Many advances in technology have been embraced by the Church to help the gospel fill the earth. This two-part series of articles tells the story of LDS.org, the Church’s flagship website.
The Church had always made extensive use of the telegraph to send and receive messages, but the first foray into a public arena was on May 6, 1922 when President Heber J. Grant delivered the first Church broadcast message over the first radio station in Utah, KZN (now KSL). This message was given for the formal dedication of the station.
In October 1924, general conferences began to be broadcast, by radio. Early the next year, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began performing, via radio, with rehearsals on Thursday evenings. Their weekly broadcasts started July 15, 1929. The program, known as Music and the Spoken Word, is now the oldest continuous broadcast in American radio.
In April, 1941 the 111th General Conference was broadcast for the first time by radio and TV stations outside of Utah. Prior to that, KSL TV and Radio had undertaken to broadcast conference within Utah.
It wasn’t until April 1952 that the priesthood session of general conference was carried by telephone to stake centers and other buildings outside of Temple Square. (In 2013 the Priesthood Session was broadcast on KBYU-TV and streamed over the internet as well as through the Church Satellite System.) In 1963, languages other than English and Spanish were broadcast (German and Portuguese) as WRUL broadcast the 133rd Annual General Conference.
In 1979 the broadcasts of general conference was taken into space as the first satellite broadcasts were used. But it wasn’t until 1997 when the Church really established its first official website, LDS.org, with real content.
A Church employee bought the domain name “LDS.org” before the Church considered an online presence. The first official site rolled out in December 1996, consisting of just two pages (one was a media guide from the Public Affairs Department of the Church, and the other was a page where users were directed to call a toll free number to get a free copy of the Book of Mormon).
The Church’s first official LDS.org website.
By April of 1997 content was added to celebrate the pioneer sesquicentennial, including an interactive map. Until it was taken down in 2012, this was the oldest content on the website.
Interactive map celebrating the pioneer story. Up until sometime after 2012, this was the oldest content on LDS.org.
December 1996 version of LDS.org. The first real LDS.org website with content.
Later in 1997, the Church added content about Joseph Smith and published general conference talks (from the 167th General Conference). General conference addresses were first made available (in English) on LDS.org in late 1997. Other languages followed in 1998.
General conference addresses first published on LDS.org in 1997
In 1999, the Church started making plans to deliver a live broadcast of general conference over the Internet. The Church developed a spinoff company, MSTAR.net, to develop the site and worked with Real Networks to broadcast general conference. It was the biggest event ever for Real Networks, and the second largest Internet broadcast at the time.
The first session of that 1999 October General Conference surpassed all of Real Networks’ expected traffic and overloaded the whole network. Thankfully, the IT staff added more servers and fixed the issues by the second session. Feedback was tremendous and came from all over the world. Many people wrote about the great joy and privilege of being able to listen to the prophet live for the very first time.
Also in 1999, LDS.org was redesigned. A splash screen was added, and the content reflected the missions of the Church.
At this point, all website content had to be approved by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, a process that limited the Church’s ability to publish material. An Internet task group was organized to provide leadership and direction to the future of the Church’s websites.
This is the end of part one covering the development of the Church’s public face via technology, from the radio to the LDS.org website (1996 to 1999). Part two picks up at the turn of the 21st century and brings us up to date.