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"Tante Esther" (Esther Horch) hosted a CFAM children's program
Source: Canadian Mennonite photograph (92-14-2930)

Regularly scheduled radio programming began to fill the air waves in North America in 1920. The radio provided a direct link to the larger culture for Mennonites who were a largely rural people at the time. The initial Mennonite reaction to the advent of the radio varied widely by conference and regional groups. Acceptance of the radio fluctuated directly with the degree of acculturation of the various Mennonite groups. The more acculturated groups, e.g., the General Conference Mennonite Church, took the radio in stride.

The editor of The Christian Exponent, writing in 1924, described his newly purchased radio with delight and noted that it along with other recent inventions was bringing Mennonites "into direct contact with the world about us." Mennonites and Amish groups that stressed separation from the world rejected the radio outright. Old Order Mennonite and Amish groups in the 1990s continued to forbid use of the radio. In many conferences of the Mennonite Church (MC), the radio stirred controversy between 1920 and 1950. A survey by Ernest E. Miller of radio use in the Indiana-Michigan Conference in 1939 identified some 600 homes with radios, most of which were purchased in the previous two years. Respondents to the survey were sharply divided on their attitude toward the radio.

As early as 1924 the Virginia Conference (MC) said, "We deem it wrong to have the radio in our homes," and by 1931 the same group made ownership of the radio a test of membership. Widespread use of the radio by lay members forced the Virginia Conference to relax its position in 1944 although it continued to protest the "evils of radio." Owning a radio was discouraged in the Lancaster Conference (MC) until the late 1950s. In some conferences members left the church or were excommunicated when they began using the radio for gospel broadcasts. Although many members of the more conservative conferences owned radios, sometimes surreptitiously, ministers would often sell their radios upon ordination. Although perceived to be less of a threat than television, the radio was seen as a source of worldly influence that could corrupt the minds of members and weaken their separation from the world. Indeed, as conference groups became acculturated they invariably dropped their resistance to the radio. The sanctioning of The Mennonite Hour as the official radio voice of the Mennonite Church in 1951 and the proliferation of religious radio stations after 1960 effectively ended resistance to the radio among mainstream Mennonite groups (broadcasting). No longer subject to the vices of worldly programming, many Mennonites now enjoyed religious programs throughout the day while other Mennonites tuned their radio dials to secular stations.

See also Broadcasting, Radio and Television


"Dangers in the Radio." Gospel Herald (14 September 1948): 853-54.

Detweiler, William G. "Proper Use of the Radio." Gospel Herald (18 February 1937): 994.

Epp, Frank H. Mennonites in Canada, 1920-1940: a People's Struggle for Survival. Toronto: Macmillan, 1982: 436.

Hostetler, Beulah Stauffer. American Mennonites and Protestant Movements. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1987: 212, 244.

Lehman, James O. Sonnenberg: a Haven and a Heritage. Kidron, Ohio: Kidron Community Council, 1969: 292-93, 306.

Miller, Ernest E. "The Use of the Radio Among the Mennonites of the Indiana-Michigan Conference." Mennonite Quarterly Review 14 (1940): 131-48.

Pellman, Hubert R. Mennonite Broadcasts: the First 25 Years. Harrisonburg, VA: Mennonite Broadcasts Inc., 1979: 9- 19.

"Radio Dangers to Your Spiritual Life." Salunga, PA: Lancaster Mennonite Conference, 1961.

Ruth, John L. Maintaining the Right Fellowship. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1984: 468, 482, 496.

Smucker, Vernon. "The Editor Listens In." Christian Exponent (18 January 1924): 19.

Stauffer, J. L. "The Radio Problem." Gospel Herald (18 October 1934): 639-40.

Wittlinger, Carlton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: the Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978: 344, 509-12.

Author(s) Donald B Kraybill
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Kraybill, Donald B. "Radio." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 26 Sep 2023.

APA style

Kraybill, Donald B. (1989). Radio. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 742. All rights reserved.

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