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Mitchell, Everett (1898-1990) | Archival Collections at Wheaton College

Name: Mitchell, Everett (1898-1990)


Historical Note:

Everett Mitchell, gospel singer and radio innovator, was born on March 15, 1898 on a small farm near Chicago in Oak Park, IL, just eight months after radio was invented by Guglielmo Marconi in 1897.

Mitchell, growing up impoverished, once had to wear his sister’s hand-me-down shoes to school. As a child he worked a variety of jobs, spending his first nickel to purchase bread for his family. Of Quaker lineage, he learned dozens of hymns at an early age and often sang as he performed his chores.

Soon his melodious voice attracted the attention of local churches seeking musicians and revivalists. One of the nation’s prominent evangelists, Gypsy Smith, noticed young Everett and hired him as a soloist for Smith’s revival services at Pacific Garden Mission in downtown Chicago. Smith later convinced Billy Sunday to utilize Mitchell’s talent for summer revival services at Winona Lake, IN. There he sang hymns during Sunday’s invitation plea, imploring hundreds of seekers to accept Christ.

Mitchell continued at Winona Lake for four summers before assuming a clerical position at the Charles A. Stevens department store in the Loop. One fateful morning while downtown, he witnessed the capsizing of the Eastland, perhaps the worst tragedy in Chicago history. The boat, carrying 2500 Western Electric Company employees to a picnic in Michigan, suddenly tipped, dumping hundreds into the river, trapping hundreds more beneath. In all, 844 perished. He would never forget the horrible day.

Completing high school, Mitchell worked as a clerk at First Trust and Savings Bank. There he met his future wife, Mildred, a bookkeeper. Tallying their paychecks, the newlyweds quickly realized that their salaries would not support a family. Mitchell left the bank and secured a position with the Continental Casualty Company where he enjoyed success as a claims adjuster.

In the evening, however, he was moonlighting as a part-time announcer for station WENR, an opportunity to exercise his baritone voice. At the agency, his supervisor noticed Mitchell’s often bedraggled appearance after the radio gigs, and finally presented him with an ultimatum: leave radio or accept termination. Mitchell quit with little deliberation. As he departed, his supervisor fumed: “Radio is nothing but a passing fad!” He never looked back.

Mitchell entered full-time at WENR where he soon developed a consistent programming format, allowing a convenient predictability for both the performer and the listener. Now he could schedule jazz, gospel or classical music ahead of time and advertise, thus hooking the audience. For Mitchell, this was a definitive first in a long career of firsts.

In addition to innovative formatting, he created original programs, many of which remain in various forms. For instance, “Letters to Santa Claus,” a classic during the holidays; and “Bedtime Stories for Chorus Girls,” the first late night talk show, featuring breezy chitchat with vaudevillians finishing their shows at 1:00 a.m. He wrote and delivered the first radio commercial, selling Christmas trees by the thousands.

In 1926, Mitchell embraced the challenge of broadcasting a studio orchestra from the LaSalle Street Masonic Temple; however, its stage was not equipped with electrical facilities. To surmount the difficulty, he invented a portable transmitter, weighing less than ten pounds. The temple broadcast became the first offsite radio “remote,” now an industry standard.

In 1927, he faced yet another unique challenge when Charles Lindbergh attempted the first nonstop transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. Until then it was not typical to interrupt a radio broadcast with breaking news. Most of the information concerning the historic voyage was at least two hours old by the time it reached Mitchell. But Lindbergh’s flight had captivated the imagination of an anxious world; and as the long hours mounted, Mitchell felt the necessity to break the tension. At 10:00 p.m. he announced that there was still no news.

Drawing on his Christian faith, he had an idea. “The one thing we can all do,” he told his audience “is to pray for him and the success of his flight.” He announced that WENR would maintain air silence for one minute. “Won’t you join me in this minute of silence and each in your own way pray for this courageous young man?” Decades on, thousands of listeners would fondly remember this dramatic moment.

A few years later, Mitchell departed WENR for NBC, assuming responsibilities as announcer for the “National Farm and Home Hour,” a program dedicated to presenting livestock reports and light entertainment. As host, he was posed with two dominant tasks: 1) be friendly with the audience; and 2) be accurate with the reports. Soon after, the Great Depression devastated the country, hurling thousands of Americans into financial ruin. On May 14th, 1932, riding the train to work, he wondered how he might relieve their distress. Ironically, the same day’s papers carried news of the Lindbergh baby’s murder.

That morning, Mitchell, not discussing his intent with the station management, stepped to the microphone to introduce the show, stating confidently: “It’s a beautiful day in Chicago! It’s a great day to be alive, and I hope it’s even more beautiful wherever you are.” The impromptu greeting upset the management, but created a sensation among an audience desperately hungry for good cheer. As a result, the phrase became his signature for the remainder of his career.

An extensive traveler, Mitchell visited over 50 countries, reporting on agriculture in Europe, Central and South America, Russia and Asia. He served as a war correspondent in Korea, investigating famine.

His first wife, Mildred, died in 1950 of cancer. In 1952 he married Clara Christenson; they were the parents of one son, Peter Michael. In 1967 Mitchell received the Great Service to America Award, retiring later that year. He died November 12th, 1990, in Wheaton, IL, where he and his wife lived on Beautiful Day Farm.

Note Author: Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections staff






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