Category Archives: History/Documentary

6 May: Dead zeppelin, live reporting

Morrison (with microphone) returns to what's left of the Hindenburg the day after the disaster. (Photo: WLS/NBC.)

Morrison (with microphone) returns to what’s left of the Hindenburg the day after the Lakehurst disaster. (Photo: WLS/NBC.)

Even in 2015, two years before its eightieth anniversary, you can find periodic debate as to whether it’s the single greatest legend of old-time radio news reporting in the pre-World War II era. What isn’t necessarily debatable is that Herbert Morrison’s spot report of the Hindenburg disaster becomes a legend the way legends customarily became that way, once upon a time—entirely by accident. It is an experiment in pre-recording news reporting for delayed broadcast, and it takes on its own mystique in very short order.

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23 February: FDR’s fireside at war

FDR turned radio into a presidential art form. (White House photo.)

FDR turned radio into a presidential art form. (White House photo.)

Comprehending and embracing radio to a greater extent than perhaps any American politician of his era (Calvin Coolidge was merely the first President to appreciate the medium’s potential), Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the Fireside Chats during his first year in the White House, when he went on the air 12 March 1933 at the height of the Depression-seeded bank crisis.

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31 December: Auld time radio

It could have been better . . . it certainly could have been worse . . . but now let’s say goodbye to 2014 the auld-time radio way, beginning (perhaps this will become a tradition in this space, too) with a legendary New Year’s Eve music special for American and other troops still scattered ’round in the immediate wake of World War II . . .

Various Artists:
New Year’s Radio Dancing Party
(Armed Forces Radio Service, 31 December 1945)

 

Duke Ellington in 1945.

Duke Ellington in 1945.

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15 December: The Bill of Rights provides a Corwin triumph

Norman Corwin, while still in CBS's good graces. (Photo: CBS.)

Norman Corwin, while still in CBS’s good graces. (Photo: CBS.)

Norman Corwin’s biographer R. LeRoy Bannermann will recall how Corwin, planning a special commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, was completing the script when the news of Pearl Harbour reached him. And from the moment it airs tonight, it may become Corwin’s signature composition and presentation.

The timing of We Hold These Truths will give it historic significance enough, airing eight days after Pearl Harbour, its nationalistic but hardly jingoistic theme kindling within its listeners both an indignant patriotism and a renewed dedication. Which is, when all is said and done, a remarkable achievement for a man who’s just been cashiered by CBS—because his work, much heard, heeded, and honoured, has become too “speculative [and] experimental” for a network in need of becoming more “competitive.”

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11 December: The show Henry Luce didn’t really like

Westbrook Van Voorhis, the unforgettable Voice of Time. (Photo: CBS.)

Westbrook Van Voorhis, the unforgettable Voice of Time. (Photo: CBS.)

On the same day as Congress declares war against the Third Reich, in Pearl Harbour’s immediate aftermath and countering the Reich’s and Fascist Italy’s declarations against the United States, one of old-time radio’s most eloquent radio exercises in the aftermath comes from a series launched in Cincinnati more than a decade earlier. A series that became a radio legend despite the apparent disdain of the publishing titan whose signature creation inseminated it.

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