Timeline: How general conference is relayed ‘by some miraculous power’

On a Sunday afternoon on Dec. 28, 1873, — three years before Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone — Apostle Orson Pratt stood in the First Ward School House and delivered a discourse. 

Portrait of Apostle Orson Pratt
Portrait of Apostle Orson Pratt Credit: Church History Library

He noted that any sound produced by man could not, generally speaking, reach more than 30 miles from where it originated. “Which is a very small space indeed,” he said. And yet, the sounding of the trump “will be heard by all people, nations, kindreds and tongues in the four quarters of our globe. I do not know that the sound will be so much louder than some we have heard, but it will be carried by some miraculous power so that all people will hear it” (Journal of Discourses, 16:328).

Considering that today’s general conference proceedings are available instantaneously on a variety of platforms and in many languages, Pratt’s words seem prophetic. A blog post on the Church History blog on Sept. 10, 2019, by Christine R. Marin, Church history audiovisual specialist, takes a look at how the Church has relayed the words of the Apostles and Prophets so they could be heard “in the four quarters of the globe” through the years.

Elder Isaac Morrison and his wife, Hannah, and their children, Kelvin and Gilbert, of the Ashaiman Ghana Stake, watch the Sunday afternoon session of the 190th Annual General Conference on April 5, 2020.
Elder Isaac Morrison and his wife, Hannah, and their children, Kelvin and Gilbert, of the Ashaiman Ghana Stake, watch the Sunday afternoon session of the 190th Annual General Conference on April 5, 2020. Credit: Victor B. Ukorebi

History of how the Church has relayed general conference

Joseph Smith, in painting by Robert T. Barrett, conducts the meeting where the Church was organized with six original members.
Joseph Smith, in painting by Robert T. Barrett, conducts the meeting where the Church was organized with six original members. Credit: Copyright Robert T. Barrett

Conferences were called by the First Presidency as needed, as revealed to Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio, March 8, 1831, “It always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:2).

The 50th annual conference in April 1880 became the earliest official Church-produced report of conference.

Salt Lake Tabernacle, 1870
Salt Lake Tabernacle, 1870 Credit: Church History Library

Shortly after President Russell M. Nelson was born, general conference was broadcast by radio for the first time on Oct. 3, 1924.

“The exercises of today and throughout the conference are to be broadcasted; and it is estimated that in the neighborhood of a million people will be able to hear all that is said, provided they are listening in during the conference sessions. The radio is one of the most marvelous inventions man knows anything about. To have the voice carried for thousands of miles seems almost beyond comprehension.”

— President Heber J. Grant when general conference was transmitted for the first time over the radio in October 1924
President Heber J. Grant gives a speech on KNZ radio, circa 1922.
President Heber J. Grant gives a speech on KNZ radio, circa 1922. Credit: Church History Library

The earliest-dated sound recording of conference is April 5, 1936. Speakers included President David O. McKay, President J. Reuben Clark, and President Heber J. Grant.

General conference today

Due to concerns with the global spread of illness caused by COVID-19, the public will not be admitted to the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and proceedings will not be broadcast to meetinghouses or stake centers where the spread of COVID-19 is of concern. However, Church members will still have unprecedented access to the proceedings through digital technology.