During the anxiety-laden period from the Great Depression through World War II to the Cold War, Americans found a welcome escape in the new medium of radio. Throughout radio’s “Golden Age,” religious broadcasting in particular contributed significantly to American culture. Yet its historic role often has been overlooked.
In this class, Kirk Farney will explore the work of two groundbreaking leaders in Christian broadcasting: Fulton J. Sheen and Walter A. Maier. These clergymen and professors―one a Catholic priest, the other a Lutheran minister―each led the way in combining substantive theology and emerging technology to spread the gospel over the airwaves. Through weekly nationwide broadcasts, Maier’s The Lutheran Hour and Sheen’s Catholic Hour attracted millions of listeners across a spectrum of denominational and religious affiliations, establishing their hosts―and Christian radio itself―as cultural and religious forces with which to be reckoned.
We will examine how Sheen and Maier used their exceptional erudition, their sensitivity to the times, their powerful communication skills, and their unwavering Christian conviction, all for the purpose of calling the souls of listeners and the soul of a nation to repentance and godliness. What is more, at a time when church involvement declined within many American households, these much-admired clerics played a genuinely pastoral role as a result of the perceived intimacy of radio, the projected authority of broadcasters, and the active engagement between Maier and Sheen and their ethereal “congregants.”
Class Leader: Dr. Kirk Farney is VP for Advancement, Vocation, and Alumni Engagement at Wheaton College (IL) and a member of the history faculty. A former international banking executive, he holds a Ph.D. in American religious history and M.A. in American history from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in historical theology from Wheaton, an M.B.A. in marketing from Northwestern University, and a B.S. in finance and agricultural economics from the University of Illinois. Kirk serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Thrivent Financial, a Fortune 500 faith-related financial services company, and as a Director of Lutheran Hour Ministries. He is the author of Ministers of a New Medium: Broadcasting Theology in the Radio Ministries of Fulton J. Sheen and Walter A. Maier (IVP Academic, 2022).