Rare Book Monthly
Articles - October - 2006 Issue
Huge Auction Stills The Voice Of Once Largest Radio Church
By Michael Stillman
The voice was riveting. In the days of my youth, it flowed along the airwaves like molasses, seeping into every corner of America and much of the world. This was the 1950s and 1960s. A.M. radio still ruled the air. When you lived out in the country in this era, your local stations were forced to go off the air at dusk. All you could listen to were powerful distant stations, their crackling voices penetrating small town America from afar. The reception was rarely clear, but the choice was this or silence.
Like most of my age, I tuned in to hear the sounds of rock and roll, that vulgar new music that was corrupting the souls of my generation. Six nights a week, I would tune to hear those raucous sounds the local stations would not touch. But on Sunday night, Chuck Berry and Bill Haley fell silent on even distant stations. That is when the smooth yet commanding voice of Garner Ted Armstrong would take over. I lived in the Northeast, not the South, not the Bible belt. Radio preachers did not often penetrate our airspace. However, Garner Ted was so powerful, so popular, that he could travel where not even Billy Graham dared go. In his heyday, Armstrong pulled in audiences and contributions well beyond those of his famed counterpart. He was that good.
Whatever became of Garner Ted Armstrong, his father Herbert W. Armstrong, their Worldwide Church of God, The World Tomorrow radio and television programs, The Plain Truth Magazine, and Ambassador College is only tangentially related to the subject of this article. The main topic is an enormous book auction that began late last month and will continue each weekend through November as the 100,000-volume library of Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas, is dispersed. The library was built to accommodate the university's successful application for accreditation in 1994. However, by 1997, funding shortages forced the college to close its doors, and the library has remained unused ever since. National Book Auctions, the national arm of CNY Book Auctions of Ithaca, New York, will conduct the sale. They estimate around 10,000 books, combined in 800 lots, will be sold each weekend, with sales being made at the site, online, and through eBay.
The rise and downfall of the Worldwide Church of God has been told in other venues, and I will not try to tell it again in any great detail. I am struck more by my own memories of the spellbinding speaking style of Garner Ted, heard so many years ago, than by the scandals that brought the empire down. My recollections of Garner Ted are that, compared to most radio and television evangelists, he didn't have all that much to say, but he said it better than anyone else. It was like cotton candy. Still, it was hard not to listen because he said little so very well.