message ever heard.’
^ par. 4 To witness over the air, brothers in Canada also purchased time on commercial radio stations.