In 1990, when President Gordon B. Hinckley sat down with Lloyd D. Newell to extend the call to serve as announcer for "Music and The Spoken Word," "he told me, 'this call will change your life.' I didn't really get what that meant at the time," Newell says. But looking back from a perspective of 20 years, "I've realized that it has changed my life in all the meaningful ways I can think of."
Not only has Newell rubbed shoulders "with all the wonderful people associated with the broadcast, who are the kind that would walk over hot coals for you," and been able to travel the world, he has come to have a more thankful, more appreciative view of that world.
"Another thing President Hinckley told me was to make sure each 'Spoken Word' was an inspirational gem. That's what I've tried to do with all my heart and soul."
Fifty-two times a year, Newell delivers a message "designed to uplift and inspire, to be a bright spot in someone's life. It's nondenominational, dealing with universal principles; it's something that anyone can listen to, can take from, learn from."
Occasionally, he gets letters saying he should preach the gospel. Sometimes he gets letters from people who think he is preaching for a church. "They write to Rev. Newell of the Church of the Crossroads of the West, saying they like this half-hour church."
But that's not what this broadcast is all about, Newell says. "It's simply a gift from the church to people everywhere."
Back when he started, "I never once thought about what it would be like to do it for 20 years. But the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years, and here we are." Last Sunday, Newell started into his 21st year of doing the broadcasts, which makes him second only to Richard L. Evans in terms of longevity.
You could say his connection to the choir broadcast goes back even longer. In his home, he has a 1929 upright Philco radio that belonged to his mother, who grew up in a small town near Grace, Idaho. "She told me that on Sundays, her family would gather around the radio and tune into KSL and the Tabernacle Choir broadcast. To me, that's a wonderful connection with the past, an emblem of the broadcast. It warms my heart to think of them gathered around this radio."
Newell himself grew up listening to broadcasts, "but I was just a dorky kid. It never occurred to me that I could have a part of it."
Newell grew up in Utah, graduated from BYU and planned on going to law school and perhaps into politics. "But as the time came closer, I thought, 'Do I really want to practice law?' I decided to get a master's degree in communications instead."
His emphasis was on broadcast journalism, and his first job was as the 6-11 p.m. TV news anchor for WSEE in Erie, Pa.
A couple of years later, Newell's father passed away, and his mother developed health issues, and he decided to move back to Utah. He got a job teaching at BYU but also started doing speaking engagements around the country, talking about leadership and communications. "It's what a lot of people call 'motivational speaking,' but I always tried to give real substance." That endeavor took him to 46 states and a dozen countries.
He had also got an anchor job at CNN, doing news and also broadcasts from around the country, places such as Nashville, Tenn., and Pennsylvania. "But it got to the point where being on the road that much was not fun anymore." Newell had married his wife, Karmel, and found it harder to be away from the family.
He had done some voice-over work for Bonneville Communications, "so in the spring of 1990, I heard they were holding auditions for a backup announcer position, and decided to give that a try."
Newell was given the backup job, although he never appeared on air. But when then-announcer Spence Kinard left the choir job, Newell was asked to fill in on an interim basis while a search committee looked for a replacement.
Weeks became months, and in November, President Hinckley extended the call to serve on a permanent basis.
And it is a calling, Newell says. "A man came up to me once after a broadcast, and he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He said, 'it must be nice to get paid all that money for half-an-hour a week.' I explained that it takes much longer than a half hour, and I don't get paid for it."
Newell is still a professor at BYU. He does get paid for his writing and still does some speaking engagements around the country, most recently at a conference in St. Louis.
When he first started, most of the weekly messages were written by other people, and he felt a bit intimidated about writing his own, "although I did do a lot of editing." But it has evolved to where now he writes most of the messages himself.
And that he sees as both challenge and opportunity. With a weekly deadline, the term he uses affectionately is "a hungry beast that must be fed. We're always moving forward. We have about 30 seconds each week to say 'that went great,' and then we have to move on to the next week."
He and Choir Director Mack Wilberg sit down about six weeks ahead to map out future programs. "We talk about music, about themes, special guests. The music is the star of the show; that is clearly what drives it, and Mack knows the music so well. I have such respect and appreciation for him. But it's very collaborative. Sometimes there's an obvious connection between the music and the message; sometimes it's more subtle. The ideal is to have a sandwich of music and message that flows seamlessly."
Newell does most of his writing at home, sometimes with the help of his dog, Duke. More often, with input from Karmel. "She's my greatest help. She has written books; she's a great editor," he says, but more than that, "she has a great mind, a great soul. My greatest blessing is to have her."
Newell often finds himself looking at the world around him as a source for inspiration. He reads a lot. "I get a lot of ideas from the newspaper and what is going on in the world. I listen for stories." But he tries to make each message his own.
"I'm not Richard L. Evans. He was great, one-of-a-kind. During our 75th-year-of-broadcasting observance, we repeated some of his pieces. They are beautiful and timeless. But my messages are different than his because our world is different than his. My desire is simply to help lift burdens and help people go forward."
Many of the letters and cards he gets show there's a need for that, he says. "In all my years in the news business, I never got letters that said, 'That story touched my heart.' But we get them all the time, from around the world." It's a very gratifying but also very humbling part of the job, Newell says.
Choir President Mac Christensen sees Newell as a "wonderful presence week after week. He has a quick mind and a pleasant manner and just handles everything so well. His thoughts come from a magnificent mind and an outstanding heart, and he really means everything he says. The choir is blessed to have him with us."
Newell is quick to say that "Music and The Spoken Word" is bigger than any one person, any one time. "It has such a history and legacy. It's as much a part of our American culture as John Wayne and apple pie. A person can't help but be grateful to have a small part in something that is so loved."