Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 13—Champions of Freedom of Speech and of Worship
PREACHING Jehovah’s kingdom message through hundreds of broadcasting stations in North and South America, Europe, Africa and Australia flourished during the decade beginning with 1927. Very effectively used first were the specially enlarged NBC commercial network for the international convention at Toronto, Ontario, in 1927 and, in 1928, the much larger first special Watchtower network for that year’s international convention at Detroit, Michigan. So the Society decided to operate and for many months did operate a weekly “Watchtower network” of thirty stations for serving a multitude of listeners in Canada and the United States, broadcasting a one-hour program emanating from the studios of Watchtower station WBBR at New York city (Staten Island). Every Sunday the “Watchtower hour” included a lecture by Judge Rutherford together with introductory and concluding music by the WBBR orchestra of Bethel brothers. This weekly chain-broadcast service began November 18, 1928, and continued throughout 1929 and 1930.*
In 1931 the Society began a weekly broadcast through 250 radio stations by means of electrical transcription recordings of a series of 15-minute lectures by Judge Rutherford.* In 1932 the radio service was expanded to 340 stations broadcasting the weekly Bible lectures exposing apostate religion. By 1933 the international broadcast voice of the Society was being heard through 408 radio stations located in six continents—Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Cuba, France, South Africa, Estonia, Uruguay, Alaska, Hawaii, Philippines and the United States. In that year alone there were transmitted 23,783 separate Bible talks.*
For Roman Catholics their pope, Pius XI, had declared 1933 as a “holy year,” to usher in an era of Catholic action designed to bring peace to the nations.
Simultaneously, in the spring of 1933, American Catholics under leadership of their cardinals, bishops and priests began a concerted nationwide campaign to ‘drive Rutherford off the air.’ By this time on the radio Rutherford’s was the best-known and most frequently heard voice in America. If the clergy were vexed by the Watch Tower Society representatives’ passing out millions of tracts in front of their church doors in the early 1900’s, now they were plagued a thousand times more by the unanswerable Bible preaching over the radio waves. Through the effective Watchtower broadcasts the ranks of the witnesses kept rapidly growing. This avenue of communication cost the Society millions of dollars, all voluntarily contributed by the brothers during years of the great American depression (1929-1935). As we now see, in retrospect, 1933 turned out to be the year when the Vatican hierarchy and Jehovah’s witnesses came to grips on the issue of freedom of speech. Catholic spokesmen vigorously used pressure and threats of boycott against radio stations to force them to refuse to hire their facilities to the witnesses.*
On April 23, 1933, Judge Rutherford personally first broadcast over a special Watchtower chain of fifty-five powerful stations his now world-famous hour lecture “Effect of Holy Year on Peace and Prosperity.” Two months later, on June 25, 1933, the same lecture in transcription was broadcast by 158 stations, for which five million printed invitations were circulated to build up a vast audience for this rebroadcast.* The reaction to the original April 23 broadcast was immediate, bitter, fiery. Certain radio managers fell victims of vigorous Catholic intimidation, refusing to carry any further Watchtower programs.
A few weeks later Catholic strong-arm tactics were further revealed at a public meeting in Plainfield, New Jersey, addressed by the Watch Tower Society’s president on the subject “Intolerance,” the official report of which follows:
“The persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses at Plainfield, N.J., provided the occasion for a public address’ being made from a theater building on Sunday, July 30,  which address was broadcast by several radio stations. The speaker on this occasion was literally surrounded by firearms in the hands of sixty or more policemen who had come to the meeting uninvited and who were not either needed or wanted, but doubtless had been sent there at the instance of the Catholic hierarchy, looking for an occasion to prevent the meeting and possibly to destroy the speaker.”*
This Plainfield, New Jersey, outrage against freedom of speech and freedom of worship was going too far. In the battle of the air waves, in late 1933 and early 1934 Jehovah’s witnesses continued pressing the fight in the public interest by circulating a nationwide petition addressed to the United States Congress in Washington, vigorously protesting against Catholic intimidation and threats to free speech over the radio. To this petition 2,416,141 signatures were obtained and it was presented to Congress at Washington on January 24, 1934. Congressman McFadden, supported by others, had introduced a bill in Congress to prevent such discrimination, boycott and other threatening methods to hinder the broadcasting of programs in the public interest. The Society through its spokesmen submitted a volume of evidence in support of the petition. The net result was that Congress enacted a law placing all electrical communications under one new administrative agency, the Federal Communications Commission. This commission promptly held public hearings to enable it to make suggestions to the next session of Congress for the enactment of further laws as to broadcasting, as necessary.* On October 4, 1934, the Watch Tower Society’s president appeared personally before this new federal agency at Washington and presented facts of the activities of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy in wrongfully interfering with the broadcasting service of Jehovah’s witnesses. In spite of these public protests against wrongful interferences, the Society’s Bible broadcasts for 1934 amounted to 20,743 lectures, or a drop of 3,040 from the peak year of 1933, thus giving proof of the baneful effect of continued Catholic intimidation tactics.*
The decline in possible radio broadcasts continued, for in 1935 the total amounted to 18,287, or a decrease of 2,536 lectures over the previous year’s decline. Jehovah’s witnesses continued to press the fight for freedom of speech and worship by circulating another nationwide petition addressed to Congress, to which 2,284,128 signatures were obtained. This petition was presented to Congress in January, 1935, but was ignored.* There was then convened a national convention of Jehovah’s witnesses in Washington, D.C., which met from May 30 to June 3, 1935. Twenty thousand persons gathered for this assembly to hear Judge Rutherford’s outstanding lecture on Sunday, June 2, entitled “Government,” delivered at Washington Auditorium and simultaneously broadcast internationally. On June 3, 1935, the Society’s president filed a brief before the Federal Communications Commission, pressing for further action in defense of free speech.*
Incidentally, this Washington convention proved to be outstanding for the new flash of truth as to the “great multitude” of Revelation 7:9, proving that its members are not a secondary spiritual class destined to go to heaven but that they are an earthly group identical with the “sheep” of Matthew 25:31-46, made known in 1923, and the “Jonadab” class revealed in 1932 with the release of Vindication, Volume 3.*
Outwardly it seemed that the witnesses were losing the battle for freedom of speech. In September, 1936, still a third national petition was gathered, this time the greatest in registering protest to the Washington government at its inaction against the continued unfair practices to suppress the witnesses. In support of this final protest* 2,630,001 signatures were filed November 2, 1936, in Washington. This protest likewise went unheeded.* But the witnesses were not outwitted. Already in 1933 they took steps to develop an alternative public sound-service campaign in case they eventually should be driven off the radio. In that year the Society began the manufacturing of portable electrical transcription machines that could reproduce the 33 1⁄3-rpm radio-broadcasting recordings at public and private gatherings. In 1933, 4,646 such transcription meetings were held, with a total attendance of 240,434 persons.* Sound cars also were built to cruise along the streets and in public places to sound forth literally the Kingdom message from recorded discs.* As the years of the 1930’s passed, this sound service grew to substantial proportions and proved to bring more tangible results than the radio, in that a visible audience was contacted and instructed.
Results of the non-radio sound service were so promising that, in 1934, the Society began to produce another service instrument, a portable phonograph, and to manufacture a series of 4 1⁄2-minute 78-rpm discs containing effective Bible lectures.* At first this portable phonograph was used largely in the back-call service, but finally it came to be very widely used in the initial-call house-to-house service, being played on the doorsteps of the homes. Here indeed was a new preaching medium. It figured in a big way at the 1937 Columbus (Ohio) convention attended by 25,000 on Sunday, September 18, to hear Judge Rutherford deliver his important lecture “Safety,” which at the same time was broadcast by 135 radio stations. At this convention the historic decision was announced, that the Society was voluntarily withdrawing from all commercial radio broadcasting contracts after October 31, 1937.* Instead, all of Jehovah’s witnesses would concentrate their time and funds on the more effective house-to-house work, using the portable phonograph with a wide range of more than ninety Bible lectures that would enable millions to hear and learn Bible truth. The phonograph work took on new force, as is demonstrated by the report for 1938 showing that there were 430,000 discs with lectures in sixteen languages in use on 19,600 sound machines. In 1937 there were reported 10,368,569 listeners, and for 1938, 13,070,426.* Truly a literal mighty shout was being raised among all earth’s inhabitants!
(To be continued)
1930 Yearbook, pp. 34-39.
1932 Yearbook, pp. 47-51.
1934 Yearbook, pp. 60-64.
1934 Yearbook, p. 63.
1934 Yearbook, pp. 60-64; The Golden Age, 1933, pp. 530-536: Special Bulletin, June, 1933.
1934 Yearbook, p. 66.
Bulletin, March 1, 1934.
1935 Yearbook, pp. 36, 37.
1936 Yearbook, pp. 56, 57.
The Golden Age, June 19, 1935.
Vindication, Vol 3, pp. 77-80; W 1942, p. 374.
The Golden Age, January 13, 1937, p. 232.
Informant, September, 1936.
1934 Yearbook, pp. 64-66.
Bulletin, August, 1935.
1935 Yearbook, p. 39.
1938 Yearbook, pp. 38, 47.
1939 Yearbook, pp. 59, 63, 64, 68.
[Picture on page 392]
408 STATIONS BY 1933 ▸ UNITED STATES
▸ SOUTH AFRICA