For more than two decades he and his wife, Helen, hosted the “DX Partyline” program. (“DX” is a radio term for distance; DXers are listeners to distant radio stations.)
Clayton was born on Nov. 27, 1918, to missionary parents in Canton, China. His father, Charles Howard, an entomologist and college professor, and his mother, Anne, a biologist and teacher, served at a Christian university and conducted research for the Chinese government to develop a finer grade of silk. When Clayton was 9 years old the family returned to the U.S. where his father developed the biology department at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.
At Wheaton Academy, Clayton loved learning about radio and electronics. In 1939 he graduated from Wheaton College with a physics degree followed by a year of graduate studies in physics at the University of Chicago.
“I heard HCJB on Easter Sunday of 1940 while [the station was] inaugurating a new 10-kilowatt transmitter,” Clayton once said in an interview. “I had known there was a missionary shortwave station in South America previously, but knew very little about it until 1940.”
Clayton contacted HCJB Global co-founder Reuben Larson who then recruited him to join the technical team at La Voz de Los Andes (the Voice of the Andes) in Quito. College Church in Wheaton later commissioned him as a missionary, and he arrived in Ecuador to begin serving at Radio Station HCJB in 1941.
Clayton’s marriage to Helen Marie Prestidge on Sept. 12, 1942, was broadcast live from Quito via shortwave “so the folks back home could hear it,” according to his son, Chuck Howard. The couple had met in Wheaton, and Helen went to Ecuador after she graduated. It was her father, a Baptist minister, and Rev. Evan Welsh, pastor of College Church, who together prepared the phonograph record with the marriage ceremony, leaving gaps for “I do” from the couple.
Many station employees remembered Clayton as a technician whose special knack was keeping the tape recorders, record turntables and mixing consoles going, according to Chuck, an HCJB Global missionary teacher in Quito. Clayton served primarily in audio work, but he was also involved in everything technical such as transmitters, antennas, studios, power and remote programs. He was also actively involved in the search for a new international transmitting site for the station, eventually selecting Pifo.
A career highlight for Clayton was helping a fellow engineer at the station, Clarence Moore, design and build the world’s first cubicle quad antenna. Also, in an era in which Ecuador’s communication resources were marginal, Clayton actively handled remote broadcasts for the Ecuadorian government. He contributed to the growth of HCJB from a small radio facility to a major international broadcaster, reaching out with the gospel message in many major languages.
Blessed with an excellent bass voice, Clayton loved his involvement with regular live music programs in English and Spanish. He took part in concerts each year to honor the station’s host city, Quito. In the mid-1960s, Clayton took over as host of “DX Partyline,” a semiweekly program for shortwave enthusiasts. He produced this program for 22 years.
Clayton and Helen also began Andes DX International (ANDEX), a club for shortwave radio listeners, and the ANDEX magazine. The Howards corresponded with people around the world. In addition to shortwave listening tips, they shared “Tips for Real Living,” focusing on a meaningful relationship with the Creator. It was their joy to lead many to the Lord Jesus through the programs and follow-up correspondence.
After their final DX Partyline program aired in June 1984, Clayton received what Chuck referred to as an unusual tribute from an unlikely source, Radio Moscow,which stated, “The living legend of the Andes has retired!”
Upon retirement, the Howards spent 10 years in Florida, then moved to Go Ye Village, a Christian retirement center in Tahlequah. “When Clayton and Helen came to live at Go Ye Village,” said retired HCJB Global missionary Don Schroder, “Clayton set up closed-circuit TV to televise the Sunday chapel services, Bible studies and memorial services. These televised services went into all the homes and apartments of residents in the village.”
Clayton was preceded in death by his wife of 67 years on Jan. 3, 2010. Survivors include three children, Chuck Howard of Quito, Leland Howard of Missouri and Ruth Anne Leaf of Illinois (recently retired from missionary service in Japan), as well as 11 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.
He loved to share his enthusiasm for radio, and he enjoyed meeting with radio clubs in the U.S. “On one occasion,” Chuck remembered his father telling, “he was met at the door to the club by a lively group of young men, all sporting T-shirts with his picture on the front!”
One such teenaged fan of Clayton and Helen’s radio show was Rich McVicar who quipped, “It was one of the very few programs I would actually listen to. The rest of the time, I was constantly tuning the dial for new catches!”
Years later, when McVicar arrived as an HCJB Global missionary in Ecuador, the Howards were there, having been coaxed back to Ecuador for a short visit. “In fact, Clayton and I co-hosted my first four ‘DX Partyline’ programs,” McVicar said. “Becoming the producer of ‘DX Partyline’ was a dream come true for me, and being introduced to the famous host of my teenage listening days was a uniquely wonderful experience.”
Another young listener was John Beck. Upon Clayton’s retirement, Beck was the program’s new host. “I was scared. I had listened to Clayton and Helen since high school. But he told me not to worry and that he would help me in the transition,” Beck said. “I watched him conduct a couple of tapings, introducing me on the second to the audience and then he turned to me and said, ‘OK, now it’s your program.’ I stammered. ‘But I thought we would have a transition of at least a couple of months!’” Beck said Clayton’s reply was, “Oh no … we leave next week.”
“Clayton not only taught me over the air much of what I learned about shortwave radio as a hobby,” added Ken MacHarg, who later hosted the same radio program. “He was also the door through which I began doing programming on HCJB.”
“Before my wife and I ever went there, he asked me to adapt portions of my book, Tune in the World, for broadcast as a series,” MacHarg explained. “I recorded profiles of various international broadcasters who were featured in the book and sent them for use on the program.”
Chuck described his father as one who loved Ecuador and its people. Although he was a practical joker at times, his passion for Christ was evident. “He was a humble, rather private man who felt rather awkward in large groups, but in his quiet way, he was a very effective servant of the Lord,” Chuck said. “He didn’t preach, but he made it possible for others to preach the Word to millions of needy souls around the world.”
His life verses were, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV).
A DX Partyline listener responded to this obituary after it appeared in Radio World.
Clayton and Helen interviewed by HCJB Global’s Paul Bell. Click here.