In the darkness of the dawn on March 30, 1777, a small group of Moravians gathered to celebrate Easter’s message. In the darkness of dawn on April 5, 2015, 238 years later, a small group of Moravians will gather to help share that same message using today’s technology.
This group will both amplify the Easter Sunrise Service and broadcast it on WSJS-AM 600 radio in Winston-Salem. The service, which is attended by thousands of Moravians and non-Moravians alike, features worship and music from the God’s Acre in Winston-Salem.
Although much younger than the tradition of this Easter Sunrise Service itself, the radio broadcast of this service dates back to 1930. WSJS was a brand new radio station at the time and one of the earliest stations in the southeast. Their first broadcast of the service was the station’s first broadcast of any event, in their very first week of operations, and has been broadcast every year since. It is believed that this broadcast is the longest continually broadcast special event in the United States, and quite possibly, the world.
Over the years, the broadcast reach expanded by getting a national network to offer it and by writing individual letters to each station asking if they would carry it. This network expanded as far as Colorado and included the Armed Forces network. One serviceman in World War II reported that he listened to the broadcast while on board a ship in the Pacific.
Unfortunately, this network declined over the years until it was no longer offered on a national level and the lone remaining station was once again, WSJS Radio.
In the 1950s, technology was used to add microphones and speakers to amplify the sound for the thousands that attend it annually so that they could hear the presiding pastor’s remarks (with any mis-statements or stumbling recorded for posterity…). The microphones used to amplify the service also enhanced the radio broadcast with the sounds of the bands being heard during the processional to God’s Acre as well as the voices of the choir and congregation.
In the early 1990s, Salem Congregation took over the responsibility of amplifying and broadcasting the service and purchased the used equipment from the company that had been doing the service under contract. This equipment continued in use until 2009 without any significant changes or upgrades other than burying most of the cables used in the graveyard.
Even though the equipment had been used less than 25 times, it was also a quarter century old; technology has left it far behind. A few pieces of equipment were replaced each year until 2013, when the rest of the system was completely updated to state-of-the-art equipment by the Salem Congregation with Frank Martin, a member of Calvary Moravian in Winston-Salem doing the selection, purchase, construction and installation. In addition, the balance of the permanent cables in God’s Acre were put underground.
With this new system came additional microphones for the rest of the bands and much improved sound quality, both of which allow us to further enhance the broadcast of the service so listeners can get a better sense of what it is like to be there and to participate more fully in this Easter Morning Sunrise Service celebrating the resurrection of our risen Lord and the promise of new life.
And in addition, WSJS Radio is also streaming the service live on their website, WSJS.com. This piece of the changes brings new life to the radio broadcast because with the Internet, it can now reach even more people than in the days of the national network because anyone with an Internet connection can, from anywhere in the world, listen live to the Easter Sunrise Service coming to them from Winston-Salem, N.C.! Sing Hallelujah, Praise the Lord! ■
Ron Bell is a member of Calvary Moravian Church in Winston-Salem. He is also a member of the Provincial Elders’ Conference for the Southern Province. Photos from the 2011 Easter Morning Service in WInston-Salem by Richard Clabaugh.