Life-changing call — Lloyd Newell reflects on his 20 years with 'Music and the Spoken Word'

Published: Thursday, Dec. 2 2010 5:30 a.m. MST

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."

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