MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BNc) by Rodger Holtin — “Every preacher should listen to his recorded lessons because it would surely improve their delivery.” Thus spoke Dr. Jack P. Lewis after hearing for the first time the first recording of one of his lessons – more than 71 years after it was recorded.
Rodger Holtin of Henderson, Tenn., a longtime record collector and sometime student of Restoration History, was reading Dr. Lewis’s autobiography, As I Remember It, when he stopped cold at a paragraph on page 87.
There Dr. Lewis recounted his senior speech at the College Church in Abilene, Tex., and noted that it was recorded.
Two graduating preachers were invited to speak at the College Church on the last Sunday of the school year. My turn was at the evening service, and I came back to school for it rather than preaching at Throckmorton where I was going regularly. I chose “The Seven Wonders of the Bible” as my topic. When I got up to speak, I noticed that Dr. Mullins was operating the recording equipment which he did not usually do at a worship service. My brother Clyde, without telling me, had arranged for them to record the sermon. Radio studios then used large 16-inch disks for recording for which now there would be no equipment. I eventually gave the record to the Harding Graduate School Library without ever having had a chance to listen to it.
Holtin was visiting Memphis the day he read that and immediately contacted the Graves Library at Harding School of Theology.
“That project just had my name all over it,” said Holtin, who owns one of the extra large players expressly for the purpose of making digital copies of similar rare discs in his collection. Within a few minutes he was on the phone with Head Librarian Don Meredith, who said they had been looking for someone who could do that for years, and serendipity brought them in contact.
Meredith arranged a surprise gathering on Nov. 6, for Dr. Lewis and several Harding faculty, staff, and students who enjoyed listening and watching him listen to it for the first time.
“It was a bit of a risk having an audience for his first hearing, not knowing exactly how he would feel about listening to this for the first time, but I had heard the segment enough to know there were no major flubs so it seemed a risk worth taking, and proved to be well worth the effort,” Holtin said.
Brother Lewis was genuinely surprised, and appeared to be delighted with the discovery. He spent some time with the group discussing the circumstances surrounding the recording.
“We are in a race against time with recordings like this,” Holtin related.
These old discs had delicate surfaces of Cellulose Nitrate, commonly known around radio stations as “acetates,” and recording studios as “lacquers.” Usually the base material was aluminum (as this one), sometimes steel, paper or glass, but regardless of the base, the laminate is usually the same. They were fragile when they were new and become more so every day. Changes in temperature or humidity will cause the laminate to flake off and as they age that Cellulose Nitrate will grow crystals on the surface. All of that is in addition to the usual problems of dirt and scratches always encountered with phonograph records.
Alas, the Lewis disc suffered all of the above and only the last nine minutes were salvageable.
At least two factors make this discovery of Dr. Lewis’ first recording so exciting.
As this was his first recording, it is an interesting glimpse into the life of a young man with so much potential, and hindsight now reveals how well he fulfilled that potential. That he’s still with us long enough to enjoy hearing it all these years later, is quite remarkable.
Another important aspect of this discovery is that it provides the opportunity to publicize the need to find and rescue similar disc recordings of earlier Restoration Movement leaders.
Indeed, both Tom Childers and Scott Harp, noted Restoration researchers, have found many early tape recordings, but have not found any discs. These “acetate” discs pre-date tape recording by at least 15 years, the first were made available to the consumers in 1934. That means the potential certainly exists for many years’ worth of recordings which have not come to light.
Dr. Lewis related that this recording was made on a machine usually used by the church to record lessons to be broadcast later by the local radio station.
Earlier Restoration preachers used radio in the 1930s and 1940s, so the possibility of finding early discs by the likes of H. Leo Boles, W. L. Oliphant or younger voices of N. B. Hardeman or Marshall Keeble certainly is a tantalizing thought – and not impossible by any means. The fact that this technology has been obsolete for so much longer than tape, however, seems to have relegated the discs to attics, basements, closets or other inhospitable hiding places. The time to ask questions and search for these is here now.
Indeed, this has already produced some fruit. Don Meredith presented three more discs he found in the archive. As they are evaluated in the coming months, the details will be made public.
Dr. Lewis has given Holtin permission to distribute the recording, and it will be made available to the public. Below, an excerpt of the recording is provided.
We are certainly indebted to brother Lewis for his making this slice of history available to posterity.