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Sugar and Spice with Ruth Dinwiddie

Sugar and Spice with Ruth Dinwiddie

Sixty Years on Moody Radio—and Still Going
  • Kevin Mungons

She answers the phone and the years melt away. “Well hello, this is Ruth Dinwiddie speaking,” and her caller half expects the theme music to swell in the background. After 60 years at Moody Radio she still sounds the same, a giant in Christian broadcasting who somehow communicates surprised and delighted every time you listen.

In July Moody Radio celebrated the long career of Ruth (Dunbar ’60) Dinwiddie with a series of events, including a luncheon (not “retirement luncheon,” she says) and an on-air tribute with Chris Fabry. And now, after a career of interviewing other people, she agrees to talk a bit about herself.

CUE: “Belle of the Ball” Theme

“I dedicated my life for Christian service as a teenager,” Ruth says, launching into the testimony she has shared thousands of times. She grew up in Cleveland and graduated from Shelton College, then arrived on Moody’s campus in 1958. A music major, she sang in the Moody Chorale with Don Hustad and worked part-time at WMBI.

When she graduated in 1960, she learned of a position at WCRF, Moody’s new station in Cleveland. Her career began at a moment of transition for Christian radio, when Moody began building a nationwide Christian radio network. At the same time, the golden era of live radio music was drawing to a close, so WCRF needed a person to organize their growing record library. Ruth worked as assistant to Brandt Gustavson, who later became vice president of Moody Radio, then president of National Religious Broadcasters.

“I built the record library in Cleveland (from just a handful of LPs when I got there), and I was also answering the phone and acting as receptionist and secretary to the manager,” she says. “All of that was kind of mixed in.” But her behind-the-scenes job quickly morphed into on-air responsibilities when Brandt pitched the idea of a 15-minute morning program. She eventually called it Sugar ’n’ Spice and chose the waltz-tempo musical theme by Leroy Anderson, “Belle of the Ball.”

During the Cleveland years she explored her passion for choral singing by joining the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, where Robert Shaw had the audacious goal of building the greatest symphonic chorus in the country. Ruth happened to be in the right place at the right time (and with the right voice, though she modestly avoids explaining it that way). A gifted mezzo-soprano, she continued to join professional choirs whenever she moved to a new city. And if you could sing for Robert Shaw, you could sing for anyone.

Having a great singing voice might not make a great radio voice, not without work. “I had a little bit of a lisp, which you can still hear when I’m tired,” Ruth says. “Chuck Christiansen worked with me to correct it.” Throughout her on-air years, the comment she heard the most was “You have a smile in your voice.”

By 1970 she had moved back to Chicago to take a position at WMBI, part of a generational shift in radio. The pioneers like Aunt Theresa Worman were retiring, as were old-school shows like the KYB Club. Moody Radio needed young voices and fresh program ideas.

Sugar ’n’ Spice expanded quickly to other markets, running on 125 stations nationwide. Billing it as “a program for the homemaker,” Ruth offered household hints, interviews, devotional thoughts, and music. It became her signature program, and even today she hears from people who remember the show.

Not just an on-air talent, Ruth also had the heart of a techie, leading a production team and programming the automated content for Moody’s first satellite network.

“She could do everything. Technical skills, incredible music background, could lead a production team, was an incredible host, could host about anything, and did, over the years,” says Jim Wick ’64, retired WMBI station manager. “A lot of us who only have one or two of those skills were just a little bit envious of her.”

Yes—the Belle of the Ball, which the dictionary describes as the most attractive and talented woman at a social gathering (but no—she wouldn’t explain it that way, either!).

TRANSITION: Interview Feature

For Ruth, her radio career was about learning from other people—especially the ones she interviewed. “I started by helping with a program called Ask the Experts, where you’d have a guest and talk about their expertise. Then I had an hour-long interview program, and did interviews for Sugar ’n’ Spice.”

Ruth became known for her interview style, both conversational and substantive. She mastered a trick that all great radio personalities learn: Prepare, prepare, prepare—and make it sound completely spontaneous. Authors loved her, so she visited the Christian Booksellers Association every year, renting out an interview suite and lining up a procession of evangelical figures. She’s not a name-dropper, but her scrapbook is full of people you would recognize: Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, George Beverly Shea, and a host of Christian musicians.

“It was fun, all the in-person interviews. You can really get into real conversations when you’re sitting there with a person face-to-face. You know, it was great. I learned so much by reading all those books! My own personal experience has been greatly broadened by the people I’ve had contact with.”

In 1991 she moved to Florida—but what to call it? The Chicago office threw her the first of several parties (not “retirement” she says again), and she continued at WKES, the Moody station in Lakeland, Florida. She created and hosted their afternoon drive-time show Along the Way, and developed another national network program, Heartsong. In 2007 she transitioned from full-time, had another party . . .  and kept working.

Longest Moody employee ever? Probably, though such records are a bit hard to track down. William Norton led Moody Publishers for 50 years, back in the day. And Moody recently celebrated two other 50-year employees, Dr. Rosalie de Rosset ’80 and Carolyn McDaniel ’82. But 60 years? So far, everyone is agreeing that Ruth sets a new record.

“Ruth’s positive attitude, on-air skills, love for people, and keen interest in helping listeners has made her the perfect fit for each of her roles over these 60 years,” says Doug Hastings ’79, vice president of Moody Radio. “I not only count her as a faithful team member, but also as a friend, and I congratulate her for her exemplary service!”

CUE: Closing Theme

Ruth understands that at some point her radio career might end, with music swelling in the background and one more farewell from her ever-smiling voice: “I’m Ruth Dinwiddie—thanks for listening.” Or maybe she’ll keep working until the ultimate exit music, the trumpet call. But if she were signing off the air one more time, she might cue up John Rutter’s benediction and read a few words from one of her favorite passages, Psalm 103:2–5 (NKJV):

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that
your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

About the Author

  • Kevin Mungons

Kevin Mungons is editorial manager for Moody Bible Institute’s Marketing Communications department.