Since 1990, Lloyd Newell has been the voice of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s weekly inspirational broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word.” The longest running continuous radio broadcast in the world is heard and seen each Sunday morning by millions around the world. Lloyd writes most of the messages from his Utah Valley home where he has an extensive library of both religious and non-religious titles.
Utah Valley’s Lloyd Newell celebrates 15 years as host of ‘Music and the Spoken Word’
By Jeanette W. Bennett
Although Lloyd Newell doesn’t consider himself a singer, he has the most identifiable voice from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s historic program — “Music and the Spoken Word.” With his broadcast-trained voice, he utters the famous ending, “Again we leave you from within the shadows of the everlasting hills. May peace be with you this day and always.”
Lloyd has been repeating this concluding phrase from the crossroads of the West for nearly 15 years. As only the third host in the broadcast’s 76-year history, he is well-aware of the legacy of which he is a part.
“It’s such a blessing to be part of this beloved program,” he says.
He’s honored, to be sure, but he’s also humbled and a bit uncomfortable with any notoriety that comes with his position. Afterall, this is simply his church calling, he explains. In fact, the two most common questions he gets asked are, “Do you get paid?” and “Do you write the messages?” The answers are “no” and “many of them.”
The comment that makes him smile the most is when he gets congratulated on the beautiful musical performances of the choir.
“I have to remind people that I’m the spoken word — not the singing word,” he says.
Although Lloyd’s voice and his calm demeanor are his signature, he doesn’t spend much time worrying about his instrument. When Angela Lansbury was a guest performer with the choir, she raved about Lloyd’s voice and wanted to know what he did to care for it.
“Not much,” was his response.
How it came to pass
Lloyd was living in the East in the late 1980s climbing up the broadcasting ladder when his father died and his mother in Orem began to have serious health problems.
“I felt I needed to come home,” he says. His plan was to move back to Utah for a few months, even though he had to turn down multiple broadcasting offers to do so. During his time at home, he met a man who was starting a training company, and Lloyd decided to do some presentations until he got back into television. During this time he also flew to Atlanta on weekends to work as a CNN anchor.
In January of 1990, Lloyd was asked to audition to be the backup for Spencer Kinard (“Music and the Spoken Word” host from 1972-1990) in case of sickness or travel. Lloyd was selected as the backup but was not asked to fill in for the first several months. Then Lloyd got a call while on a business trip to Africa asking him to be the interim host of “Music and the Spoken Word” while the church held auditions and began the search for a new permanent host. For several months, Lloyd filled the weekly duties and watched many other people audition for the spot.
“I was fine with being the backup, but then I got a sense of what the broadcast was all about and I fell in love with the mission of the choir,” he says.
A search committee was created under the direction of choir president Wendell Smoot, and after auditioning more than 75 people for the position, LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley called Lloyd to be the host of the broadcast.
It’s all about the time
Although there is much joy and satisfaction from being at the crossroads of the West, there is also a lot of work. Weeks in advance the message is prepared. On Wednesday, the message is sent to the printer for the following Sunday’s printed program. Then each weekend Lloyd goes through a routine of practicing the message, underlining words he wants to emphasize and then faxing it Saturday night to the teleprompter operators, who input the latest version with any last-minute changes.
On Sundays, Lloyd arrives at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City at 7:30 a.m. The process begins as he talks to the producers and reviews the technical aspects of the show. Lloyd practices with the teleprompter and makes last-minute adjustments. At 8:30 a.m., Lloyd and the choir go through a complete program, which they call the fax or facsimile, for timing and production purposes.
Lloyd has never missed a broadcast for being sick. If he is going to be out of town, his portion of the broadcast is pretaped. But he is dedicated to being in the Conference Center for the program.
“People come from various parts of the country to see the broadcast, and they expect to see all of the elements of the show,” he says. “On TV and radio, they can’t tell if I’m actually live or not, but the live audience knows the difference.”
Viewers comment on how calm Lloyd looks as he gives his 320-word message. He describes himself as having a “controlled nervousness.”
“As someone once said, I try to make the butterflies fly in formation,” he says. “I think a certain intensity is important so I don’t get sloppy and lazy.”
Lloyd’s Sunday morning commitments sometimes keep him from being with his family at church. During the years when his family ward is at 11 a.m. or 1 p.m., he is able to attend most of his ward services.
In addition to the Sunday duties, Lloyd also accompanies the choir as they travel around the world. He emcees the concerts and does a “spoken word” segment during each concert performance. He has delivered the “Spoken Word” from Israel, Spain, England, France and numerous locations around the United States.
His other life
Lloyd is well-known for his Sunday routine, but the other six days each week he is busy providing for his family. While it’s true he’s now a professor at BYU, he has also traveled the world and spoken in 45 states on topics related to communications, human relations and leadership.
Lloyd’s most important writings are the 2-3 minutes sermonettes on Sunday mornings, but he’s also written several books, including “The Divine Connection” “May Peace Be With You” and co-authored with Robert Millet several best-selling daily devotionals, including “Draw Near Unto Me” and “When Ye Shall Receive These Things.”
Lloyd prefers his current writing and broadcasting duties to news broadcasts.
“People connect with it differently,” he says. “At the end of a news broadcast, I would throw my stack of papers away. News is important but it’s somewhat meaningless. So much of the news is negative and depressing. ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ is different. I get to deliver part of my heart each week. I get to write and speak about everlasting things.”
Lloyd says this is the most fulfilling thing he’s done in broadcasting. And the irony is, it isn’t a paid position.
Several years ago a TV station manager from out-of-state called Lloyd and said, “I don’t know what they are paying you to do ‘Music and the Spoken Word,’ but I will beat it.”
Undoubtedly, the station could beat $0, but Lloyd wasn’t interested in taking a cut in enjoyment.
“It is a great honor to be part of something that is a legacy,” he says. “I shake in my shoes a little when I think about it. As Craig Jessop (music director) taught me, if I take it in small pieces I don’t get overwhelmed.”
Lloyd not only delivers the non-denominational messages each week, but he also writes many of them and edits all of them so they are in his voice.
“Often I write about things I’m dealing with or thinking or reading about,” he says.
He also tells stories about his children and his parents, although he doesn’t identify them by name. To chart Lloyd’s messages over the past 15 years would be to chart his life. During his tenure as the ‘spoken word,’ he has gotten married, become a father, changed careers and learned countless of life’s daily lessons. When President Hinckley called Lloyd to the position, he asked that each message be “an inspirational gem.”
“I think of those words every time I write and do the broadcast,” Lloyd says. “I’m aware that the messages are not about scholarship and impressive language. People usually don’t go back and read the messages — they have to be conversational — written for the ear. The message has to be clear and must include universal truths and values.”
Although Lloyd has an office elsewhere, he prefers to write at home.
“When I’m home and comfortable and surrounded by my books and my loved ones, it just works better,” he says.
Lloyd keeps an extensive file of ideas for upcoming books or messages. When an idea comes to him, he writes it down on “whichever surface he finds first,” says his wife, Karmel.
Coming up with 52 messages a year for 15 years is no small task. Lloyd’s wife feels the weight of the responsibility with her husband. Karmel has a master’s in literature and a bachelor’s in English from the University of Utah.
“She’s my best editor, proofreader and collaborator,” Lloyd says. “She is a gifted writer, and everything I write goes through her.”
And if you know Karmel, your stories may end up in Lloyd’s messages.
“Often she comes home from Relief Society or some other meeting and tells me a story or experience someone shared,” Lloyd says. “The antenna is always up for both of us. Often something will happen that is relatively meaningless to others, but I know I can use it in my writings.”
When writer’s block hits, Lloyd’s learned that finding the first word is the hardest.
“Beginning is half the battle,” he says. “It’s half-done if you begin. Some of the best messages I’ve written were done in an hour or two. Other messages take days or even weeks. Because of the demanding weekly schedule, I don’t have time to pontificate or do a lot of hand-wringing and procrastinating — the message has to be written.”
Lloyd, Craig and the producer meet often to discuss themes and topics for upcoming broadcasts. Every effort is made to connect the message and the music.
Beyond the crossroads of the West
Lloyd receives letters from all over the world —some are addressed to Reverend Newell or to the Church of the Crossroads of the West. Lloyd has had people tell him he’s their bishop or pastor.
“I’m not a bishop or a pastor,” he says. “They will say, ‘You are my pastor. I watch the broadcast and that is my church.’”
Ten years ago, Lloyd received a note from someone who was planning to commit suicide. “The Music and Spoken Word” made this woman feel that she could continue on and find the will to live.
“It is a great blessing to be part of something that is positive,” Lloyd says. “We need more of this in our world. There is so much negativism, doom and despair in this darkening world. This broadcast is a beacon of hope, a ray of light to so many.”
Audience members at the broadcast often include visiting dignitaries — it’s a non-threatening, non-controversial way for visitors to see the LDS Church members and facilities.
“The choir has an ability to touch hearts in a remarkable way,” he says. “We build bridges and open doors.”
A Family Man
Although Lloyd is uncomfortable with the notoriety of his position, it is hard to ignore. When the Newells were eating out at a restaurant several years ago, a man came up and told Lloyd he watched the broadcast every week. Lloyd’s young daughter said, “That guy watches, too?”
“My kids used to think they were the only ones watching,” Lloyd says.
His family is the main reason Lloyd gave up his 150,000 miles on the road each year and pursued a teaching career at BYU.
“The roar of the crowd can be intoxicating, but the real work of family life is in the trenches,” he says. “When I come home, I don’t get a standing ovation.”
One of Lloyd’s messages to his four children is that practice is the key to any success.
“When they don’t want to practice piano, spelling or basketball, I remind them that practice is the only way to improve,” he says.
He teaches this principle by example — he carefully prepares and practices every message extensively before the cameras roll.
Lloyd’s signature trait is his calm, soothing voice. His background is in broadcast communications, and he held anchoring positions at several TV stations, including CNN. Now Lloyd is a professor at BYU and author of several books
Roots in Utah Valley
The Newells have their roots deep in Utah Valley. Lloyd’s ancestors owned and farmed many acres in Orem, and Newell is one of the oldest surnames in Utah Valley. Lloyd, who is the middle of seven children, attended Sharon Elementary, Orem Junior High and was the student body president at Orem High School. Lloyd’s father, Neil O. Newell, was a crane operator at Geneva Steel.
“No man had a better father than I,” Lloyd says, in his characteristic poetic wording. “A finer man never lived. He was a humble man without guile. How honored I am to be his son.”
One of Lloyd’s heartaches is that his father didn’t see him do the broadcast. On the other hand, Lloyd’s mother, Verna Lloyd Newell, never misses the program. Lloyd often calls her Sunday morning on his way home after doing “Music and the Spoken Word.” She tells him how she liked the message and what she thought of his hair and clothing.
“She doesn’t always give me a thumbs up,” Lloyd confesses. “Sometimes she’ll say things like, ‘I don’t like you in those light colors.’”
Fortunately for his mother, Lloyd has developed a large tie collection, which Karmel plans to make into a quilt.
Lloyd isn’t the only one calling his widowed mother Sunday morning. Craig and Mack Wilberg (associate director) also touch base with their aging mothers.
“We all depend on them for their feedback,” Lloyd says. “They are our biggest fans and give us honest feedback.”
Again we leave you
Although Mormon Tabernacle Choir members can be in the choir for a maximum of 20 years, Lloyd doesn’t know when his calling as host will end. In 76 years of broadcasting, there have only been three hosts of “Music and the Spoken Word.”
“I’m part of something much, much larger than myself,” he says. “I love the fine, good people of the choir, choir staff and the production side of the broadcast.”
But he is quick to point out that the show is not about him.
“The music is the star of the show,” Lloyd says. “That’s why we tune in — it’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”
UTAH COUNTY ACCOUNTS FOR NEARLY 1/4 OF THE CHOIR
Of the 360 voices in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, at least 70 are from Utah Valley. (Photo above depicts Utah Valley members in attendance at a March taping of “Music and the Spoken Word.”) Choir members must live within 100 miles of downtown Salt Lake City, so choir members can live as far south as Nephi. Two of Utah Valley’s singers are David and Debra Gehris, one of 20 husband-wife combinations in the choir. “I joined in 1986, and my husband joined a year later,” Debra says. “We understand what each other is going through — the exhaustion on Friday mornings (after Thursday rehearsals) and wanting to go to bed early on Saturday night.” Debra’s favorite song to perform is “Consider the Lilies.” The 40-minute (and sometimes longer) commute is a small price to pay for the joy of being part of the choir. The Gehrises have been to Israel, Eastern Europe and all over the United States adding their voices to the choir’s majestic sound. “I love the feeling of closeness the choir has,” she says. “I love being so close to President Hinckley and seeing his expressions.”
ATTENDING MUSIC & THE SPOKEN WORD
A few thousand hear “Music and the Spoken Word” live each Sunday morning. The broadcast is a great place to take out-of-state visitors or even to experience as a family. The broadcast begins at 9:30 a.m., and the audience must be seated by 9:15. Photos may be taken prior to the broadcast and after the 30-minute taping. Ushers provide printed programs and directions. The broadcast is not an LDS worship service; rather it is a program of music and Christian messages. Time: Be seated by 9:15 a.m. Cost: Free Where: The Conference Center on the north side of Temple Square in Salt Lake City
This 1929 Philco radio is displayed prominently in Lloyd’s Utah Valley home. Lloyd’s grandparents purchased the radio the year “Music and the Spoken Word” began on the air, and they listened to the broadcast from their home in Central Idaho. The radio has previously been displayed at the Museum of Church History and Art.
LLOYD ON LLOYD
Family: Wife, Karmel; 4 children — Hayley, McKay, Abigail, Jacob
Education: Master’s in communications and Ph.D. in marriage, family and human development
Career: Faculty member in Religious Education and associate faculty member in the School of Family Life at BYU
Years as host of “The Music and Spoken Word”: 15
Hobbies: Going on walks, writing, reading and spending time with family
Recent additions to his bookshelf: “Moving in His Majesty and Power” and “Blink”
Most commonly asked questions: “Are you paid for hosting the broadcast?” and “Do you write the messages?”
Utah Valley Claim to Fame: Student body president at Orem High School, Soaring Seagull Award from Sharon Elementary
Most treasured possession: 1929 Philco radio from his grandparents, who listened to the broadcast in Central Idaho when it first went on the air
Community service: Serves as commissioner for the Utah Governor’s Commission on Marriage
length of message he delivers each sunday: 320 words