History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, March 18th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book.

Seventy-five years ago today, an Italian volcano erupts. Plus, 40 years ago this week, the first televised session of Congress.

EICHER: But first, we begin with the anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Here’s Paul Butler.

MUSIC: [Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major]

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: Bach was born March 21st, 1685 in Germany, to a family of church musicians. He had a beautiful singing voice and played many instruments including the violin, organ, and harpsichord. But he is best remembered today for composing more than 1,100 musical works.

MUSIC: [Organ Fantasia and Gugue in G Minor]

Bach was more than just an impeccable musician and composer. He was a Lutheran theologian and left a nearly unparalleled legacy of church music. In 1727 he wrote a sacred oratorio that sets Matthew’s account of the passion to music and is regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of sacred music.

MATTHEW PASSION: [Aria — Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott]

Bach’s devotion to the scriptures and sound Biblical interpretations earned him the nickname the “Fifth Evangelist”—even prompting one Swedish bishop to label Bach’s cantatas the Fifth Gospel of the New Testament.

Next, March 18th, 1944:

NEWSREEL: Vesuvius explodes. Italy’s historic volcano bursts into the most fearsome and devastating eruption in 70 years. A giant specter of endless grief for the Italian people.

The eruption kills 26 people and causes thousands to flee their homes.

NEWSREEL: Solerno, 17 miles away, is buried in lava dust 3 feet in depth…a costly disaster is soon apparent. The people of Sao Sebastiao are warned to leave their homes…

The ejection of lava lasts eight days. Ash and smoke spew for another two weeks.

NEWSREEL: It covers the land with precious ash that makes the earth fertile, and grapes will grow again to produce a wealth of wine.

Today, the volcano is considered one of the most dangerous in the world due to the 3 million people living nearby. Last year, Italian officials unveiled new evacuation plans if the volcano threatens to erupt again.

And finally, March 19th, 1979.

The U.S. House of Representatives convenes, opening its session for the first time to live television coverage. House chaplain James David Ford begins with a prayer of convocation.

FORD: Almighty God, may your spirit be with those who serve this assembly. Let us pursue justice and truth, for the good of your people and make us sensitive to the glory of your creation while we seek to serve with righteousness and humility. For in you do we trust. Amen.

The broadcast is the beginning of the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, or C-SPAN, a non-profit public service. It offers unedited coverage of government proceedings without commentary.

GORE: Mr. Speaker, on this historic day, the House of Representatives opens its proceedings for the first time to televised coverage.

During the first broadcast, Tennessee Congressman Al Gore acknowledges the historic significance of cameras in the House chamber.

GORE: Television will change this institution Mr. Speaker, just as it has changed the executive branch. But the good will far outweigh the bad…The solution for the lack of confidence in government Mr. Speaker, is more open government at all levels.

Less than 2 percent of American homes could tune in to that first broadcast, but C-SPAN’s gavel-to-gavel coverage of congressional hearings, legislative debates, and original public affairs programming grew quickly.  

LAMB: If we can not show the public how their money is being spent, we’re in trouble…

C-SPAN Founder Brian Lamb in 2014 on The Mimi Geerges Show. He acknowledges that cameras have changed debate and argument on Capital Hill, and not always for the better. But they have also made it possible for people to see for themselves how politics works and to do something about it if they don’t like it:

LAMB: It doesn’t look very pretty when you see it up close. But the responsibility for making it right belongs to the people we put in office. And so if it doesn’t look pretty and it’s going to make a difference to the public, change it.

No longer just a broadcast service, today all of C-SPAN’s content is available for free online, with more than 200,000 hours of archives.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/Keystone, Hulton Archive)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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