Early on in Graham's ministry, the evangelist recognized technology, media and communications as tools to be used in proclaiming a divine message as effectively as possible.
Ted Parks · March 2, 2018
Radio, television, film, satellite, internet — hardly a communication medium to emerge in the 20th century went unused by Billy Graham.
Those who knew the evangelist, who died Wednesday (Feb. 21) at age 99, say Graham’s sometimes daring innovations were guided by the simple motivation to remain faithful to a divine message and proclaim it in the most effective way possible.
Graham, when his ministry was still young, understood that Americans get their information from a multiplicity of sources,” said Frank Wright, former president of the Washington-based National Religious Broadcasters. The evangelist was “generally wise in recognizing that the way to have the greatest reach is to use every medium available rather than just focus in on one to the exclusion of others.”
In 1950, Graham launched the “Hour of Decision,” a national radio program he would subsequently appear on for more than half a century. Originating live from a crusade in Atlanta, the first show was introduced by musician and announcer Cliff Barrows, who worked with Graham on the program for decades.
Interviewed shortly before Graham’s New York crusade in June 2005, Barrows said Graham’s radio techniques changed with the times. In the early days, the program was live. Later, Barrows carried a recorder with him, capturing Graham’s voice in such remote places as the pyramids of Egypt and the Olympic stadium in Moscow. Between exotic locales, Barrows said, he would travel to Graham’s North Carolina mountain home to record the evangelist’s message.
While Graham began with radio, his long career would be marked by a shrewd willingness to venture into ever new forms of communication.
Experts trace the evangelist’s success in television to the phenomenal 1957 Madison Square Garden crusade, which lasted 16 weeks and drew millions in attendance.
Early in the 1957 New York crusade Graham decided to air the Saturday night sessions of the crusade on ABC television. Biographer William Martin said the first show alone generated more inquiries from the television audience than all the people who responded to the Graham message in person at Madison Square Garden during the first nine weeks of the crusade.