The June 10 fire that destroyed Chauncey Goode Auditorium and Phillips Chapel on the old campus of the Highland Park Baptist Church has rekindled many radio memories.
The daily “Gospel Dynamite” radio show was started by Dr. Lee Roberson in 1942. A longtime member told me that Dr. Roberson used Phillips Chapel in the beginning. When the Chauncey Goode Auditorium was completed in 1947, Dr. Roberson moved the program to this auditorium from which it originated daily until the early 1980s.
A WDOD publication printed in the late 1940s depicted Dr. Roberson and the times Gospel Dynamite was heard. Station owners decided to change their lineup in the mid-1950s and the daily show moved to WAPO where it remained until 1966 and then returned to WDOD. When Tennessee Temple signed to WDYN, Gospel Dynamite moved 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 shows 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 to observe with engineer Erwin O’Conner. There was a small mixer with several microphones. Dr. Roberson sat at a table with a microphone and notes for the broadcast. The broadcast engineer sat to the side.
The studio would present the program “live from Highland Park Baptist Church” and the organist would begin with the anthem “Power in the Blood”. Dr. Roberson or designated speaker would open by reading the Bible verse Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
What was so unusual about the show were live singers, a live organist, and a special prayer time. Dr. Roberson would encourage listeners to call in their prayer requests and at 8:45 someone would read the requests, usually Dr. JR Faulkner, the associate pastor, and then pray. The calls came from all over southeast Tennessee, North Georgia and Alabama.
Chattanooga News Free Press writer JB Collins wrote in his book about Highland Park Baptist Church that prayer time averaged 60 to 90 calls a day. Mr Collins wrote that among the featured singers were Ms Elgin Smith and wheelchair singer Georgia Webb Gentry. Mr Collins said he attended several of these shows in preparation for his book, ‘Get a Glimpse of the World’s Largest Church’. When Mr. Collins’ book came out in the mid-1970s, he wrote that there had been almost 13,000 radio broadcasts since Gospel Dynamite began in 1942, and most of them were from the main auditorium.
The broadcast served as a means of notifying members and friends of illnesses and deaths in the church. The speaker would also announce upcoming events at Highland Park Baptist Church and Temple University of Tennessee.
As a young beginner, I was so impressed with Dr. Roberson’s gentleness. Although others helped with the show, he was the producer and director and made it possible. Each singer began their introduction. After the prayer time, the pastor gave a short devotional. I have heard many radio programs and never remember a mistake. It was all live from Chauncey Goode.
Fast forward to 1967 when Gospel Dynamite aired on WDOD. I was working in the studio replacing the morning announcer, who was sick. My last record was by Buck Owens and it lasted over 8:30. I presented Gospel Dynamite. After the program, the phone rang. It was Dr. Roberson. He said, “Who’s talking,” I replied, “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 said, “About 8:33 a.m.” He said, “Young man, our show starts at 8:30 a.m., not 8:29 or 8:31 a.m., but 8:30 a.m. Should this conversation go further ? ” NO SIR. Dr. Roberson said, “God bless you, young man. He was kind but firm. In the future, when I worked on Gospel Dynamite, it was always on time.
During the summer, children going to Camp Joy filled the church auditorium on Mondays and Saturdays. The show continued as usual. The Monday program was exciting, but the children sang and recited Bible verses on the Saturday program. It was obvious that Dr. Roberson was proud of what he had learned during a week of Camp Joy. This was all live from Chauncey Goode on the radio.
I was told that Highland Park Baptist was the criteria by which other departments established their radio programs. Wayne Abercrombie was the engineer who signed on to WRCB TV on May 6, 1956. The studio was a short distance from the church. Mr Abercrombie said the station had tried to interest Dr Roberson on television “but he was a radio man”. Mr Abercrombie said Channel 3’s first show was Dr Roberson and a small religious group live in the McCallie Avenue studio.
Gospel Dynamite has gone through many changes. It was moved from the church auditorium to the WDYN radio studio. A few years ago, it was decided to present a different speaker each day of the week. The program still bears the name “Gospel Dynamite”.
Gospel Dynamite is one of the longest running daily radio shows in the United States. Although it is a different format, the gospel message is still featured in every program on WDYN.
While the fire destroyed two historic buildings in Chattanooga used by the old Highland Park Baptist Church, there are still hundreds of memories left. Mine include live radio broadcasts; I witnessed many of them.