Songs In The Night

50 Years of Songs in the Night

Article written in 1993

Songs in the Night came into being in the spring of 1943 at the Midwest Bible Church of Chicago. Yet the basic concept of the program actually originated back in the 1920s with Paul Rader, a former pastor of The Moody Church. At that time Pastor Rader had led a Sunday evening program called “The Back Home Hour.” Because he felt that people had been “preached to” all day on Sunday, his philosophy called for a program with a relaxed and conversational home-like atmosphere. So when Pastor Torrey Johnson of the Midwest Bible Church considered enlarging their radio ministry to include an evening broadcast, Midwest’s music director, Marvin Matson, suggested a format similar to “The Back Home Hour” since he had participated on that earlier program.

Later, a meeting was called which included Pastor Johnson, Bill Ernie, Don DeVos, Corny Keur and Marvin Matson. In that discussion, Corny Keur suggested a song written by Wendell Loveless entitled “Songs in the Night,” for use as a theme. It was probably Don DeVos who then mentioned that the same title might also be used as the name of the program, recalling the Scripture in Job 35:10, “But none saith, Where is my maker, who giveth songs in the night.” With that, it was decided to go ahead with the program.

And so, on Sunday evening, June 6, 1943, at 10:15pm, over WCFL, Chicago, Songs in the Night went on the air. Those who participated in that first broadcast included a mixed trio with Don Shoff, Fern Keur and Lorraine Wikell, choir director Don DeVos, announcer/producer/soloist Marvin Matson, narrator Torrey Johnson, and the organist, Mrs. George (Ruth) Santa. From that humble beginning, the Lord saw fit to bless and prosper the program.

Through the late spring and summer months of 1943, Songs in the Night was broadcast live each week from the auditorium of the Midwest Bible Church in Chicago. Establishing the basic format which we still use today, narrator Torrey Johnson was supported by the interspersed music of a choir, soloist, mixed trio and organ. But despite its immediate popularity, he soon found the program too demanding at the close of a full Sunday schedule. His Sundays already included teaching a Sunday School class, preaching at the morning service, speaking on a long-established and popular five o’clock church-sponsored program called “The Chapel Hour,” and then conducting the evening service. Furthermore, as one of the prime movers of the fledgling youth movement that soon would burst upon the scene as Youth for Christ, Pastor Johnson was frequently away on speaking engagements around the country.

By November of 1943, it was decided to offer Songs in the Night to a small suburban congregation southwest of Chicago, The Village Church of Western Springs, Illinois. Their young pastor, a good friend of Torrey Johnson’s had graduated from nearby Wheaton College just six months earlier. His name was William F. Graham.

Twelve men from The Village Church met in mid-November to consider the opportunity. It meant immediate support by 75 members of an additional ministry which would cost them about $150 a week. After much discussion and prayer—plus some pastoral sacrifice—it was decided to step out on faith and trust God to supply the need. So on January 2, 1944, the Village Church presented their first Songs in the Night broadcast with Pastor Billy Graham serving as narrator. Because of line problems, the first two programs still originated in Chicago, but finally on Sunday, January 16, 1944 Songs in the Night was heard for the first time from The Village Church itself. Assisting Pastor Graham were announcer Vince Hogren, soloist George Beverly Shea, The Village Carollers, organist Bob Eby, and The Village Church Choir. Wrote radio Chairman Fred Hensel of those early days in 1944, “That first year, and especially the first few months… our original ideas of how to manage a radio program were revised from week to week… Much midnight oil was burned planning the program.” But despite the difficulties, letters soon began to come in—a few at first, then hundreds a month. Each told of the blessing and help that were received from Song in the Night. It is still the same today.

Staff changes came frequently. In mid-1944, the King’s Karollers, a women’s quartet, replaced the original Village Carollers. Before the end of his first year, a severe illness sent Pastor Graham south for three months of rest and recuperation. As Graham’s temporary replacement, the Lord provided Peter Stam III, a missionary preparing to leave for Africa in the fall of 1945. Later, with Billy Graham joining Youth for Christ as their first staff evangelist, and with Stam ready to leave for Africa, Songs in the Night was searching for another radio pastor.

In September of 1945, W. Lloyd Fesmire became pastor of The Village Church, with his first Songs in the Night broadcast on the 16th of that month. As the fourth regular broadcast speaker, Pastor Fesmire maintained Songs in the Night for over 22 years while pastor of The Village Church. The love and devotion of this godly man—probably more than any other—helped develop the program to what it is today.

Under his ministry, The Village Church grew and prospered. But always, Songs in the Night played a key role in his service there. Supporting him over the years were a host of well-qualified radio people, as well as a hard-working radio committee headed first by Fred Hensel and later by Bernard Kastein. Teaming together, they built a most successful program. Broadcast live each week from a church full of people from all over Chicagoland, it featured The Village Choir, the King’s Karollers, Don Hustad and George Beverly Shea. The King’s Karollers became a trio for a time—though today they are again a quartet. By early 1946, Blanchard Leightner had followed Bob Eby as organist, to be replaced later by Mabel Lein. Don Hustad became organist in 1947, followed in the 60s by Gil Mead and then Larry Mayfield. Soloist Glenn Jorian substituted for Bev Shea in 1949 before permanently replacing him in 1951 when Mr. Shea joined the Graham team.

Expansion began in early 1948 when HCJB, Quito, Ecuador, carried the program by transcriptions sent to them. KGU, Honolulu, was added in July the same year, and KTIS, Minneapolis, in May of 1949. When taping programs became feasible, many more stations were added until, by 1967, Songs in the Night was heard on 45 domestic and 10 foreign outlets.

Lloyd Fesmire departed from The Village Church in September of 1965 to a New Jersey pastorate. Songs in the Night was maintained by dubbing new music and announcements around previously used taped messages. But this proved to have severe limitations. Then under their new pastor, The Village Church decided to take a different approach to their radio ministry. It soon because clear that Songs in the Night would either have to find a new home or discontinue broadcasting.

Working closely with Bernard Kastein and the radio committee, announcer and radio director Tedd Seelye began investigating leads and possibilities for moving the program. In 1967, after months of prayer, discussion and searching, The Village Church voted to accept an offer from The Moody Church, under Pastor George Sweeting, to take over the production and distribution of Songs in the Night. Stations were notified, arrangements were completed, and the transitional program took place the first week of February, 1968.

The actual transfer was planned as part of a 25th anniversary rally on January 21, 1968, at The Village Church. Participating was retiring radio speaker Pastor Lloyd Fesmire, who officially welcomed Dr. George Sweeting to this important radio pulpit. Others who shared in this historic event included the staff musicians, announcer/director Tedd Seelye, and George Beverly Shea, the soloist who voice was heard for so many of those early years on the program. After just over 24 years of broadcasting from The Village Church, an era had come to a close for Songs in the Night.

It was on February 4, 1968, when the first broadcast of Songs in the Night came from The Moody Church. Despite those who doubted that the program could long survive the dual change of both speaker and location, the broadcast thrived. Its unique format—first established at the outset of the program in 1943 and virtually unchanged even today—provided the needed continuity.

With God’s help, Dr. George Sweeting, then the Senior Pastor of The Moody Church, gathered a staff capable and talented people to help carry on this 25 year-old radio ministry. Most of the musical, announcing and engineering personnel remained. Bob Neff was added as Program Director with Kent Creswell overseeing the entire operation. Later, Don Smith joined the staff as Executive Producer. Together, the new Songs in the Night team sought to strengthen and enlarge its total ministry.

From 45 domestic and 10 foreign outlets at the time of the transition, the outreach soon doubled, then tripled. In 1971, Dr. Sweeting was called to become the president of the Moody Bible Institute. Succeeding him on the air in the January of 1972, and as pastor of The Moody Church, was Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe. The program continued to expand until, but the 30th Anniversary of the program in 1973, more than 200 stations carried the program each week from coast to coast and around the world. In 1980 “Back to the Bible” called Dr. Wiersbe to be their radio pastor and the new voice of Songs in the Night became Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, the present Senior Pastor of The Moody Church. Combining favorite hymns and gospel songs with scriptural meditations of encouragement and instruction, Dr. Erwin Lutzer continues to soothe heart and soul in the 29-minute weekly broadcast.

Despite the frequent changes of personnel across the years, the Lord has provided a consistency of message through the narrators as they faithfully proclaimed the good news. Even in this age of video, Songs in the Night remains one of the most loved radio programs in the nation. It is at once personal, intimate and compelling. With the blessing of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this international radio voice of The Moody Church touches the hearts and lives of countless thousands with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It presents Him as a loving and forgiving Savior for lost man; it presents Him as power, comfort and strength for every believer.

Through fifty years of ministry, Songs in the Night has helped meet the spiritual needs of all kinds of people—young and old, rich and poor, men and women of all races and creeds. Across North America and overseas, listeners are attracted to the music and the power of the Word of God, the answer to men and women’s deepest needs. In a hectic, tense generation, Songs in the Night brings everything back into focus.

Producing Songs in the Night

Many changes, technological and otherwise, have taken place in the making of Songs in the Night during the past fifty years. Let’s take a quick look at how the broadcast is produced today.

First, the pastor either types or dictates his messages which are then stored on computer disk. When careful edits have taken place, diskettes are provided to the producer who selects music in keeping with the them and the “break points” in the message.

Next we are ready for the recording session. The musicians, technicians, and pastor come together at The Moody Church for a week set aside for the program. Five full days of intense concentration result in as many as 25 broadcasts being recorded. Though the ministry team is one of the finest, mistakes are inevitable—one “take” doesn’t always do it!

When all the programs are recorded, the producer completes the technical editing. Master tapes are then turned over to Moody Broadcasting Services for duplication and distribution for local airing.

Tapes are incorporated into programming at local radio stations and played according to a predetermined schedule. Programs are heard in about 350 market areas every week. Thus, thousands of people hear Songs in the Night.

Remember that behind the scenes are a host of workers too numerous to name whose unsung participation is every bit as vital as those who are before the microphones. Whenever you listen to Songs in the Night, remember to pray for not only those you hear, but also for those you don’t hear. Many perform important and necessary tasks—each one so necessary for the ongoing of this much loved radio program.

The Story Behind Our Theme Song

George R. Graves was a missionary of the American Sunday School Union in northern Wisconsin during the depression days of the 1930s. Here he relates in his own words the story behind Songs in the Night.

I wrote the words while reading the book of Job. I was arrested by the phrase in the 35th chapter and 10th verse, ‘songs in the night.’ As I meditated upon the import of the words, it came to me that there was a wonderful thought here. In the midst of the depression, many were in dire straits; yet I knew those who in the face of it all, still had a sweet song in their hearts. As I sat at my desk, the words came to me; I jotted them down on a piece of scrap paper, stuck them in a pigeon hole of my desk, and promptly forgot them.

The following winter was an exceptionally severe one with mountains of snow. One very cold day, a telephone message reached me that the superintendent of one of my Sunday Schools was very ill. There was no request that he wanted to see me, yet I was sure that he would not have sent word for any other reason. The roads were impassable to motor traffic and there was no way to reach him except by foot. So I started out to walk the eighteen miles to his home. This was on a Saturday, and I arrived shortly before dark, only to find him beyond medical help with a case of pneumonia complicated by a heart condition. I spend the night and all the next day at his bedside, until just about sunset. He passed away.

We called the local mortician who came to the home with a team and sled. He took care of the body right there in the home. About one o’clock in the morning he left to drive back to town. Before we retired, I suggested that we should have a season of prayer. In the home that night was the widow with four small children, and the father, mother an done brother of the deceased. They had just taken stock of their cash assets to find there was but thirty-five cents among them all. Yet as we went to prayer, I heard that young widow pray, ‘Oh Lord, I cannot understand why you took Leo from us when we needed him so much, yet I believe it was Thy will and I thank You for it.’ Immediately, there came to me the thought of those verses tucked away in my desk. In my heart I said, ‘Surely here is a song in the night.’ The thought came that the world could give a song in the day—when health and material assets were present, yet only God could give such a song as this.

The following morning the thermometer stood at 25 degrees below zero and the roads were impassable, even for horses. So I started out again on the eighteen mile hike back—there to begin arrangements for the funeral. It was at the services of this brother in the Lord that the Songs in the Night poem was first used. So many at the funeral requested copies of it that I had a friend print up a few hundred of them. One of these printed copies reached Wendell Loveless and provided the inspiration for the song as it is today.

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