The June 10th fire that destroyed the Chauncey Goode auditorium and Phillips Chapel on the former Highland Park Baptist Church campus brought back many radio memories.
The daily radio broadcast “Gospel Dynamite” was started by Dr. Lee Roberson in 1942. One long time member told me Dr. Roberson used Phillips Chapel in the beginning. When the Chauncey Goode auditorium was completed in 1947 Dr. Roberson moved the program to that auditorium where it originated every day until the early 80s.
A WDOD publication printed in the late 40s pictured Dr. Roberson and the times Gospel Dynamite was heard. Station owners decided to change their program line-up in the mid 50s and the daily broadcast moved to WAPO where it remained until 1966 and then returned to WDOD. When Tennessee Temple signed on WDYN, Gospel Dynamite re-located again. Although a slightly different format, Gospel Dynamite remains on the air today on WDYN and WDYN.com.
When I started at WAPO in 1962, Gospel Dynamite was going strong. Radio ratings show the daily program at 8:30 a.m.
was next to Luther Masingill on WDEF.
WAPO sent an engineer every morning to handle the broadcast from the main auditorium. I remember going with engineer Erwin O’Conner to observe. There was a small mixer with several microphones. Dr. Roberson sat at a table with a mic and notes for the broadcast. The broadcast engineer sat off to the side.
The studio would introduce the program “live from the Highland Park Baptist Church” and the organist would begin with the hymn, “Power in the Blood.” Dr. Roberson or the designated speaker would open by reading the scripture verse Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
What was so unusual about the broadcast were live singers, a live organist and a special time of prayer. Dr. Roberson would encourage listeners to call in their prayer requests and at 8:45 a.m. someone would read the requests, usually Dr. J.R. Faulkner the associate pastor, and then pray. Calls came from all over southeast Tennessee, North Georgia and Alabama.
Chattanooga News Free Press writer J.B. Collins wrote in his book on Highland Park Baptist Church that prayer time averaged 60 to 90 calls per day. Mr. Collins wrote among the featured singers were Mrs. Elgin Smith and wheel chair singer Georgia Webb Gentry. Mr. Collins said he attended several of those broadcasts in preparation for his book, “Get a Glimpse of the World’s Largest Church.” When Mr. Collins' book was released in the mid 70s, he wrote there had been nearly 13,000 radio broadcasts since Gospel Dynamite began in 1942, and most of them were from the main auditorium.
The broadcast served as a way to inform members and friends of sicknesses and deaths in the church. The speaker would also announce upcoming events at Highland Park Baptist Church and Tennessee Temple University.
As a youngster starting out I was so impressed with how smooth Dr. Roberson was. Although others assisted with the broadcast, he was the producer and director and made it happen. Each singer would begin on his introduction. After prayer time the pastor would give a short devotion. I heard many of the radio programs and can’t ever remember a mistake. It was all live from Chauncey Goode.
Fast forward to 1967 when Gospel Dynamite aired on WDOD. I was working at the studio filling in for the morning announcer, who was sick. My last record was by Buck Owens and it ran over past 8:30 a.m. I introduced Gospel Dynamite. After the program, the phone rang. It was Dr. Roberson. He said, "Who is speaking," I responded, "Earl Freudenberg." He said, “What time is it?” I told him. Dr. Roberson said, “Do you know what time you put me on the air?” I responded, "About 8:33 a.m." He said, “Young man our program starts at 8:30 a.m., not 8:29 a.m. or 8:31 a.m., but 8:30 a.m. Does this conversation need to go any further?” NO SIR. Dr. Roberson said, “God Bless you, young man.” He was nice but firm. In the future when I worked Gospel Dynamite it was always on time.
During the summer, Kids going to Camp Joy would fill the church auditorium on Monday and Saturday. The broadcast went on as usual. The Monday program was exciting, but the children sang and said Bible verses on Saturday’s program. It was obvious Dr. Roberson was proud of what was learned at a week of Camp Joy. This was all live from Chauncey Goode on the radio.
I’m told that Highland Park Baptist was the yardstick by which other ministries pattered their radio programs. Wayne Abercrombie was the engineer who signed on WRCB TV on May 6, 1956. The studio was a short distance from the church. Mr. Abercrombie said the station tried to interest Dr. Roberson in TV “but he was a radio man.” Mr. Abercrombie said Channel 3’s first broadcast was Dr. Roberson and a small church group live in the McCallie Avenue studio.
Gospel Dynamite has seen many changes. It was moved from the church auditorium to the WDYN radio studio. A few years ago it was decided to feature a different speaker each day of the week. The program still carries the name “Gospel Dynamite.”
Gospel Dynamite is one of the oldest continuous daily radio programs in the United States. Although a different format, the Gospel message is still presented on each program over WDYN.
While the fire destroyed two historic buildings in Chattanooga used by the former Highland Park Baptist Church, there are still hundreds of memories. Mine include the live radio broadcasts; many of them I witnessed.