From Winona Lake’s Billy Sunday, whose exhortations helped pass Prohibition in 1919, to Jim Jones, whose Indianapolis People’s Temple came to its tragic end in 1978, Indiana has produced its share of charismatic preachers. A Hoosier minister whose name is mostly lost to the present day is Howard Cadle, who rose to celebrity at a time when religious revivalism was all the rage and radio was in its golden age.
Born in 1884, the Washington County native did his share of hard living as a young man, supporting his family operating gambling devices in dives across Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, earning himself the handle “The Slot Machine King.” Having experienced a conversion to Christianity while convalescing from Bright’s disease, a potentially fatal kidney ailment, Cadle recommitted himself to his wife and son and embarked upon a legitimate business career. Making a fortune in shoe repair, in 1921 Cadle set about constructing a tabernacle at the corner of New Jersey and Ohio Streets in Indianapolis. With a seating capacity of over 10,000, the Cadle Tabernacle was the nation’s largest church to date.
Given the vagaries of the economy and Cadle’s own itinerant business ventures, the tabernacle’s stature waned over the course of the ensuing decade. In 1931, Cadle regained control of the tabernacle and took up evangelism in earnest. The popularity of his ministry soared when Cincinnati radio station WLW, broadcasting at 500,000 watts, began airing Cadle’s daily program The Nation’s Family Prayer Period .
Given the station’s massive broadcast range, it is estimated that 30 million people heard the program every week. Appalachian communities too poor to afford a minister listened Sunday mornings on the radio installed on their church pulpit by a member of Cadle’s outreach team. Flying in a plane piloted by his only son Buford, Cadle often visited his supporters around the country for “one-night revivals.” Though Cadle finally succumbed to poor health in 1942, his family and a network of associates sustained the ministry. The Cadle radio broadcast aired until the early 1990s, long after the tabernacle’s 1968 date with the wrecking ball.