15 April: A presidential farewell and an exposition of horror

FDR's radio friendliness is repaid abundantly upon his death and interment. (Photo: The National Archives.)

FDR’s radio friendliness is repaid abundantly upon his death and interment. (Photo: The National Archives.)

Until Franklin D. Roosevelt, network broadcasting has yet to address the death of a sitting President of the United States. As Edward R. Murrow would say of the United States a decade later, radio comes into its full inheritance at a tender age as it is, but World War II and the death of FDR have combined to tax that inheritance powerfully. It’s to radio’s credit that it has responded to both as powerfully, as effectively, and as memorably as few might have expected when network radio began taking its full shape a decade earlier.

So let us begin with the final tributes to Roosevelt, from assorted radio and film stars to the working broadcast press and, concurrently, a unique program that ordinarily address the military and social lives of black Americans, in a period when black Americans are otherwise still far underrepresented on the air.



Various Artists: Our Hour of National Sorrow (NBC, 1945)

This afternoon, there is white snow on the mountains that view Hollywood from the distance. The sun shines brightly, the sky is blue, and the air is warm with spring. It might be any day in California, for nature neither knows nor cares about the trials and tribulations of man, whom she both fights and serves. She looks upon life and death as one, for she has long fashioned either from the same material. And just as the one is interchangeable with the other, so in nature’s book is each indestructible . . . Life is eternal; death is eternal. Today, in Hollywood, we in the entertainment unite to pay tribute to one whose death, as is nature’s work, will likewise prove eternal.

Peary. (Photo: NBC.)

Harold Peary. (Photo: NBC.)

Thus does film and future radio star Ronald Colman open for a small phalanx of film and old-time radio stars, rounding up in a sometimes mawkish, sometimes wishfully wistful, often-enough moving, music-wrapped farewell to President Roosevelt.

The stars also include Jim and Marian Jordan (in character as Fibber McGee & Molly and Teeny), Ginny Simms, Ed Gardner (Duffy’s Tavern), Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll (who created and play Amos ‘n’ Andy but speak as themselves), Bette Davis, Robert Young, Harold Peary (The Great Gildersleeve), James Cagney, Jack Benny, Ingrid Bergman, Shirley Roth, and others.


World News Today: “Now, even the muffled drums are quiet” (CBS, 1945)

Larry LeSeur. (Photo: CBS.)

Larry LeSeur. (Photo: CBS.)

A report from Hyde Park conveys the graveside service and morning burial of FDR on the grounds of his primary home. Also, a dispatch from the United Nations’s founding conference in San Francisco and a retrospective of recent Pacific Theater war coverage; the liberation of Wiemar; from Paris, further reaction to FDR’s death, further European war advances, and last-ditch Nazi resistance despite the Third Army’s continuing, breathtaking plunge; and, thoughts on the possible makeup of the newborn Truman Administration.

Correspondents: Chris Coffin, Eric Sevareid, Bill Shadell (who telegraphs Murrow’s soon-to-come Buchenwald report), Charles Collingwood, Larry LeSeur, Bob Evans. Anchor: Robert Trout.


A New World A-Coming: In Memory of FDR (WMCA New York, 1945)

This touching broadcast focuses on Roosevelt’s impact upon African-Americans, part of this remarkable series co-produced by New York’s WMCA and the Citizen’s Committee of Harlem.

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (Photo: ProjectBlackMan.com.)

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (Photo: ProjectBlackMan.com.)

Featured: William Franklin singing “The Requiem” (Homer); Dr. Channing Bishop (Selective Service board member, African-American leader) on administration measures and laws signed by Roosevelt that benefitted African-Americans; soprano Muriel Smith singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”; Canada Lee, reading the prayer FDR wrote and delivered to American and Allied forces on the launch of the D-Day invasion in 1944; Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-Harlem), in a tribute you could call “The people’s chieftain has fallen”; and, from St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Harlem, the Rev. Sheldon Hale Bishop deliveringa benediction for the late president, followed by a musical take of “The Lord’s Prayer” the church’s choir.



Edward R. Murrow: “I Pray You to Believe What I Have Told You About Buchenwald” (CBS, 1945)

Edward R. Murrow. (Photo: CBS.)

Edward R. Murrow. (Photo: CBS.)

[T]his is no time to talk of the surface of Germany. Permit me to tell you what you would have seen, and heard, had you been with me on Thursday. It will not be pleasant listening. If you are at lunch, or if you have no appetite to hear what the Germans have done, now is a good time to switch off the radio, for I propose to tell you of Buchenwald. It is on a small hill about four miles outside Weimar, and it was one of the largest concentration camps in Germany, and it was built to last . . . [L]et me tell this in the first person, for I was the least important person there, as you shall hear.

Escorted by German, English, Czech, and other surviving prisoners, including the one-time mayor of Prague, Peter Zenkl, and a German expatriate from Joliet, Illinois, who returned to Germany for a visit only to be snatched by the Nazis, Edward R. Murrow—arrived at Buchenwald with Allied forces—manages to bring himself to report the lingering stench of death, and the mute horror of its survivors, the freshly-liberated Buchenwald extermination camp.

Long after tonight’s broadcast, and long after his eventual death, there will still exist examples enough of what made his reputation as a larger-than-life journalist with the gift of prose poetry. You may be able to say Murrow will improve yet again, but you may not be able to say that he will get better, after you hear his harrowing “rather mild” report from the camp. And you will need almost no visual evidence to know the grotesquery of which he will report.

You won’t even need to accept his near-apology. (If I’ve offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I’m not in the least sorry.)

Almost. Murrow’s understatement is only too vivid.


Further Channel Surfing . . .


Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: Hiding Easter Eggs (Three Guesses, 1960)—On “One Fella’s Family,” they are: Book Ex Eye Eye, Chapter Vee Eye, among other tender mercilessness. Writers, so they’ve been accused: Bob Elliott, Ray Goulding.


Crime Drama

Nick Carter, Master Detective: The Cat Brings Death (a.k.a. The Missing Person; Mutual, 1944)—Lon Clark, Humphrey Davis, Bryna Raeburn, Helen Choate. Already pressured by a rash of unsolved jewel robberies, the last thing Lt. Riley needs is a dowager demanding her missing and possibly stolen expensive Persian cat be returned post haste. Fine series entry.

This entry was posted in classic radio, comedy, crime drama, drama/dramatic anthology, History/Documentary, News and comment, old-time radio, World War II and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to 15 April: A presidential farewell and an exposition of horror

  1. That had to be tough for Edward R. Murrow to report on the atrocities done by the Nazis at Buchenwald. It is unusual for a broadcaster to tell listeners turn off the radio, if the listener can’t handle what he is about to report.

    • Jeff Kallman says:

      Unusual, but not unheard of. Bear in mind, too, that as often as not the announcers for Lights Out were given to offer similar advisories, even if the show was fiction and not fact.

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