radio

The Birth And Maturation Of Radio News

Considering the commercial interests that opposed news programming, the development of broadcast journalism was striking. Newspapers and wire services generally opposed radio news as an encroachment upon their domains and a threat to their financial well-being. Many newspapers countered by operating radio stations, thereby making radio news an extension of their own publications. As early as 1922, sixty-nine stations were owned by newspapers. Furthermore, believing radio could bolster public interest, in many instances newspapers sponsored local newscasters as, for example, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which financed the first radio efforts of H. V. Kaltenborn in the early 1920s on WEAF and WOR in New York City.

By the time of the Great Depression, however, radio had made serious inroads into newspaper circulation. As Americans turned increasingly to broadcasting for their entertainment, they found their news and information on the radio, too. This was especially vexing to most publishers since newspapers printed daily radio logs without charging stations or networks an advertisement rate.

By 1933 exasperation led to action as the Newspaper Publishers' Association, the principal organization of newspaper owners, determined to blunt forever the effectiveness of radio newscasts. And the Association was not alone. The allies of the publishers in this "press war" were the major wire services in the United States: United Press, Associated Press, and the International News Service.

The wire services had an ambivalent history in their relationship with radio. In 1922, the Associated Press had cautioned its subscribers against providing wire stories to broadcasters. As the number of stations owned by newspapers increased, however, the policy of the AP became increasingly untenable. In 1925 the news agency relaxed its position, agreeing that radio stations had the right to broadcast its wire service reports that were of paramount national and international concern. Three years later, however, the wire services relented again, this time agreeing to allow their material to be aired twice daily on radio newscasts. And in 1929 they began to sell their news directly to radio. Depression economics, however, brought a sudden change of policy to the wire services precipitating a last stand. In 1933, they protectively conspired with newspaper publishers to thwart radio news programming.

To destroy fledgling broadcast journalism, many major newspapers agreed to demand a fee for publishing radio logs. Recognizing that the struggle against radio was a fight for advertising revenue and for customers, newspapers also intimidated the sponsors of radio newscasts by suggesting that they choose which of the two media they preferred to use for their advertising. The wire services, for their part, united to prevent network stations from receiving their product. And all non-network local stations were compelled to pay for the right to broadcast wire service bulletins. This two-pronged attack upon broadcasting was the most serious assault upon freedom of the press and the right of Americans to be informed in the short history of radio.

The radio networks responded with their most powerful weapon: they formed their own news bureaus. Through the efforts of men like A. A. Schecter, Jr. of NBC, and Paul White of CBS, radio set up rudimentary news-gathering staffs that used telephones and telegrams to obtain their stories. Oddly enough, in several instances these neophyte bureaus actually "scooped" their established rivals. And when in September 1933 CBS formed its own Columbia News Service and established news offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.—as well as placing correspondents in every American city with a population in excess of 20,000, and in many foreign capitals—it became clear that rather than arresting the development of radio journalism, resistance from newspapers and wire services actually catalyzed the formation of powerful self-contained broadcast rivals.

By the end of the year the press war ended with a compromise. Meeting in what one writer called the "smoke and hate-filled rooms" in the Hotel Biltmore in New York City, the two sides agreed to terms that called for the abandonment of news gathering by the radio networks and creation of a Press-Radio Bureau to provide the networks without charge enough bulletins to produce two five-minute newscasts daily. Furthermore, radio commentators were restricted to generalizations and news more than twelve hours old. And all broadcasts using Press-Radio Bureau materials were to be without sponsorship.

There is no doubt that the losers in the agreements would have been the networks had not other developments materialized. Radio officials in December 1933 still did not envision the potential, or the necessity, for radio to gather and produce its own news. The expense and the gamble involved in such an undertaking were great risks to take in the midst of economic hard times. The terms of this Biltmore Agreement, then, guaranteed network that radio would have a news function, albeit one that was subservient to newspapers.

The future of broadcast journalism was rescued by the reactions of non-network broadcasters. Many independent-minded affiliate stations, as well as small regional networks (such as the Yankee Network servicing the northeastern part of the country) and a number of independent news services refused to accept the compromise made by NBC and CBS. These organizations were able to gather and broadcast their own news so successfully that they effectively undermined the controversial agreement. Because they were decentralized and scattered throughout the nation, they were less vulnerable to pressures from the large journalistic entities based in the East. The maverick radio organizations eventually forced the wire services to retreat from their hostile position and begin selling their news to all radio stations that wished to subscribe. For their part, many newspapers met the change of events by purchasing broadcasting stations and recognizing that radio was to be a medium of news as well as entertainment.

Although networks did not produce effective news-gathering offices until the mid-1930s, it is ironic that modern radio was born broadcasting news. The airing over KDKA (Pittsburgh) of the results of the Warren G. Harding-James M. Cox presidential election on November 2, 1920, wedded radio and breaking news from the beginning. In September 1921, KDKA began regular news broadcasts directly from the newsroom of the Pittsburgh Post. In July 1922, WJAC (Norfolk, Nebraska) began a daily news broadcast. Three months earlier H. V. Kaltenborn had begun his career as a commentator on WEAF. Other stations introduced even fuller treatments of the news. WJZ (Newark) in February 1923 began a daily fifteen-minute summary of the news. By 1925 station KOIN (Portland, Oregon) was billing its newscast as the "Newspaper of the Air." And in the late 1920s, WOMT (Manitowoc, Wisconsin) was broadcasting news "every hour on the hour."

Despite the swelling of the number of news programs, other aspects of the evolving broadcast journalism appeared in the 1920s. The use of radio in Presidential politics began as early as November 11, 1921. On that date an Armistice Day address by Warren G. Harding was carried by radio. Throughout his short tenure in office Harding was an avid supporter of broadcasting. Many of his speeches were aired, and his ownership of a radio receiver brought favorable publicity to the new medium.

Radio was an influential addition in 1924 to the national conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties. Nineteen stations covered the Presidential nomination gatherings held that summer in New York City and Cleveland, respectively. An estimated fifteen million citizens heard the proceedings. According to the noted radio impresario, Samuel L. ("Roxy") Rothafel, these broadcasts played an important role with the electorate as the uncomplicated selection of Calvin Coolidge contrasted dramatically with the turmoil surrounding the choice of a Democratic nominee, John W. Davis, on the one-hundred-and-third ballot. Radio, in this manner, exposed questionable political processes. It also brought to many listeners a sense of political weakness, listening as they were to supposedly democratic organization nominating candidates in a less-than-efficient manner.

Roxy suggested in 1925 that by exposing political maneuverings, radio was exerting a reformist force. Before preferential primary elections were instituted in most states, he noted that,

broadcasting of the event planted a germ that may sometime burst out into a political epidemic in the form of a new sort, in the form of a more equitable system of choosing candidates. It will be the natural demand of a people who have come to realize their political insignificance through constant exposure to events completely beyond their choice or authority.

It was appropriate in this first "radio" Presidential campaign that Coolidge was inaugurated before twenty-three million listeners as the oath of office and his inaugural address were broadcast from Washington over two networks linking twenty-four stations throughout the nation. Furthermore, Coolidge possessed the perfect image for the first President to be helped to election by radio. Famous for his conservatism and his silence, the Chief Executive fit perfectly the mold of the new politician which, according to Frederick C. Hicks, eastern director of the Republican National Committee, radio was creating as “thousands of invisible auditors are conscious of the importance of delivering messages free from boastful predictions and demagogic utterances.”

In its first half-decade, radio journalism developed the important function of live coverage of special events. Sporting contests were the first broadcasts of this type. As early as July, 1921, station WJY (Hoboken) transmitted from ringside the heavyweight championship boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. Radio coverage of the baseball World Series began in the fall of 1921. Soon collegiate and professional football games were being regularly broadcast, and announcers like Graham McNamee, Phillips Carlin, Major J. Andrew White, and Ted Husing emerged as the first "sportscaster" celebrities in the nation.

Another type of coverage of special events in these years was the airing of speeches by famous statesmen. In the early 1920s political leaders, such as Woodrow Wilson, and visiting foreign dignitaries, like Georges Clemenceau and David Lloyd George, addressed millions through American radio. In July 1925, station WGN pioneered the broadcasting of legal proceedings. Sustaining a cost of $1,000 per day for the rental of telephone lines, this Chicago station aired the final sessions of the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. Through its remote transmission from the courtroom, listeners were able to hear the legal and Biblical argumentation of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan as they debated the merits of Darwin's theory of evolution as taught in the schools of Tennessee.

It had always been a dream of the developers of radio programming that the principal goal of broadcasting should be moral uplift. Pioneers like Dr. Lee De Forest envisioned radio disseminating classical music, university lectures, and wholesome drama. Once it became a medium for advertisers after 1922, however, more democratic impulses entered radio, and it became primarily a medium for popular, mass culture, rather than for the more elite cultural forms its originators had desired. Nevertheless, one of the goals of those pioneers that did survive the commercialism was the use of radio to inform the mass of Americans about governmental policy, to debate the merits of such directions, and to create, thereby, an informed citizenry.

By the late 1920s radio had clearly established a role for such programming. Political commentators such as Frederick William Wile on CBS and David Lawrence on NBC offered interpretive analyses of news events. Speeches on political topics were often presented by experts, and politicians made frequent use of the air to make known their opinions. Indicative of this development, in the Presidential campaign of 1928, the Republican party spent more than $435,000 on radio advertising (21.6 percent of its campaign budget) , while the Democrats spent $650,000. Thus, as well as its emerging function of reporting the news, broadcast journalism in the 1920s established a definite importance for radio in the exchange of ideas. The implications of such precedents would be more fully realized in the following decade.

Although the official foreign policy of the United States in the inter-war period was one of isolationism, it was not an ignorant American population that adhered to such noninvolvement in European and Asian affairs. Especially in the 1930s, when the challenge to American isolationism and world peace was greatest, radio kept listeners informed of the latest political developments. Whether it was broadcasting a panel discussion or a significant event, the speech of a European demagogue or a remote pickup from the battlefront of a small war, radio was used by the new electronic journalists to bring current events to listeners in a manner that was more vivid and immediate than print journalism.

By 1939 a poll conducted by the Elmo Roper agency showed that more than twenty-five percent of the population relied upon radio to obtain most of its news. More impressive, an overwhelming majority felt that radio news was more objective than newspapers and that radio commentators were preferable to newspaper columnists and editorialists Furthermore, during World War II, when speed and accuracy in the reporting of battlefront news were demanded by citizens, broadcast journalism became even more popular with Americans. By November 1942 a survey of ninety-five localities showed that seventy-three percent of the respondents received most of their news about the war from radio, while only forty-nine percent listed newspapers as a major source for such information. And in the spring of 1946, a national survey demonstrated that radio had nearly replaced newspapers, as sixty-one percent of those polled listed radio as their major source of daily news, while only thirty-five percent cited newspapers.

Throughout the 1930s radio journalism continued to expand its coverage and improve its techniques. One of the most impressive developments was the appearance of several important panel discussion programs which brought to American listeners all sides of current debates. The longest-running series was The University of Chicago Roundtable, which premiered in February 1931, and left the air in June 1955. Although it occasionally featured celebrities, such as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India who appeared in 1949, and T. S. Eliot who appeared in 1950, the weekly program usually presented university professors and researchers discussing topics that ranged from science to poetry, and from Presidential policies of Jeffersonianism. The Roundtable enjoyed an immense following and provocative broadcasts could generate as many as 16,000 letters to the offices of NBC. At one point during its existence, more than 21,000 listeners subscribed to the published transcripts of the weekly half-hour program, and bound editions were sold at the conclusion of monthly broadcasting cycles.

More visceral than The University of Chicago Roundtable in its exchange of ideas was America's Town Meeting of the Air. This one-hour weekly public-affairs program began in May 1935 on a controversial note. The program considered the topic, "Which Way for America?" and presented as panelists Raymond Moley (member of President Roosevelt's Brain Trust) supporting democracy, Norman Thomas as the spokesman for socialism, A. J. Muste favoring communism, and Lawrence Dennis (editor of The Awakener) supporting fascism.

Throughout its span of broadcasting that lasted into the late 1950s, America's Town Meeting of the Air was not squeamish about confronting its listeners with strongly opposing opinions. New Deal advocates, such as Harold Ickes and Robert H. Jackson, frequently pitted their pro-government interpretations against the pro-business ideals of critics of President Roosevelt, such as Wendell Willkie and General Hugh S. Johnson. The verbal battles of interventionists and isolationists were broadcast on the program, and foreign personalities occasionally appeared. Internal social issues were frequently discussed on the show. The program presented a wide range of attitudes, such as those of Walter White of the NAACP; Father Flanagan of Boys' Town; Al Capp, the creator of the Li'l Abner comic strip; and Arnold Toynbee, the noted world historian.

The theory behind the series was to revive the town meetings of earlier centuries by inviting guest authorities to air opposing opinions and then to allow a lively studio audience to question those speakers. It was a format that was both popular and educational.

Panel discussion programming blossomed in the 1930s. Listeners could hear topical problems discussed in depth on such series as American Forum of the Air, which remained on NBC for more than twenty years, People's Platform on CBS for fourteen years, and Northwestern Reviewing Stand, produced by Northwestern University on the Mutual network for twenty years. One prominent series went so far as to develop a juvenile version of itself, High School Town Meeting of the Air, which was broadcast in the mid-1930s.

All these series presented a wide range of opinion, and since they were usually sustaining programs, there was no interference prompted by the commercial interests of a sponsor. Interestingly, when Reader's Digest magazine assumed the sponsorship of America's Town Meeting of the Air in the 1940s, there was open fear that an advertiser would inhibit the objectivity of the series. By that time, however, the tradition of free speech in panel discussions was so entrenched that even had the new sponsor wished to interject its opinion, it probably would have met resistance.

As well as the panel discussion, broadcast journalism in the 1930s saw the emergence of news commentators as a distinctive aspect in radio. More than a reader of news, these commentators were editorial writers who added informed interpretation to much of what they reported. At a time when audiences listened and did not demand slides and film to enliven news reports, commentators came to dominate newscasting. They offered listeners a wide range of personalities and opinions as they spoke on topics as diverse as European political developments and domestic charities.

It is interesting that although such newscasters offered substantial points of view, they often represented commercial entities. Many were backed by sponsors, and their survival on radio depended upon their ability to reach and maintain sizable audiences. This often caused misgivings. To a man like H. V. Kaltenborn it was prostituting his journalistic ethics to read commercials, yet Walter Winchell not only dramatized the products of his sponsor, but with phrases like "lotions of love," with which he signed off his Jergen's Journal, he integrated the sponsor's product directly into his delivery. Most commentators, however, were careful not to let their personal philosophies bend before the pressures of advertisers. In this manner Kaltenborn lost his sponsor, General Mills, in 1939 when his outspoken position in favor of the incumbent Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War prompted a group of American Roman Catholics to threaten a boycott of General Mills products unless he abandoned his criticism.

Radio commentators in the 1930s were often reformulated print journalists, men and women who had abandoned newspapers for broadcasting, or who maintained careers in both media. Among the former, Floyd Gibbons and William L. Shirer came from the Chicago Tribune, Edwin C. Hill from the New York Sun, Raymond Gram Swing from the Philadelphia Public Ledger, H. R. Baukage from the Associated Press, and Boake Carter from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. Among those who maintained viable newspaper columns were Walter Winchell, Dorothy Thompson, and Drew Pearson. It is interesting, however, that several of the more impressive commentators emerged with no newspaper experience. In this category were personalities such as Lowell Thomas, John Daly, Edward R. Murrow, and Gabriel Heatter.

Like their diverse backgrounds, the radio commentators who emerged in the 1930s possessed diverse of political persuasions. Variety in July 1945 presented a study of the principal commentators of the day. From a consideration of that survey, it is possible to substantiate the breadth of interpretation that these newsmen represented. A significant number of the commentators possessed biases that were labeled "reactionary." These included men such as Bill Cunningham, Arthur Hale, Rupert Hughes, John B. Kennedy, Fulton Lewis, Jr., and the highly controversial Upton Close. Close was associated with such right-wing positions as hostility to the New Deal, the rights of organized labor, and foreign interventionism. He blamed President Roosevelt for driving the United States into World War II and often lashed out at “the smirch of communistic propaganda” that, he felt, permeated much of American broadcasting.

Among the group of “liberal” commentators were the more distinguished broadcast journalists. Cecil Brown, for instance, was given a Peabody Award in 1942, and Edward R. Murrow received the same award in 1943. Others included William L. Shirer, Raymond Gram Swing, and Walter Winchell. Between these two poles, Variety cited "conservatives" such as Lowell Thomas, Bill Henry, John Daly, and H. R. Baukage. The trade journal named as "middle-of-the-road" such commentators as Charles Collingwood, Ned Calmer, Quincy Howe, and George Fielding Eliot.

Whatever their persuasions, the importance of this type of radio journalist was twofold. First, in broadcasting interpretations of the news these commentators brought to radio recognizable political postures which, ultimately, were advocacies of policy. In an era of controversy and confrontation in world and domestic affairs, these news analysts offered reasoned, but subjective, explanation for listeners to consider. As early as 1936, for instance, Floyd Gibbons on NBC opposed any type of American involvement in the Spanish Civil War; Winchell warmly applauded everything President Roosevelt did; Dorothy Thompson in 1940 called for American entry into the European War; and Boake Carter and Fulton Lewis, Jr., strongly supported the isolationists in the America First movement.

A second importance of news commentators was the educative effect they had on their audiences. These broadcasters allowed listeners to test the validity of their own conclusions, to confirm or refute the slanted interpretations heard on the radio, and to learn in the process. Rather than condemn American radio for presenting a cacophony of opinions, each cancelling the others, broadcasting, then, should be commended for tolerating the varieties of Truth. In a liberal-democratic country such as the United States, a relatively-free citizenry is condemned to its own level of intelligence. Unlike monolithic regimes where only one answer is permitted to broadcasters since it is considered the Truth, American radio—even in time of great crises such as the Depression and World War II—tolerated diversity of opinion. Listeners were compelled to learn for themselves the correct position from which to understand the news of the world.

This is not to suggest that the range of political commentary was without limitation. There were, for instance, no Marxist or fascist news analysts on network radio. Yet, relative to other political regimes, the commentators who emerged in the 1930s represented the broadest spectrum of ideas in radio of any nation.

Radio produced scores of analysts whose broadcasts were an important part of the years of Depression and World War. Nevertheless, it is possible to distinguish several exceptional commentators whose style and message made them especially influential with the American public. H. V. (Hans von) Kaltenborn was the doyen of news broadcasters, even in the 1930s. He began his career in 1922, and was a constant radio personality until he retired in 1955. Kaltenborn brought to his programs an alert, serious style which he maintained by always standing before the microphone, as he felt sitting while broadcasting made one relaxed and off-guard.

Born in Milwaukee in 1878, Kaltenborn was the offspring of a Hessian noble family, and throughout his life he maintained a sense of dignity and pride in his Germanic background. He abhorred Nazism as repugnant to German values. When on October 3, 1939, he broadcast news of the death of the American religious leader George Cardinal Mundelein, he could have been speaking of himself when he said of the Chicago prelate, "As a man of German ancestry, he was naturally profoundly disturbed about the pagan aspects of the Nazi creed."

Kaltenborn's liberal politics involved him in occasional controversy. In the 1920s he spoke frequently in favor of the League of Nations, the global political organization of which the United States was not a member. In January 1934, he aroused the wrath of the attorney general of Alabama when he stated that the young black men involved in the Scottsboro Trial should be tried elsewhere because they could not receive a fair trial in Alabama. His hostility toward General Francisco Franco, the Roman Catholic Church, and Nazi intervention in the Spanish Civil War angered many American Catholics and German-Americans. And his certainty of an election victory for Thomas E. Dewey in November 1948 led to the memorable light-hearted mimicking of Kaltenborn by newly elected President Harry S Truman.

Kaltenborn blended an efficient style of broadcasting with an ability to elucidate without a prepared script. Being a well-travelled man, he frequently offered side comments on the cities or areas front which his stories originated. He was also not adverse to explaining to his listeners legalistic terms, such as "cloture," that might arise in his newscasts. Despite his erudite approach to radio, Kaltenborn occasionally demonstrated a wry sense of humor. Thus, in a broadcast in September 1939, when he switched from 10:30 P.M. to an early evening time slot, he told his listeners that they could no longer blame him for keeping them from bed, although now he might be accused of interfering with their dinner.

Kaltenborn was especially effective when broadcasting from foreign locations. In 1936, during the early days of the Spanish Civil War, he once transmitted directly from a battle in progress. In 1938 he produced 102 broadcasts from Germany in eighteen days during the Munich Crisis. And, in World War II, he broadcast from the headquarters of General Omar Bradley in France, and General Douglas MacArthur in Australia. The success of this style was evidenced during the war years. In the years 1942-1945, Kaltenborn maintained the highest Hooper rating average (15.9) of any radio commentator with the exception of Walter Winchell.

If Kaltenborn epitomized the dedicated professionalism possible in broadcast journalism, Floyd Gibbons represented the fact that in the 1930s the dimensions of news commentary were still broadly defined. He blended the skills of a journalist with the flair and verve of a showman. It was an attitude toward news and broadcasting which was shared by as prestigious a newsman as Lowell Thomas who told an interviewer in 1934, "There aren't any news broadcasters.... On the networks we're really entertainers.... My talks are planned as entertainment, not education."

Gibbons' journalistic style was a virile one. Although he had been a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune for fourteen years and a popular commentator throughout the early 1930s, Gibbons saw himself as an explorer. A five-part biographical series printed in the fan magazine, Radio Mirror, in 1937 was entitled, appropriately, "The Personal History of Floyd Gibbons, Adventurer."

Except for a few weeks on WGN in 1925, Gibbons began his broadcasting career in 1929 in an NBC series, The Headline Hunter. The program featured Gibbons relating newspaper "shop-talk," much as he told stories of adventure in 1930 in his popular series, World Adventure. His first news program was sponsored in 1929 by Literary Digest magazine. Here, because he wrote his own material and desired to say more than a quarter-hour program would allow, Gibbons developed a rapid-fire style of delivery that became his hallmark. He was once clocked at speaking 217 words per minute. In this manner, he was able to speak between four and five thousand words in a 15-minute broadcast. His delivery became so well-known that by 1933 he had helped establish a correspondence course for would-be radio announcers, the Floyd Gibbons School of Broadcasting, that advertised on the back covers of fan magazines:

Have you an idea for a radio program? Can you describe things? Have you a Radio voice? Are you musically inclined? Have you the ability to write humor, dramatic sketches, playlets, advertising? Can you sell? If you can do any of these things—Broadcasting needs you!

Throughout the first half of the decade, Gibbons refined his style into an effective crusading pitch. On The Nash Speedshow he cautioned against the involvement of the United States government in the Spanish Civil War. On The General Electric House of Magic series, his commentaries urged a widespread understanding of science in American life. And on a series sponsored by the Libby, Owens glass company, his constant championing of safety glass helped launch a successful national campaign to require such protective glass in the windows of new automobiles.

Despite the popularity of his political commentaries, Gibbons was never a fully committed newscaster. He was, however, always an adventurer. In 1931 he flew to the Far East with Will Rogers and entered Manchuria, marching part of the way with the invading Japanese army. His broadcast from Mukden on the morning of January 20, 1932, was the first war broadcast ever sent to the United States from a foreign country. His cordial interview with Benito Mussolini in 1935 may have been responsible for his receiving special treatment by invading Italian armed forces when he covered the Ethiopian War. In fact, much of the early American understanding of that war resulted from the fact that Gibbons was the most active foreign correspondent there.

An athletic man with a patch covering his left eye, his physical appearance enhanced the adventurer image his newspaper and radio career developed. Gibbons must have been unimpressed with such series as Your True Adventures, a giveaway program on CBS in 1937 in which he related stories sent in by listeners eager to win a prize of $25 for the best story of the evening. When the popularity of his style waned, Gibbons left radio. He died in obscurity in September 1939.

The journalistic exhibitionism that surrounded Gibbons left him vulnerable to criticism. With a new breed of professional radio journalist being developed by the end of the decade, he was an anachronism. Charitably, Variety noted in his obituary that his "rapid-fire style of announcing" had become "passé after a time." In love with the new medium of communication, but more in love with being "on the spot" when world events were taking place, Gibbons was caught between the glamour of the world of the foreign correspondent of the past, and the disciplined reality of the professional commentator of the electronic age. Perhaps the best epitaph for his career was written as part of the flattering series in Radio Mirror magazine:

His has been the story of a man who represents, as nearly as any man can, the modern counterpart of the wandering troubadours of old. They went around their little world on foot, gathering news and retelling it in the form of songs. Floyd goes around his big world ... by airplane, train, and fast motor car, gathering his news and retelling it in the form of type and brisk, clipped prose over the air. The difference is only on the surface. Down underneath, Floyd and the troubadours are the same—romantics, wanderers, restless priers into whatever excitement is going on.

The range of coverage exhibited in emerging news commentary was most expansive in the programs of Walter Winchell. Although generally considered a broadcaster of Broadway gossip, Winchell probed all aspects of human experience to draw material for his shows. A typical Winchell broadcast might include comments on an illicit love affair, a European dictator, automobile safety, a scandalous crime, and patriotism. A man who was at once a great influence upon public opinion and a scandalmonger, Winchell displayed a journalistic style that fell somewhere between the disciplined professionalism of Kaltenborn and the impulsive flare of Gibbons. He was, in the words of an admirer in 1939, both "the historian of trivialities and the serious crusader."

Born of an immigrant Jewish family that struggled to survive in the ethnic mix that was Harlem at the turn of the century, Winchell was reared on the tough, competitive streets of urban America. This gave him a grim and aggressive style which he demonstrated throughout his career. As a teenager he had tried his hand at vaudeville. Working with such neighborhood friends as Eddie Cantor, Georgie Price, and George Jessel, Winchell apparently realized by 1920 that the vaudeville stage was unsuitable to his personality. He turned to journalism, and by the time he entered radio in 1932, he had become the most powerful columnist in the Hearst newspaper chain.

Winchell's Broadway information and scandal column was the most widely read of its type in the country. His arrival in radio served only to broaden the scope of his interests, and the expanse of his professional reputation. He personally knew the saints and sinners of his times. In the 1930s he became a close friend of President Roosevelt and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover; at the same time, he was an intimate of many New York City mobsters. In 1933, Winchell was one of the first radio commentators to attack Adolf Hitler; he also assailed the German-American Bund as subversive, not only to the United States, but to all civilization.

And he was a powerful verbal fighter when he took up a cause. With his staccato delivery, accentuated by the sound of a telegrapher's key, his broadcasts left the image of strength, exactitude, and honesty. During his career he became the most influential antagonist against such issues as the House Committee on Un-American Activities headed in 1944 by Martin Dies, Communist subversion at home and abroad, the arrest and trial of Tokyo Rose, and racial and religious bigotry.

Equally, as a proponent of causes, Winchell lent the considerable influence of his broadcasts to support the New Deal, the American commitment during World War II, and in the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Winchell was the most popular commentator in the history of radio. Throughout his more than twenty years on the air he was the top-ranked commentator in the popularity polls. At one point in March 1948, his fifteen-minute weekly program was the number one program in the Hooper ratings. Broadcasting officials recognized the importance of Winchell. When in 1948 he signed a two-year contract for ninety broadcasts for the Kaiser-Frazier automobile company, he received $1,352,000 and thereby became the highest paid personality in radio. In 1950, he received from ABC a lifetime contract which guaranteed him a minimum of $10,000 per week as long as he was physically and mentally capable of broadcasting. If he became unable to perform, he was guaranteed $1,000 per month.

The emergence of renowned news commentators like Winchell, Gibbons, and Kaltenborn by the 1930s helped radio exert its unifying influence on the American citizenry. Certainly, there was unity in the United States by reason of federal institutions and processes. But radio as a medium of communication reaching millions of listeners simultaneously, represented as powerful an assault upon sectional and parochial mentalities as any single force in American history.

The new phenomenon, broadcast journalism, the greatest shaper of mass understanding of world affairs, promoted the unity of the nation. Through radio the entire country could experience the agony of Col. and Mrs. Charles A. Lindbergh in 1932 as they lived through the kidnapping and murder of their infant son. When the alleged perpetrator of the crime, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, was tried in 1935, radio was in the courtroom to keep the nation informed. The next year Gabriel Heatter launched his national career by the impressive performance of extemporizing for fifty-seven minutes from outside the state prison in Trenton, New Jersey, on the evening Hauptmann was sent to the electric chair.

By way of radio, local disasters became national calamities. Thus, in 1933, after an earthquake destroyed much of Long Beach, California, radio made the after-effects a cause for national concern. In 1937 listeners everywhere shared the anguish of announcer Herb Morrison as he wept into his microphone when the German dirigible, Hindenburg, exploded while mooring in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Many years later Morrison explained this remarkable broadcast experience.

And the mounting tension in Europe was carefully monitored by listeners in the United States. Nowhere was this better illustrated than during the Munich Crisis in September 1938, a period which H. V. Kaltenborn termed the "top listening period in American radio" in the 1930s. As more than 200 journalists from NBC and CBS gathered material for a thousand transmissions from Europe, in their living rooms, automobiles, workplaces, and anywhere there was a radio receiver, American listeners heard how the Anglo-French appeasers made their latest concessions to Nazi and fascist aggressors. Radio provided the public a breath-taking perspective at this crucial event.

Radio also afforded listeners the opportunity to evaluate political personalities on a scale never before possible. Every U.S. President since Harding understood the necessity of utilizing radio as a means to approach Americans as a single, mass audience. Not all were invincible because they used radio, however. Herbert Hoover frequently spoke to the nation via radio.

But it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who best realized the potential and the methodology of successful broadcasting. Rather than confine his use of radio to campaign and holiday speeches, Roosevelt employed it to speak directly to a national audience "as often as circumstances warrant." Beginning on March 12, 1933, when an estimated fifty million listeners heard his first so-called "Fireside Chat" seeking help to thwart the run on U.S. banks, Roosevelt clearly demonstrated the persuasive intimacy that radio permitted. Writing in June 1933, the noted newscaster Edwin C. Hill suggested,

It was as if a wise and kindly father had sat down to talk sympathetically and patiently and affectionately with his worried and anxious children, and had given them straightforward things that they had to do to help him along as the father of the family. That speech of the President's over the air humanized radio in a great governmental, national sense as it had never before been humanized.

Roosevelt had given speeches on the radio earlier when he was governor of New York. In the same manner, as President he often used the medium to approach the nation as a single state. Roosevelt, thus, became what Radioland magazine as early as September 1933 termed “a radio president ... the first chief executive of our land to realize the enormous part that radio plays in our national life, the first statesman to utilize radio to mould and weld public opinion.”

Other American and foreign political personalities made use of radio. Eleanor Roosevelt was heard frequently in the early years of her husband's Presidency. She appeared as a regular feature on programs, or on he own chat series with titles such as Mrs. Roosevelt’s Own Program and Over Our Coffee Cups where she was sponsored by such commercial entities as Pond's facial cream, Simmons bedding, Johns-Manville, Remington typewriters, Selby shoes, the Pan American Coffee Growers Association. Her impact upon listeners was summarized in a fan publication in 1936.

Her discussions of pertinent problems facing the women of today are helpful, broadminded, courageous and understanding. She contributes to charity all her earnings from radio work. The first lady of the land has become the first lady of the American airwaves.

By the late 1930s, Americans often heard on network radio shortwave transmissions of the important public speeches made by the European dictators. Assisted by translators who interrupted at intervals to explain what Mussolini, Hitler, or their subalterns had been saying, the decadence of Europe entered the homes of concerned Americans. Radio also brought listeners the pomp and circumstance of the Old World as, for instance, it did on May 12, 1937, when NBC broadcast from London seven consecutive hours of live coverage of the coronation ceremonies for King George VI of Great Britain.

Next to President Roosevelt, however, the most compelling political personality to use radio in the 1930s to speak to a single nation was the Roman Catholic priest, Father Charles E. Coughlin. A flamboyant crusader who broadcast regularly from his church in Royal Oak, Michigan, Father Coughlin became the most vocal and popular proponent of Italian-style fascism for America. Although he began broadcasting in 1926, not until the Great Depression did Coughlin consistently range beyond purely religious matters and turn his attention to politics. His radio sermons attacked communism and socialism, capitalists and international bankers, Jews, and the American system of democracy. Coughlin also directed his bitter analyses against Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt.

In 1936 his popularity was so great that he helped form a third political party, the Union Party, which ran Congressman William Lemke for President. Although that election was disastrous for Lemke, Coughlin declined in importance after 1936 but continued sporadically on radio. By 1940, however, he had so alienated listeners and their social, economic, and religious leaders that he was unable to return to radio.

At the height of his popularity, Father Coughlin was heard nationally over a special network which reached millions of listeners and brought him considerable sums in donations to continue his crusade. Although he was not a network news commentator or newscaster, Father Coughlin was definitely a formative force in the development of broadcast journalism. Radio was integral to his appeal. He once told an interviewer that “the free radio has taken the place of the free press as the bulwark of liberty.” And as ill-conceived as his opinions might have been, his existence on radio was a testimony to the wide perimeters of free speech then permissible in American broadcasting.

The achievements in radio of Father Coughlin, therefore, were as vital as those of any newscaster. He strained the limits of tolerance, but he continued broadcasting. He vilified Franklin D. Roosevelt at the time of FDR's greatest popularity, and still found access to radio. Father Coughlin, thus, was one of the developers of the ethic of broadcast journalism which sought Truth, but allowed the American listeners in search of it to choose from a wide range of interpretations.

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