Time to Debunk a Myth From Radio’s Infancy:
Aimee Semple McPherson’s Telegram
to Herbert Hoover

1927 photo

Copyright 2011


Is it true that Los Angeles evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson sent an angry telegram to Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover about her radio station at Angelus Temple, KFSG? The supposed 1920s era telegram reportedly contained the phrase “please order your minions of Satan to leave my radio station alone!” In 2003 I wrote an extensive history of the now-defunct station, KFSG. I felt the telegram story was true. Now in 2011, after closely examining all of the facts, I believe this is another myth from the earliest years of broadcasting, such as KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania being the first radio station in the world.

More than 85 years have passed since McPherson put 500-watt KFSG on the air at 1080 kilocycles on the AM radio dial in 1924. It may be difficult to convince people today that this legend of radio history never took place. I have set out to find evidence to, if not set the record straight, then at least present enough evidence to show that the incident likely never took place.

My earlier history of KFSG written eight years ago, initially showed that the archives at the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel headquarters concerning KFSG were simply not accurate. By providing them the correct information, they know now that KFSG was not the third station on the air in Los Angeles and was not the first Christian station in the nation. But it was, however, unquestionably an important pioneer in religious broadcasting, remaining on the air for 79 years under two AM licenses, and then on the FM band after 1970. Also, while McPherson was not the first woman to own a radio station, she was the second woman to do so, and one of only six female radio station owners during her lifetime.(Halper 68-69)


Since the 1950s and 1960s, more than 50 books on radio history including college textbooks on the subject, books about religious radio and the memoirs of former President Herbert Hoover have mentioned the telegram story, without questioning the accuracy of the story. (Search of Google Books) But oddly all of the books on the life of Aimee Semple McPherson made no mention of the Hoover telegram story, except for one, which was published in the past decade.

After the story was originally published in Hoover’s memoirs in 1952, the famous broadcast historian Erik Barnouw accepted the “minions of Satan” telegram as factual in his 1966 book, A Tower In Babel—A History of Broadcasting In the United States to 1933 (Barnouw 180). Barnouw quoted the “minions of Satan” story again in a 1982 journal article. (Barnouw 13-23)

Apparently all of the other books which repeated the McPherson-Hoover telegram story obtained their “facts” from either Hoover’s memoirs or Barnouw’s book. One book on the topic of early Pentecostals, while not a biography of McPherson, also quoted the “minions of Satan” telegram, citing the Barnouw 1966 book and a 1987 book by George H. Douglas on the early days of radio broadcasting. (Wacker 33). A 2007 book by Matthew Sutton titled Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America is the only biography of her that has mentioned the story of the telegram. (Sutton 81-82)

According to Matthew T. Schaefer, who in 2003 was the Archivist for the Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa, trying to separate the legend from the history of the McPherson telegram is difficult. On the other hand, Schaefer said that given Hoover’s careful attention to documenting history, he is inclined to believe the story is true. (M. T. Schaefer, personal communication, April 7, 2003) But even the Hoover Presidential Library website has errors concerning portions of the story regarding KFSG. I’ll have more to say about that later.

But, if this incident happened in the 1920s, why is there no record of it in the popular media of the day? In searching the historical archive of the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, I’ve been unable to find any stories or reports about any dispute between McPherson and Herbert Hoover. In addition, I could not find a single story in newspapers or radio magazines of the 1920s reporting that KFSG had been taken off the air by the government or had lost its license, as Hoover claimed. According to the records of the Department of Commerce, no such action against KFSG ever took place. (Radio Service Bulletins February 1924 to December 1927). And, there were no newspaper stories or radio magazine articles reporting that KFSG had wandered off its assigned frequency or used too much power in 1924, ‘25, ‘26 or ‘27. Those are the years that the various books have listed for the time of the alleged telegram sent by McPherson to Hoover, though no specific date has ever been given for this alleged incident.


KFSG had its very first broadcast on the evening of February 6, 1924. It was the 12th radio station to go on the air in Los Angeles with a regular broadcast schedule. However, by this time, a few of the stations that began operating in 1921 and 1922 had gone out of business and were off the air by 1924. Only KNX, KHJ, KFI, and KJS (later known as KTBI, KFAC and now KWKW-1330) were on the air regularly. In another 4 weeks, a new Long Beach radio station, KFON (later KFOX and now KFRN-1280) would also be on the air regularly. A bit later in 1924, KFPG (now KLAC-570) and KFQZ were licensed, but were broadcasting with irregular schedules. Also, KPPC in Pasadena went on the air in Pasadena at the end of 1924 and in March of 1925, KFWB in Hollywood began broadcasting. The Los Angeles area radio dial was gradually becoming more crowded. (Radio Service Bulletins, February 1924 to December 1925)

In January of 1924, roughly 10.8 percent of the homes in the United States owned a radio set. By January of 1925, that figure had increased to 14.4 percent and by January of 1926, to 18 percent. The number increased to 23.3 percent of U.S. homes with a radio in January of 1927 and 26.9 percent in January of 1928. (Douglas xx-xxi)

When KFSG first went on the air in 1924, radio broadcasting was still in the early stages of development, as were the various types of radio sets the public used to hear the radio broadcasts. Most radios at that time were fairly expensive and not very simple to operate. Also, there was not one standard way of tuning for stations on mid-1920s radios yet, as we have today. There were several types of radios on the market, including the crystal set, the TRF or tuned radio frequency receiver (also called the neutrodyne), the regenerative receiver and the superheterodyne receiver. Improvement in vacuum tube technology and a demand for cheaper, higher-performance radios caused the superheterodyne to become the way most radios in the United States were designed by the 1930s.

Before the Federal Radio Commission was formed by an act of Congress in 1927, broadcasting was regulated by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Navigation, Radio Division, under the Radio Act of 1912. The 1912 radio law mainly covered wireless code between ships and ship-to-shore wireless code, along with amateur radio. It did not specify how broadcasting stations should be regulated. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover was the man in charge of radio broadcasting at the time.

1927 photo


KFSG had been on the air for only 2 weeks, when it received an important letter from the 6th District Radio Inspector, Col. J.F. Dillon. Dillon had been one of the guest speakers on KFSG’s first broadcast on February 6 and Aimee had met him on previous occasions. His district covered not only California, but also Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Hawaii. A photocopy of this and a second letter to Aimee Semple McPherson at KFSG-Angelus Temple were sent to me by the National Archives, as part of a KFSG license file from the 1920s and ’30s.

In the first letter dated February 21, 1924, Dillon writes, “This office is daily receiving complaints regarding interference caused by the operation of KFSG, with the reception from KFI, KHJ and distant stations.” Dillon says that with KFSG on the air every day and night, he would have no choice but to order the station to share time on 278 meters/1080 kilocycles with other religious groups in the Los Angeles area. Dillon stated in the letter that other religious organizations were also seeking a broadcast license. Dillon suggested that KFSG go on the air only 3 nights a week, to allow better reception to those whose radio reception was being ruined by KFSG’s strong signal. (KFSG license file, National Archives)

In an email, radio historian Thomas H. White said that 278 meters (1080 kilocycles/kilohertz) was one of the frequencies opened up when the broadcast band was expanded on May 23, 1923 to include 550-1350 kilocycles. White noted that KFSG should have had unlimited use of this frequency as it saw fit. (T. H. White, personal communication, November 27, 2011)

The second letter from Dillon was sent to McPherson on February 28, and mentions her letter of the 26th, but no copy of that letter has ever been located. Again, Dillon tells McPherson that complaints about the operation of KFSG continue to arrive at his office. Dillon felt that if there were more radios made with better selectivity to block out or filter strong signals from a nearby radio station, that radio fans that lived close to the KFSG transmitter, would be able to get better reception of KHJ and KFI. Dillon’s letter is polite, with no warning or threat of taking away her license or taking KFSG off the air. He instead suggests once more that KFSG cut back its broadcast schedule from 6 or 7 days/nights a week to three or four days on the air each week. (KFSG license file National Archives)

The National Archives KFSG file did not include any other such letters on this topic. I sent email copies of the letters to radio historian Thomas H. White, who is an expert on the early regulation of U.S. radio broadcasting. Since 1996, Mr. White has been in charge of his website on early United States radio history from 1897 to 1927. White has also written several original articles on early radio history. He sent me the following comments:

Those letters were interesting, in showing how individual Radio Inspectors tried to handle controversies in the days before the formation of the Federal Radio Commission. I suspect this led to inconsistencies in the various districts, plus the inspectors probably found themselves on shaky legal grounds trying to justify their decisions. The interference problems were mostly around the transmitter sites, and were due to inexpensive receivers with limited selectivity. (Some stations were accused of having “broad waves”, but the actual problem was always with the receivers.) (T. H. White, personal communication, November 17, 2009)

Media historian Donna Halper also commented on the letters from Dillon: “I’m not surprised to find that KFSG might have been asked to limit its time on the air so that other smaller station or stations with weaker signals might have a turn to broadcast.” Halper said the AM dial had not been fully opened up yet, and the spectrum was getting quite crowded with other stations trying to get on the air. She also noted that religious stations of the days were normally only on the air on Sundays, or Saturdays for Jewish services. KFSG staying on the air nearly every night was new to the Commerce Department. Halper said, “A number of churches owned stations, but the ones I know about limited their time to Sundays or to religious occasions (like Christmas). They were not on the air full-time with religion.” (D. Halper, personal communication, November 12, 2009)

Station KJS at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles was broadcasting mostly religious programs other than on Sundays. But, KJS was not on the air every day like KFSG, which was broadcasting 6 out of 7 days a week.

In the book The Beginning of Broadcast Regulation in the 20th Century, Marvin Bensman wrote about the various problems the radio inspectors faced between 1922 and 1926. Bensman specifically mentioned an incident which involved Dillon. Dillon had tried to solve another Los Angeles radio controversy in early 1923, when KHJ and KFI were required to share time on the Class B frequency of 400 meters or 750 kilocycles. When the two stations refused to divide air time equally, Dillon came up with his own plan to avoid interference and broadcast at the same time. He informed his supervisor in Washington, D.C. that he would have KFI operate slightly below 750 kilocycles and KHJ would go on the air a bit above 750 kilocycles. But his superiors at Department of Commerce told Dillon this was unacceptable and had KFI and KHJ go back to sharing time on 400 meters. (Bensman 75-76)

And in 1922, when all broadcasting stations were assigned to share air time on 360 meters (833 kilocycles), Dillon was supposed to assign arbitrary time divisions to all stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Instead, he told the radio station owners it was their problem and not his. Dillon let the radio stations work out the time-share agreements, and Secretary Hoover highly complimented him on this method. (Los Angeles Times March 6, 1927)

When KFSG came on the air in 1924, KFI and KHJ had their own frequencies, 640 and 760 kilocycles, respectively. Their output power was 500 watts, as was KFSG, which was considered “high power” at that time. KNX at 360 meters/833 kilocycles at 100 watts would boost power to 500 watts by the end of 1924 and move to 890 on the radio dial. But other Los Angeles area stations operated with 100 watts or less, which added to the interference problems of the less selective radios. (Radio Service Bulletins, February to December 1924)


It appears that the radio stations and the federal Radio Inspectors had their jobs cut out for them during the early and mid-1920s. J.F. Dillon of the 6th Radio District in San Francisco also had the problem of finding out if the interference was caused by the radio station’s transmitter or by the radios that could not separate the stations properly.

In some cases, stations were told by potential listeners to stay off the air because they interfered with other stations they were trying to hear in the same city. This problem of 1920s era radio was pointed out in the 1937 book, Education’s Own Stations by S. E. Frost. Here are three examples from Chicago and two cities in Michigan:

Furthermore, since the station was located in the heart of Chicago and was operating with 500 watts power, it drowned out every other station in the area. As the school drew its business from amateurs who were interested in hearing every station possible, the prominence of Station WGES was creating considerable ill-will, and the venture proved a detriment rather than an asset. (WGES, Coyne Electrical School, Chicago)

Further, the signals of the station were such as to interfere constantly with local reception of other stations in the area. Complaints of this fact were coming to the College daily. (WOAP, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan)

Further, numerous complaints were made locally that whenever the College station was on the air, other stations could not be heard in the immediate area.” (WWAO, Michigan College of Mining and Technology, Houghton, Michigan) (Frost 78, 142, 149)

During the 1920s, radio stations had their transmitter and broadcasting studios in the same location. That is often not the case today. Transmitters are usually located many miles from the studios. In all of the above examples by Frost, transmitters were apparently strong enough to interfere with reception of other radio stations in homes with radios located fairly close to where radio station transmitters were located. This was a fairly typical situation at the time and is also what happened when KFSG went on the air. The station inadvertently caused interference to the less expensive, less selective radios close by that were not tuned to KFSG. Those radio receivers made at that time had a limited ability to separate strong stations from those with weaker signals. This particular problem leads me to believe that KFSG was never at fault.

This also backs up the reply I received in 1994, when I asked McPherson’s son, Dr. Rolf K. McPherson, about the “minions of Satan” telegram his mother allegedly sent to Secretary of Commerce Hoover. He said the story about the telegram is not true and never took place. In his letter, Dr. McPherson wrote:

You refer to comments you have read that Aimee Semple McPherson had correspondence with the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, concerning infractions relating to the operation of radio station KFSG. This is one of the many rumors which have persisted through the years. Mother never attempted to defy the law, but always endeavored to comply with the rules. The statements you mention certainly were not typical of her way of doing things. I might explain that the equipment in those days was not always adequate, but the situations were cleared as quickly as they could be. (Letter to the author from Dr. McPherson, November 22, 1994)

His statement about the inadequate equipment in those days describes the situation as it existed then, regarding radio interference and trying to tune in the various weak and more powerful radio stations. It also goes along with the fact that the problems were eventually solved, without KFSG losing its license or being taken of the air, as Hoover claimed.

Regarding the common problem of radios trying to tune a station without interference from another station, a 1922 article from John Hogan called “Tuning the Radio Aerial” described the situation:

A receiver which has the capability of close and exact adjustment to desired wave frequencies (or wave lengths) will invariably aid in minimizing interference effects; with it one will be able to receive clearly under many conditions where a broadly adjusted receiver would be helpless to discriminate between desired and undesired signals.”

Now, what is it that makes one receiver “sharply tuned” and another “broadly tuned”? How does it happen that a sharply adjusted or selective receiver will distinguish between arriving radio waves of only slightly different frequencies? Why does a broadly tuned instrument accept, with almost equal ease, signals whose frequencies are entirely different? The replies to these questions include nearly the whole subject of tuning at radio receiving stations." (Hogan 107)

Kenneth Ormiston, Aimee Semple McPherson in 1924


KFSG’s manager and chief engineer Kenneth Gladstone Ormiston had radio experience dating back to 1914. He was probably the best known and most knowledgeable radio broadcasting engineer in Southern California, when he left KHJ and took the job as chief engineer and supervisor for KFSG. He took his responsibility very seriously, to keep KFSG operating on its assigned frequency of 1080 kilocycles, without drifting up or down the dial, and to not use more than its 500 watts of assigned output power from the transmitter. Before his death at age 42 in 1937, Ormiston was in charge of engineering for Hollywood station KNX. Probably his biggest achievement at KNX was getting the station power increased to 50,000 watts in 1934.

Ormiston acted quickly to help station listeners who had problems with interference from other Los Angeles stations, or had trouble tuning to KFSG’s frequency. He also gave a lot of advice to local radio fans who had receivers with poor selectivity, and were getting interference from KFSG, while trying to tune to other stations. Within four weeks of KFSG’s first broadcast (and two weeks after KFSG received the first letter from Radio Inspector Dillon about causing interference), the Angelus Temple church bulletin printed this notice:

Radio fans and listeners-in are requested to report in writing their reception of KFSG; also state distinctly their ability to tune out KFSG and receive other stations at their pleasure. We have been delighted with the reports that have come in on this wise. There are a few however, that may need advice regarding the arrangement of your sets. Such matters are taken up by our kind operator, Mr. Ormiston. Our main point is to know you have control of your set and that you can get any station without interference of the others. (Angelus Temple News, March 2, 1924)

These problems were also addressed at a community meeting of radio fans held at Angelus Temple on Monday night, March 17, 1924. The invitation was also made for other local broadcast stations and radio store dealers to attend. The notice in the Sunday church bulletin read in part:

Radio is a wonderful science, which from our short experience, we learn still has many problems to be worked out. Mr. Ormiston, our genial engineer and operator, has been very patiently and kindly answering inquiries concerning reception, tuning, etc. We have heard from a few locally with a smaller crystal set, have had difficulty in separating the stations. We are anxious for one hundred per cent efficiency to those interested in the Angelus Temple Radio. We are equally desirous not to be heard, except by those who wish us. At this meeting, Mr. Ormiston and others will deliver addresses. (Angelus Temple News, March 16, 1924)

The Los Angeles Times reported on this meeting on March 23rd. In that story, it was reported that Los Angeles crystal set listeners “have registered considerable complaint that her (Aimee Semple McPherson) station is difficult to separate from KHJ, KFI and the Bible Institute (KJS). This difficulty can only be remedied by readjustment of single-circuit crystal sets to a fine degree of selectivity.” (Los Angeles Times March 23, 1924) The article said that about 1,500 people were at the meeting, which showed a deep appreciation of radio and a spirit of co-operation in solving its problems.

Besides the problem of crystal set owners having trouble separating stations, listeners had to suffer from noise and interference put out by many of the regenerative radios that were sold in 1924. KFSG engineer Ormiston wrote about this in his monthly radio column in the April 1924 Foursquare Bridal Call magazine. In the 1999 book Listening In by Susan J. Douglas, she describes the troubles listeners had with regenerative sets:

“Often, they actually interfered with themselves and with other nearby receivers because, in the hands of the less technically astute, they didn’t just receive radio waves but also generated them. In other words, listeners would inadvertently turn their receivers into transmitters, producing horrible squeals and howls that made their neighbors furious with them.” (Douglas 77) In Los Angeles and other large U.S. cities in the mid-1920s, radio listeners trying to hear the various stations often had endure a mass of hums and whistles caused by the regenerative radios.

By October of 1924, Ormiston wrote an article for Radio Doings magazine on how to build a crystal set with good selectivity. Ormiston assured broadcast listeners that they didn’t necessarily have to buy expensive receiving sets to enjoy radio. He wrote, “The cheapest crystal set may be highly efficient, combining sensitiveness and selectivity in a high degree and give satisfaction, even though there may be a large number of local stations on the air. A crystal set is capable of selectivity, and to encourage popular belief in this fact, we are describing this week what we believe to be the most selective of crystal receivers.” (Ormiston 13)

And in January 1925, the national magazine Radio in the Home did a feature story on KFSG and McPherson. Dr. Ralph L. Power wrote, “When KFSG first went on the air, thousands of radio fans registered emphatic and vigorous protest, because some non-selective sets would not enable them to tune out the new station. But that’s all ancient history now. Most of the people wouldn’t tune KFSG out now if they could.” (Power 24)

This tells me that the problems which caused KFSG to interfere with the reception of other radio stations in Los Angeles on some radios with poor selectivity were short-lived and quickly solved, to the satisfaction of the Department of Commerce Radio Inspector.


There is no record of Herbert Hoover or Aimee Semple McPherson speaking or writing about the alleged “minions of Satan” telegram story during the 1920s or 1930s. So, if McPherson did not send the legendary telegram to Secretary of Commerce Hoover, and I can’t find any mention of it in any 1920s media, then how did this fantastic story get started?

McPherson died in 1944 at age 53. The earliest mention of such a telegram was made by Hoover, during a speech he made on the CBS Radio Network on November 10, 1945. (Hoover 144) The occasion was the 25th anniversary of radio. During the speech, Hoover told a story about a radio station which had violated radio regulations during the 1920s (again, no specific date or year is given), and he talks about a telegram which he claims was sent to him by the woman who owned the station.

However, in this first version of the story, Hoover does not mention any specific evangelist by name. He also does not specify the call letters of any radio station or the city where this incident allegedly took place. He only refers to the incident this way:

Once upon a time, there was an evangelist in a certain city upon whom it dawned very early that heaven as well as the earth could be reached with a broadcasting station. She bought an outfit and proceeded to broadcast without restraint over all wave lengths. I sent an inspector to argue with the lady that she keep on her own wave length.


A few more years passed, before the alleged telegram story came up again. It was in 1952, when volume II of Hoover’s memoirs was published. In Chapter 20, on The Development and Control of Broadcasting while he was Secretary of Commerce, Hoover writes about McPherson and KFSG:

A vivid experience in the early days of radio was with Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson of Los Angeles. One of the earliest to appreciate the possibilities in radio, she had established a small broadcasting station in her Temple. This station, however, roamed all over the wave band, causing interference and arousing bitter complaints from the other stations. She was repeatedly warned to stick to her assigned wave length. As warnings did no good, our inspector sealed up her station and stopped it. The next day I received from her a telegram in these words:


Finally our tactful inspector persuaded her to employ a radio manager of his own selection, who kept her upon her wave length.” (Hoover 142-143).

For unknown reasons, the wording in the second part of the 1952 version is slightly different than the version Hoover gave in 1945. Again, Hoover gives no specific date or year that this took place. The Hoover Presidential Library archivist Matthew Schaefer told me that the incident took place sometime between 1924 and 1927, when Congress passed the legislation that created the Federal Radio Commission, taking up where the Department of Commerce left off.

In an email from Mr. Schaefer, he stated, “Hoover’s Commerce files related to radio fill several boxes, and a search of the correspondence for the years 1921-1927 did not turn up the telegram.” He then added, “Since the telegram is lost to history, there is no way to narrow the date.” But, the archivist also said, “Given Hoover’s careful attention to documenting history, I’m inclined to believe the story is true, even without the original telegram as the irrefutable evidence.” (M. Schaefer, personal communication, April 7, 2003)


It’s interesting to me that Hoover called this incident “a vivid experience in the early days of radio.” If such a vivid story actually took place as Hoover claims, why isn’t there any mention of it or reporting on it in the radio pages or other pages of the Los Angeles Times or New York Times? It seems to me that if one of the most famous women in the nation, who also was a famous radio personality, had sent this telegram to the man in charge of regulating radio broadcasting, it would have been big news. I also feel that if McPherson had sent such a telegram or was planning to do so, she might have shared this information with her Angelus Temple congregation and over KFSG. There seems to be no evidence of any other reporting of the alleged incident during the 1920s. Then, the story suddenly showed up more than 20 years later, as told by Hoover on the radio and in print.

Also, did KFSG really wander all over the wave band, as Hoover claimed? So far, I’ve found no evidence that this took place. We know that KFSG’s signal did cause interference to those trying to hear KHJ and KFI, but there is virtually no chance it was deliberate. As I previously stated, during those early years, many radios located close to KFSG were not made well enough to separate a strong nearby radio signal from other radio stations in Los Angeles that were transmitting from other parts of the city. Did this situation “arouse bitter complaints” from the other stations? That is unclear, but possible. But when Radio Inspector Dillon said in his letter to McPherson, that his office was getting complaints each day about interference caused by KFSG to the reception of KHJ and KFI, some of those complaints may well have been from those radio stations as well as from radio listeners. All of the broadcasting transmitters in Los Angeles were located in the middle of the city, on the roof of the buildings where each radio station was located. Each radio station, such as KFI, KHJ, KJS, etc. likely had the same problem of interfering with other broadcast stations, depending on how close a radio listener was to any given station’s transmitting antenna. This was especially true of those who owned crystal sets and other radios with poor selectivity.

In addition, I have been unable to find in the Department of Commerce files, such as their monthly Radio Service Bulletins, any evidence that KFSG was ever taken off the air, as Hoover contends, when he stated that the Radio Inspector “sealed up the station.” It seems that this too, would have been a featured story in the newspapers and radio magazines of the day. The other part that doesn’t make any sense is Hoover’s claim that the Radio Inspector got McPherson to “hire a manager of his own selection,” to keep KFSG on frequency. The station already had a capable chief engineer-operator from the first day it went on the air in February 1924, Ormiston.

I have also found no evidence that KFSG was “straying off-frequency.” Since Ormiston left his job as KFSG engineer after two years, at the end of 1925 or early-1926, it is possible the incident could have taken place during 1926 or 1927 under the watch of another chief engineer. But, once again, I have found no mention of any newspaper or radio magazine stories of such troubles involving KFSG, McPherson and Hoover.

On the Hoover Presidential Library website, the story is repeated in one of their online Museum Exhibit Galleries, which includes a short discussion of radio and Hoover’s part in helping to regulate the new medium of broadcasting. Following the story of McPherson’s alleged telegram to Hoover, it says, “McPherson eventually eloped with the Commerce Department representative dispatched to explain the realities of federal regulation.” This statement is definitely not true.


In 2007, a book on Aimee Semple McPherson’s life was written by Matthew Avery Sutton. It is called Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America. This is the only biography of McPherson which makes any mention of the alleged telegram, on pages 81 and 82. Mr. Sutton’s source for the story comes from an interview with Hoover conducted by the Columbia University Oral History Project published in 1951.

Sutton writes that radio audiences “could hear the evangelist all over the AM band instead of her own frequency.” Again, I would dispute that statement, or at least, say the statement needs clarification for historical purposes. Radio Inspector Dillon’s letters to McPherson make no mention of KFSG wandering all over the AM dial or of the KFSG transmitter being “off-frequency.” KFSG was being heard at spots on the dial besides 1080 kilocycles because of some radios with poor selectivity. There was a practice of “wave-jumping” or broadcasting on an unassigned frequency in the mid-1920s, but this was more common in big midwestern and eastern cities, where certain radio stations tried to find a less-congested spot on the radio dial to avoid interference on their assigned frequencies.

There was no such situation on the Los Angeles radio dial of 1924 and 1925. By the end of 1925, there were 17 stations licensed in the Los Angeles region. About a dozen of those radio stations were on the air on a regular basis, while the others were on only 2 or 3 days or nights a week with 50 to 100 watts. One, KFPR, owned by the L.A. County Forestry Department, was only on the air once a month, unless there was a fire emergency.

To reiterate, it is true that those who owned radios and lived the closest to KFSG’s transmitter, may have heard KFSG clear across the dial, when they tried to tune into KFI, KHJ, KNX, KJS, etc. But once again, Dillon himself said that the problems existed with the more inexpensive radios and crystal sets with little or no selectivity.

Sutton then writes that Commerce Secretary Hoover was “cracking down on the many broadcasters who were engaged in this practice, and decided to shut down McPherson’s station temporarily to compel her compliance.”

In my research so far, I have yet to find any evidence that the Department of Commerce radio inspectors or Mr. Hoover “shut down” KFSG for even one day. I am certain that if KFSG was taken off the air for one hour or one week by anyone within the Department of Commerce for violating one of their broadcasting regulations, such an event would have been reported in the radio pages of the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers of that city, along with radio magazines of the day such as Radio Doings, Radio Digest, Radio, etc. If KFSG had been taken off the air temporarily or lost its license, the Department of Commerce would have included such an action in one of their monthly Radio Service Bulletins, but I have not found any such action against KFSG listed in those publications. Also, the KFSG license file copied for me by the National Archives does not include any such documents regarding any Department of Commerce punishment against the radio station or McPherson.

As for the alleged telegram, Mr. Sutton does carefully state in his book that because of the alleged action to take KFSG off the air, “Hoover claimed that she (Mrs. McPherson) had telegrammed him in response,” and he then quotes the words from the supposed wire which Hoover quoted in his 1952 memoirs. Sutton ends the telegram story with, “Shortly thereafter, nonetheless, she complied with his directives.”

Again, I have seen no proof in the KFSG license files, newspapers of 1924-1927, radio magazines of the day or the files at the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel that any of the above ever took place. Steve Zeleny, archivist for the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, said in an email that nobody that has ever worked for KFSG or the church has ever written anything about the telegram story. As for the claim by Hoover that “we repeatedly warned her (McPherson) to stick to her assigned wavelength,” Zeleny wrote, “It makes no sense for her/KFSG to broadcast at random wavelengths, ‘all over the wave band,’ because she wanted listeners and advertised that they should tune in to 278 meters or 1080 kilocycles for KFSG.” (S. Zeleny, personal communication, July 19, 2010)

I would add that KFSG chief engineer Ormiston was a “by the rule book” serious broadcasting engineer. Judging by all that I’ve read on his radio career, he would never have allowed KFSG to stray off frequency or deliberately cause interference to other radio stations. He probably would never have allowed McPherson to send such a telegram to Hoover, if he could help it.

Radio czar Hoover listening to a radio, circa 1922. Source unknown.


If such a telegram was sent by McPherson to the Secretary of Commerce or any Radio Inspector at the Department of Commerce, why is there no copy to be found so far in any license files of KFSG, the Commerce Department, the FCC, the National Archives or at the Hoover Presidential Library? And, if the incident never took place as Dr. McPherson stated and my research has determined, why would Hoover tell such an inaccurate story, when he was known for striving to document history accurately?

Since this is the only published biography on McPherson which includes the story of the alleged “minions of Satan” telegram, Steve Zeleny asked Sutton for me, about the inclusion of the telegram story in his book. Here is his reply:

This may well be little more than a fun story that Herbert Hoover liked to tell with some exaggeration. I tracked down the 1950 oral history, which was the best I could do. That is why I chose my words carefully in the book: “Hoover CLAIMED...”

There are lots of reasons why Herbert Hoover may not have mentioned the telegram sooner than 1945—when he was running for office, he needed conservative, Midwestern, Republican votes. Why antagonize Aimee’s people? Especially in the context of the huge fights over radio regulation in the late 1920s that were really upsetting fundamentalists. All of which is to say, this may well be a myth along the lines of riding a motorcycle in church, but I am not sure how you can verify it. (M.A. Sutton, personal communication, June 27, 2007)

Again, if Hoover chose not to talk about the telegram sooner than 1945, why didn’t McPherson ever talk or write about it? Why was the alleged incident never reported in the radio pages of the newspapers or important radio journals such as Radio, if it truly took place?

I next checked with the archivist at the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, which McPherson founded. I asked Zeleny about McPherson’s alleged telegram to Herbert Hoover. Did she ever use the phrase “minions of Satan” at any time during her years as the head of Angelus Temple and KFSG? Zeleny wrote to me the following:

Regarding her “track record” for using that phrase, there is none. Our database consists of approximately 3-million pages, all of which are keyword/phrase/Boolean searchable. I just performed a search for any use of a phrase exactly like, or similar to “minions of Satan” in her books, her sermons, the corporate minutes, the other corporate documents, or any of the Foursquare magazines and newspapers from 1917 through 1945. In those searches I found one “hit” and that was from an article written by someone other than Aimee Semple McPherson. With her incredible speaking itinerary, where she had to speak the same message many times in different locations, often spoke three times per day (sometimes more), and had much of what she said recorded by her personal assistant, I can only say that I would find it highly unlikely that she would have used the phrase “minions of Satan” once and only once in her entire recorded lifetime—and that in a letter to the Secretary of Commerce and future president. There are many times in many sermons where she could have used it and it actually would have fit, but she never did. Remember, she was incredibly popular and kind and loved. I doubt that she got that way by calling people ”minions of Satan.” It would be totally contrary to everything we know about her personality. (S. Zeleny, personal communication, November 9, 2009)

Steve added that their database shows that McPherson talked about Satan or the devil more than 1,500 times, and the phrasing in the alleged telegram is unlike anything in their records of her sermons and speeches.


In my search for any shred of truth to the telegram legend, I asked radio historian Thomas H. White if Hoover ever took matters into his own hands, when a radio station was accused of violating Department of Commerce radio regulations. I also wanted to know if radio station owners tried to get Secretary Hoover involved directly when their stations had violated any rules, instead of dealing with the local radio inspector. Here is White’s reply:

Some station owners tried to go directly to Hoover, but as far as I know he always refused to get directly involved, because 1) the Secretary of Commerce had better things to do than get involved in local problems—that’s what the local radio inspectors and the Bureau of Navigation staff were for, and 2) in any event, he was always nervous about the legal limits as to how much legal authority he actually had. (T.H. White, personal communication, July 25, 2010)

In Bensman’s book The Beginning of Broadcast Regulation in the Twentieth Century, there is some testimony by Hoover at the 1923 Congressional hearings for the White-Kellogg bill that is a good summary for how they handled things. At the hearing, Secretary Hoover again stressed the main problem in the proposed legislation:

I do not think it would be any exaggeration to say we are receiving thousands of protests monthly over questions of interference. We are engaged in endeavoring to compromise and compose the difficulties between broadcasting stations, on a purely voluntary basis, all over the country. Some cities have as high as 20 broadcasting stations, all interfering with each other, and our agents have endeavored at one time and another to get them into voluntary agreements as to the division of the time and other methods of preventing interference; but we are totally without the necessary authority to effect results. And this is not a case of regulation as against the will of the industry, and the wish is that there should be some regulation by which these problems can be disentangled at least to some extent. It is unique in the way of regulatory legislation. (Bensman 62)

After reading the paragraph above, Zeleny, the archivist for the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, commented in an email to me that there are three key points “in Hoover’s own words” which seem to indicate that the telegram story is untrue:

The line “but we are totally without the necessary authority to effect results” completely contradicts the basis of the story that they (The Department of Commerce or Hoover) did temporarily shut down KFSG. That he (Hoover) personally testified of handling these situations through compromise rather than hard-ball tactics, opposes the basis for the KFSG story. And that this was a systemic problem also goes against the idea of him (Hoover) leaning hard on one station and not treating others in the same manner. With this testimony in evidence, I think we’ve reached the point where the TV show Mythbusters would now declare this story to be BUSTED. (S. Zeleny, personal communication, July 26, 2010)

I would also like to point out that in Bensman’s book on early regulation of broadcasting, he too wrote about the telegram story as if it were true. But Bensman said that the alleged incident took place in 1925 (again no specific date). He also stated that one of the station owners who complained about interference from KFSG in 1925 was Reverend “Fightin’ Bob” Shuler of KGEF, at Trinity Methodist Church in Los Angeles. (Bensman 137) The reason this could not be true, is that KGEF was not licensed to broadcast until December of 1926 and was not on the air until January of 1927!

In another book by Hal Erickson on the history of religious radio and television, he also wrote about the telegram story, but said it took place in 1927, without giving a specific date. (Erickson 127) If it was before February of 1927, that was during the time a Federal Court ruled that under the Radio Act of 1912, Secretary Hoover had no power to deny station licenses, assign frequencies or transmitter powers for any radio station. After February of that year, the Federal Radio Commission was formed to regulate broadcasting.


In a search of Foursquare publications from the 1920s to the 1940s, there is not one instance in which Herbert Hoover was ever referred to in a less-than-positive light by Aimee Semple McPherson. (S. Zeleny, personal communication, August 17, 2010) The articles which quote McPherson about Herbert Hoover recommended not only voting for Hoover for President of the United States in 1928, but praised him for his support of the Bible, Sunday School, The Ten Commandments and his appeals to spiritual values. Here are two examples:

He has shown the spirit of Christ in his service for others.(Foursquare Crusader, October 17, 1928)

Experience, Ideals and Program Make Candidate Logical Victor

Herbert Hoover should make a better president for this country than Alfred E. Smith. There are many reasons for this, the main ones being the difference in training, experience and ideals of the two men. Laying aside entirely the matter of religious differences, Mr. Hoover is the man of the hour right now. His training has been in big business; he has a record of fine accomplishments behind him. And there is no other business, except God's business, quite important in the world now as the business of the United States of America. Mr. Hoover's training and past actions also indicate that he will be quite zealous in carrying out the Lord’s business. (Foursquare Crusader, October 31, 1928)


It has been 87 years since the first broadcast of KFSG and 60 years since Herbert Hoover’s memoirs were first published. I believe I have clearly shown that there are several gaps in Herbert Hoover’s story about the alleged telegram he claimed was sent to him by Aimee Semple McPherson. Those gaps include his claims that KFSG was transmitting on different wavelengths on purpose, that KFSG was ordered off the air and “sealed up,” and that the alleged incident led the Department of Commerce Radio Inspector to get KFSG to hire Kenneth G. Ormiston as its engineer and station manager. None of those statements are true. Regarding Ormiston, he had been working for KFSG since the station went on the air in February of 1924.

The gaps which I have outlined create a huge amount of doubt that this incident ever took place, at least the way in which Hoover said it happened. The gaps also bring Hoover’s accuracy into question. It is amazing to me that over the past 60 years, this story has been so widely accepted as completely true, without anyone questioning its accuracy or checking into what really took place at KFSG during the period between 1924 and 1927. I’m certain this is because of the untarnished reputation of Hoover, which made the story seem true to people like Barnouw and Bensman.

I believe that the so-called telegram incident never occurred. McPherson’s radio station did have some interference problems during its earliest time on the air, but so did other radio stations across the United States in 1924 and 1925. And there were complaints from listeners of KHJ, KFI and KJS about interference from KFSG, and possibly officials from those stations. But the interference was caused by the crystal sets and other radios in Los Angeles with poor selectivity which could not separate KFSG while being tuned to other stations. It was clearly not because KFSG’s transmitter was wandering off frequency all over the AM band, as Hoover stated. But the problems occurred during the first few months after KFSG went on the air. By January of 1925, the same problems had been solved and nearly forgotten.

The overall problem for me is trying to stamp out a rumor that sounds so good and has been around since the 1950s. I’m trying to “prove a negative” where the people involved are dead and there are limited records. Sutton said much the same thing in an email in 2007. After writing that I would have a hard time proving a negative, he said, “How can you prove that something does NOT exist?” (M. A. Sutton, personal communication, June 27, 2007) It is also difficult to get to the truth, when the source of the story is a former president who was in charge of radio during much of the 1920s, while at the same time, overlooking McPherson’s colorful past.

Was there really a telegram sent to Hoover from Aimee McPherson, as Hoover claimed? And if so, what became of it? Or, could another person have sent Hoover such a telegram? Another email from Steve Zeleny, archivist for the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, mentions such a possibility was brought up in a 1980 letter from Mr. Raymond Cox to Rolf McPherson, Aimee’s son. In the letter, Cox wrote, “So I wonder if sent, it was actually authored by another person, perhaps Minnie Kennedy (Aimee’s mother). Sister just didn’t talk that way.” (S. Zeleny, personal communication, July 20, 2010)

Why is there no copy of this supposed telegram to be found so far in the KFSG license files at the National Archives or at the Hoover Presidential Library, when other important telegrams and letters were kept by the Department of Commerce and copied? Was there a private telephone conversation between McPherson and Hoover or did she write him a letter? I have also shown substantial evidence that there are no records of any violations of radio regulations by KFSG or that KFSG was ever ordered off the air by the government.

Could it be possible that Hoover’s memory of what the problems were concerning KFSG in 1924 was not entirely accurate, by the time he made the 1945 speech and wrote his memoirs in the early-1950s? Whatever Radio Inspector Dillon told Hoover in 1924 about the exact nature of KFSG’s interference problems, may have been very different from what Hoover remembered more than 20 years later.

In addition, I have shown that three periodicals with the most extensive coverage of the period, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Radio magazine make no reference to the alleged events between McPherson and Hoover. I believe this is fairly strong evidence that the telegram story as told by Hoover never took place. However, in all fairness, I must say that even if the most widely read newspapers of the day and the most widely read radio magazine of the time never wrote about such a telegram, they also did not report on the letters from Radio Inspector Dillon to KFSG in February of 1924. But, the interference problems common to radio broadcasting across the United States in 1924 were known to Los Angeles radio fans, as the Angelus Temple church bulletins in March and April 1924 have indicated and the Los Angeles Times reported on March 23, 1924.

I believe it is finally time to bury this story. The legend of the McPherson telegram to Secretary of Commerce Hoover does make for good story telling. However, I think once all of the evidence and lack of evidence is examined, as I hope I’ve been able to do to your satisfaction, you’ll agree that is exactly what it is. It is just a story and another myth from the earliest days of radio.

Works Cited

Angelus Temple News, March 2 and March 16, 1924

Barnouw, Erik. A Tower in Babel-A History of Broadcasting in the United States to 1933. (p. 180) Oxford University Press 1966.

Barnouw, Erik “Historical Survey of Communication Breakthroughs.” Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science Vol. 34 No. 4, The Communications Revolution in Politics (1982) pp. 13-23

Bensman, Marvin. The Beginning of Broadcast Regulation in the 20th Century. (pp. 62, 75-76, 137). McFarland and Company, Inc. 2000.

Douglas, Alan. Radio Manufacturers of the 1920s Volume 1. (pp. xx-xxi) Vestal Press 1988. Reprinted from Radio Retailing March 1928. (pp. 36-37). Print.

Douglas, Susan J. Listening In Time Books, a division of Random House, Inc. 1999 (p. 77)

Erickson, Hal Religious Radio and Television in the United States 1921 to 1991 (p. 126-127) McFarland and Company, Inc. 1992

Frost, S.E. Education’s Own Stations. (pp. 78, 142, 149). Ayer Publishing 1971. Reprint of the book from 1937.

Halper, Donna L. Invisible Stars: A Social History of Women in American Broadcasting. (pp. 68-69) M.E. Sharpe 2001

Hoover, Herbert. “On the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Radio.” Addresses Upon the American Road 1945-1948. (p. 144) Stanford University Press. 1949

Hoover, Herbert. “Development and Control of Radio Broadcasting.” The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover—The Cabinet and the Presidency Volume Two. (pp. 142-143). The MacMillan Company 1951

Hogan, John. “Tuning the Radio Aerial.” Radio Broadcast May 1922 (p. 107) Print.

“Mrs. McPherson Is Hostess For Housewarming.” Los Angeles Times March 23, 1924 (p. A9)

Ormiston, K.G. “A Selective Crystal Set.” Radio Doings October 25, 1924 (p. 13)

Power, Dr. Ralph L. “Angelus Temple Is Unique Among Broadcasters.” Radio in the Home January 1925 (p. 24) Print.

“Problems Face Col. Dillon in New Radio Post.” Los Angeles Times March 6, 1927 (p. B8)

Radio Service Bulletin January 1924 to December 1927. Issued monthly by the Bureau of Navigation, U.S. Department of Commerce.

Sutton, Matthew Avery. Aimee Semple McPherson and the Resurrection of Christian America. (pp. 81-82). Harvard University Press 2007

Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. (p.33) Harvard University Press. 2003

Jim Hilliker is a former radio broadcaster. He has researched and written about the early history of Los Angeles area radio for more than 20 years. Email: jimhilliker@sbcglobal.net. Photos on this page are courtesy of Steve Zeleny, archivist, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, Los Angeles.

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