SALT LAKE CITY — October marks two milestones in the history of general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: the 90th anniversary of conference on the radio and the 65th anniversary of conference on television.
Oct. 3-5, 1924, general conference was broadcast on the radio for the first time through church-owned KSL. And from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, 1949, general conference was first televised throughout the Salt Lake area over KSL television, though the conference had been carried by closed-circuit television to other buildings on Temple Square since April 1948, according to the 2013 Church Almanac.
Speaking 90 years ago, church President Heber J. Grant remarked: “The exercises of today and throughout the conference are to be broadcasted; and it is estimated that in the neighborhood of a million people will be able to hear all that is said, provided they are listening in during the conference sessions. The radio is one of the most marvelous inventions man knows anything about. To have the voice carried for thousands of miles seems almost beyond comprehension. Certainly one of the most marvelous, if not the most marvelous, inventions to date is radio” (see October 1924 Conference Report).
The church almanac says there were 597,861 members of the church in 1924. There were 94 stakes, 25 missions, 1,685 wards and branches, six temples and 867 missionaries called.
Twenty-five years later, President George Albert Smith remarked, “I am also pleased to announce that for the first time in the history of the church, sessions of this conference will be broadcast upon the air by television over the Salt Lake area and certain areas adjacent thereto,” according to the October 1949 Conference Report.
According to the almanac, there were 1,078,671 members of the church in 1949, 175 stakes, 46 missions, 2,828 wards and branches, eight temples and 2,323 missionaries called.
Later in the conference, President J. Reuben Clark, a counselor in the First Presidency, announced that those watching at Brigham Young University and members as far south as Spanish Fork were receiving excellent reception of the conference on television, according to the 1949 Conference Report.
Today, millions of members of the church watch or listen to general conference with the aid of modern media. KSL continues to broadcast the conference locally, both on television and the radio, and millions more members of the church who don’t live in Utah and surrounding areas can watch conference via the Internet.
According to mormonnewsroom.org, there are 15,082,028 members of the church as of Dec. 31, 2013. There are a total of 3,050 stakes, 405 missions, 29,253 wards and branches, 141 temples and a total of 83,035 full-time missionaries, with another 24,032 church-service missionaries.
Ben Tullis is a Deseret News intern and a freelance writer. He graduated from Utah Valley University in August 2014 with a bachelor's degree in English. He lives in Pleasant Grove with his wife and 3-year-old son. Follow him on Twitter @bentullis