We are using this month’s letter to forge ahead in telling the condensed story of Mr-s.
Herbert Armstrong and that incredible work which God did through them beginning in the
early twentieth century. In last month’s issue, we described the very beginning of that little
organized assembly outside of Eugene, Oregon, which would become the Radio Church of
God in 1933; and also the inauguration of the Radio Church of God radio broadcast (later to
be named The World Tomorrow), as well as the debut of The Plain Truth magazine in early
1934. From the very beginning of that enterprise, God opened the doors for a very positive
response that would soon catapult the Armstrongs into a whole different world.
Through 1934 and 1935, Mr. Armstrong implemented and sustained his “three-point
campaign” of radio broadcasts, monthly publishing of The Plain Truth magazine, and local
evangelistic campaigns in the Eugene area. Committing in advance, financially, to pay for
these programs well beyond his existing wherewithal certainly required an act of faith that
God would provide the needed income. And the income always appeared right when
required. It was all being operated on a shoestring budget, and Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong were
the ones personally doing the lion’s share of the manual work required to make it all happen,
from the cleaning of local meeting halls to the physical production and mailing of
mimeographed issues of the magazine. The hours were long and brutally taxing.
Yet, Mr. Armstrong was still hesitant to commit very much more to newer programs
without “guarantees” of financial support. He describes that lesson regarding the first
opportunity to expand the radio broadcast outside of Eugene, Oregon:
But the point I wish to make is that, by the end of our first year on the
air, Christ opened another door! He opened the door for us to go on station
KXL, Portland, then only 100 watts.
But at that time I was afraid to walk through that door—until after co-workers had pledged enough money to pay for it. This very letter quoted
above [a Co-Worker letter dated December 20, 1934] went on to ask co-workers for those pledges—totalling only $50 per month, for the year 1935.
A coupon form of pledge was mimeographed at the bottom of the second page
of the letter.
Our co-workers failed to pledge the needed $50 per month. And I
failed to walk through the door Christ had opened. We had to wait almost two
more years before God gave us another opportunity for His work to expand
into Portland! Later other doors were opened, when I wanted definite pledges
before walking through those doors. But definite pledges was not faith.
We had to learn, by experience, that when God opens doors for
Christ’s gospel, He expects us to start walking on through, in faith, trusting
him to supply our every need (The Plain Truth, March 1961, Autobiography
of Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 14).
Although the radio broadcasts and personal evangelistic campaigns continued through
1936, publishing of the magazine issues was interrupted. He simply did not have the time
and resources to tend to all of those irons in the fire. Here is Mr. Armstrong’s explanation
Not only was the expansion of the broadcasting withheld two whole
years, but The Plain Truth was suspended from publication, also! After I
failed to trust God by going on KXL when He opened its door to us, we were
allowed to print and send out only two more issues of The Plain Truth—March
and July issues, 1935—and then The Plain Truth was entirely suspended
for two and a half years! . . . Not until January, 1938, did The Plain Truth
appear again! (The Plain Truth, June 1961, Autobiography, p. 12)
This history is important because it reveals the thinking that Herbert Armstrong
consistently used from that time forward concerning decisions about bold expansions of the
work. What the world would consider as reckless disregard for fiscal prudence would be the
faith philosophy that Herbert Armstrong would use to make many “audacious” strategic
choices to walk through “new doors” in the ensuing years.
By the end of 1936, the Radio Church of God broadcast had indeed expanded and was
then heard on KXL in Portland, and next on KSLM in Salem, through a networked
transmission relay from the KORE broadcast in Eugene. Even though these were all small
stations, by early 1937, Mr. Armstrong was reporting to his co-workers a listening audience
approaching 50,000 every Sunday. By the end of that year, he was reporting over 100,000
listeners, based upon the mail responses they were receiving. At this time he was still using
the “church service” format for the broadcasts, including music and a short prayer as a part
of each program, more akin to the “other” ministers who were on the radio. This too would
change dramatically as exposure grew.
During this same time Mr. Armstrong continued to try working cooperatively with the
other Sabbath-keeping groups in the area, but his success in pastoring expanding local
congregations made possible by his radio broadcasts seemed to have fostered jealousy among
the other ministers. After it became apparent that their plots to undermine him would never
cease, he finally broke with them and focused exclusively upon serving those who were
coming into the church through his own personal ministry.
These continued to be what Mr. Armstrong called “the lean years.” His family lived
a very meager existence. There were many times when it appeared that there would be no
funds to pay the bills, let alone the cost of continued broadcasts on the radio. The Plain
Truth began to be published again in January 1938, but it was a continuing challenge from
month to month to keep it all afloat. Citing a Co-Worker letter from July 1938, Mr.
. . . only one in ten of those on The Plain Truth mailing list had ever sent a
contribution of any kind toward the expenses of the work. And they had never
been asked. The few contributors had become Co-Workers voluntarily,
without solicitation. The other nine in ten had never received any solicitation
(The Plain Truth, November 1961, Autobiography, p. 5).
He also stated that this same ratio of listeners to contributors would continue to apply
(as of 1961) even as that work multiplied exponentially through the decades. But even
though he never solicited contributions from his radio audience, the enterprise survived and
grew, even if painfully, year after year:
By April 5, 1939, a letter to Co-Workers found in an old file says: “At
last, after many unavoidable delays, we are sending you The Plain Truth. This
issue goes to about one thousand new readers. It is still mimeographed,
because we have not enough funds to print it, as we did two issues last year.
It is a tremendous task, and nearly all the work is done by Mrs. Armstrong, our
daughter Beverly who is office secretary, and myself.”
In spite of inside office, lack of light or ventilation, lack of desks, filing
cabinets and office equipment, the work was growing! The Plain Truth
circulation was growing. We were not able to get it out every month. There
were seven issues in 1938. The June number was only the third during 1939.
It was issued as often as there was enough money for paper, ink and postage.
Yet already this little mimeographed “magazine” was being read by a few
thousand people—and a hundred thousand or more were hearing the very
Gospel Christ Himself preached every week—besides almost continuous
evangelistic campaigns reaching hundreds (The Plain Truth, November 1961,
Autobiography, p. 8).
The next big breakthrough occurred on September 17, 1940, when the Radio Church
of God broadcast debuted in Seattle, Washington, on 1000-watt station, KRSC. The timing
of world events with the war in Europe had provided an ideal opportunity for Herbert
Armstrong to address those events in light of Bible prophecy, and people were responding:
By mid-May, 1941, the weekly listening audience, over the three
stations in Eugene and Portland, Oregon, and in Seattle, had grown to a quarter
That seemed a huge audience. Indeed, it was a huge audience. The
work of God, having been started so very small was, as stated before, growing
The circulation of The Plain Truth had gone up to 5,000 copies. . . .
Beginning with the issue of August-September, 1940, The Plain Truth had
“grown up” from a mimeographed paper to a 16-page printed magazine,
bimonthly. By mid-May we were receiving between 200 and 300 letters from
radio listeners every week, and mailing out 5,000 copies of The Plain Truth
(The Plain Truth, January 1962, Autobiography, p. 11).
Even though this explosive new response to the radio program generated a sense of
great satisfaction in the accomplishment, it came with a huge burden of administration:
Think of just the two of us—with at times the help of a girl who knew
no shorthand and could not use a typewriter—handling and answering an
average of 250 letters a week, beside all the other things Mrs. Armstrong and
I had to do! Then having to call in a half dozen church brethren for volunteer
help in addressing 5,000 copies of The Plain Truth by hand. And in those
days we had to paste 1-cent stamps on every copy. Mrs. Armstrong had to
cook paste of flour and water at home and bring it to the office to paste those
wrappers (The Plain Truth, January 1962, Autobiography, p. 12).
A new office suite became available in Eugene allowing for needed expansion. A
secretary could now be hired. Little by little, an infrastructure began to be added to
accommodate the growing enterprise.
It was also during this particular time in 1941 that Herbert Armstrong began to expand
his horizons in considering what further work God may have wanted him to do:
The realization flashed to my mind with terrific impact that in world
war II—already then under way—America being then drawn closer to
participation—that I could see this “sword” of WAR coming [Ezekiel 3:17–21;
33:1–19]! I looked around. No one had ever sounded this warning! No one
was then sounding it! I saw numerous prophecies showing how terribly God
is going to punish America and the British Commonwealth people for our
apostasy from Him. I saw our sins, individually and nationally, fast
The conviction came. IF God opened doors for the mass-proclamation of His Gospel, and of this warning, nationwide, I would walk
through those doors and proclaim God’s Message faithfully, as long as He gave
me guidance, power, and the means.
I had no illusions that I was chosen to be the “modern Ezekiel” to
proclaim this message. But I did know that no one was sounding this alarm.
. . .
Of course I had been sounding this warning all along—but only in the
Pacific Northwest. Now I began to see that God intended to send it to all
Israel. And He had revealed to me that that meant, today, the United States,
the British Commonwealth, and the nations of northwestern Europe. The idea
of my being used, personally, in reaching Britain and these other countries did
not yet take sharp focus in my mind. But I did, now, for the first time, begin
to think actively and definitely about this work expanding to the entire United
States! (The Plain Truth, January 1962, Autobiography, p. 13)
The bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, provided the means for Herbert
Armstrong to really begin to exploit “a niche” not being filled by anyone else on the radio:
. . . A number of nationally famous news commentators and analysts gained
the public spotlight—such men as Elmer Davis, H. V. Kaltenborn, Raymond
Gram Swing—and some still in the public eye, Ed Murrow, Eric Severeid, and
others—just to name a few.
But these men knew nothing of Biblical prophecy. Not knowing the
real purpose being worked out here below, they did not grasp the true
significance on the world of the future, of the news they were analyzing. They
did not know where it was leading.
On the other hand, none of the ministers broadcasting religious
programs had the newspaper and analytical background, nor, I may add, the
true understanding of the prophecies, to connect that entire third of the Bible
with war events.
Putting the two together—factual knowledge and analysis of war
events, with Biblical prophecies—put at my disposal a powerful interest-compelling message (The Plain Truth, January 1962, Autobiography, p. 39).
Many of the higher wattage radio stations in larger market areas that Mr. Armstrong
had contacted (including Chicago and Los Angeles) were not inclined toward additional
religious programming. But they did seem receptive to Herbert Armstrong’s program. As
well, the radio managers where the program was already broadcasting began suggesting
dropping the music, given that it was the hard-hitting news analysis that was actually driving
the audience response:
At first I was both reluctant and afraid to drop the music. So I
experimented by reducing it. No harm resulted. There was no lessening in the
response or expressed interest. I reduced it still more. Finally, it was
eliminated altogether. We found, as radio station managers had recommended,
that our program attracted and held a much larger interest when it started off
with analysis of world events and the meaning, as revealed in Biblical
prophecy (The Plain Truth, January 1962, Autobiography, p. 39).
By the time Mr. Armstrong was negotiating the first expansion into the Los Angeles,
California, market with KMTR radio in April 1942, he was prepared to make these
The time had come to drop the church-service type program altogether.
Since the original broadcast name, Radio Church of God, did not invite a
listening from non-churchgoers whom we wished primarily to reach, and since
in the world’s language the Message of the true Gospel—the kingdom of
God—is about tomorrow’s world, I adopted the broadcast name, the world
And so, in mid-April, 1942, the world tomorrow went on the air in
Hollywood (The Plain Truth, January 1962, Autobiography, pp. 39–40).
Instead of merely one half-hour time slot each Sunday morning on KMTR, an
opportunity opened for daily broadcasts at 5:30 p.m. The cost meant doubling the cost
devoted to the whole work at that time. But rather than shying away out of fear, Herbert
Armstrong applied the lesson he had learned in 1935 and made the commitment. Here was
But, miracle of miracles!—for once in our experience, the impact of
this early evening daily broadcasting was as tremendous as the test of faith
had been! Not once did I ask for contributions on the air, just as I had refused
to do from the first broadcast in 1934. And the mailing address for free
literature and The Plain Truth, offered on each program, was then Box 111,
Not only was there an immediate tremendous increase in mail from
listeners—there was a corresponding increase in tithes and offerings arriving
in Eugene (The Plain Truth, February 1962, Autobiography, p. 12).
Mr. Armstrong was not capable of sustaining a nightly program in Hollywood for
more than a few weeks. But the experience had shown the fruits that were borne with such
exposure. Likewise, pulling back to one day a week broadcasts allowed him finally to
contract with WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa:
Station WHO was, at the time, probably the very most valuable single
radio station we could have hoped to use. It was a 50,000-watt top-ranking
station. It was one of only eight, of all radio stations in America, that still had
an absolutely exclusive channel. . . .
Of course, in 1941, this giant WHO was still completely beyond our
reach. But by early 1942, with our income doubled, and with the very low rate
offered by the manager of WHO, I felt ready to take this leap.
On Sunday night, August 30, 1942, for the first time in my life I was
speaking , from the studios of WHO, to a nationwide audience! (The Plain
Truth, March 1962, Autobiography, pp. 19–20).
This was only the beginning of Herbert Armstrong’s national exposure as The World
Tomorrow program began to be heard in every state. Contracts with specific stations would
come and go, but increasingly that voice could be heard regularly from anywhere across the
Time has been spent in this particular installment to provide additional details
showing how that tiny evangelistic work grew from being just a local outreach in rural
Oregon to the national enterprise that it became within a few short years. It was that radio
broadcast in concert with The Plain Truth magazine that provided the platform for Herbert
Armstrong to proclaim a brand of Bible understanding never before heard in the twentieth