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NEWS GENRE – RADIO:

News radio programs are just that – programs designed to broadcast the news to us.  The first radio news program was broadcast on August 31, 1920 when station 8MK in Detroit reported on local election results.

Today we take for granted that we can get up-to-the minute news coverage almost instantaneously.  But before radio the local news came to us through the grapevine or via the local newspaper which, at least in small towns, was probably published weekly.  If you lived in a larger city you might receive the newspaper daily.

With the advent of radio, with reports received via telegraph or telephone, radio stations could broadcast the news in a much more timely fashion.  As radio expanded its reach and expertise, news was reported from a much wider geographic range and news of world events could be delivered into our homes.

News programs relied on accurate reporting, and on their on-air reporters to deliver the news in confident voices that could paint strong visual images.  Successful reporters were able to make the listener feel that the broadcast was being spoken to him, and not just being read from a script.

Aside from local news reporters, there were also reporters, as time went by, spread further and further around the world to gather the news first hand and send in their reports.  Most reporters were men who came to radio from careers as newspapermen and journalists.

Coming directly into our homes via the radio, they personalized the news for the listener and, somehow, the news was much more real when heard rather than when read.

Some of these early, and great, news commentators were Edward R. Murrow, H. V. Kaltenborn, William L. Shirer, Eric Sevareid, Raymond Swing, Gabriel Heatter, Elmer Davis, Sigrid Schultz, Boake Carter, Dorothy Thompson, Fulton Lewis Jr., Floyd Gibbons, Max Jordan and Drew Pearson.

Edward R. Murrow is possibly the most famous of the early radio news correspondents, and was known for his seemingly unrehearsed reporting of world events.  He was also a master at bringing images to life through his words.  While stationed in London during World War II he reported, "Tonight, as on every other night, the rooftop watchers are peering out across the fantastic forest of London's chimney pots.  The anti-aircraft gunners stand ready."  And, "I have been walking tonight - there is a full moon, and the dirty-gray buildings appear white.  The stars, the empty windows, are hidden.  It's a beautiful and lonesome city where men and women and children are trying to snatch a few hours sleep underground."  Episodes of Murrow’s reports were broadcast on An American in England and Hear It Now, early radio news programs.

It is difficult to imagine what the lives of these reporters were like.  For instance, when William L. Shirer was posted to Germany and was covering the news about Germany’s Nazi regime he had to be extremely cautious how he reported the news.  He was, after all, in ‘enemy’ territory and eventually had to escape Germany.

In 1943 Eric Sevareid was assigned to the Far East and had to parachute from an airplane in China and lead his crew out of the Japanese controlled jungle to safety.

Another radio news pioneer, Sigrid Schultz, was unique in that she was one of the few female news correspondents.  When the Chicago Tribune needed a reporter who could speak German and English to report on the Battle of Jutland she was hired for the job.  During her stay in Germany she got to know several of Germany’s powerful political and military leaders.  Fearing for her safety when filing her anti-Nazi reports she assumed the pseudonym John Dickson, and would travel to Switzerland to phone in her reports under that name and then return to Germany.

H. V. Kaltenborn was also a noted early correspondent, and a tribute to him can be heard on Recollections at 30 – Tribute to H. V. Kaltenborn.  In his book published in 1937, Kaltenborn described the impact of radio news as follows: 

The marriage of radio and the news has been responsible for many significant changes.  The technical facility behind ethereal communication has done much more than bring the peoples of the world together.  World politics ….. has become everyone’s concern.  Today, the significant elements of world politics can be assembled from one thousand or ten thousand miles away with the speed of light, related, condensed, interpreted in a few minutes, finally to be broadcast to the tiniest little red schoolhouse, the brightest kitchen, the darkest sick room, the largest mass meeting.  The air and the world are literally full of politics, politicians, political incidents and portents.  The world awaits them, hour by hour, in home and office and shop and general store, anxious with a new found personal relationship to all these events and personalities, listening, waiting, wondering — sometimes skeptical, sometimes all too credulous, but always stimulated by the intimacy of personal contact with the voice which brings the m word — the familiar voice they have come to know from hearing it regularly, which will tell them what lies behind the words, what it all really means.”

Then, as now, listeners tended to take the news reports for granted, without considering where and under what conditions they were being gathered.  These early news reporters, and today’s, could certainly be called heroes.  In the days when radio was the quickest form for relaying the news radio was the listener’s link to the world.

FDR Fireside Chats and Speeches aired from 1933 to 1945.  Although not exactly a radio news program, it nevertheless was news, reported directly by the President of the United States.  Called ‘The Great Communicator’, Roosevelt was the first President to have the opportunity to take advantage of the new medium of radio.  Serving the United States from the ending of the Great Depression through World War II, he was faced with a broad range of challenges and situations, and he used the medium of radio effectively to communicate with the American public and the world.

Not all news had to be earth-shattering.  Hedda Hopper's Hollywood, which aired from 1939 to 1951, reported on the entertainment industry.  Starting as a program of star-related gossip, the program expanded to feature music, talk and dramatized excerpts from movies with well-known guests.

Airing from 1942 to 1945, Soldiers of the Press was a radio news program.  United Press used these shows to highlight their journalists with these direct witness accounts while reporting from behind enemy lines in Germany, Japan, and Italy and including such historic events as battling Rommell in North Africa, Marines storming the beach at Guadalcanal, and Doolittle's bombing run on Tokyo.  Reporters included Lon Clark, Jackson Beck, Eleanor Packard, Frank Hewlett, Walter Cronkite, Harrison Salisbury and Charles Arnot.

War Telescope, broadcast from 1943 to 1944, was a weekly 15-minute radio news report that featured Morgan Beatty and Elmer Peterson reporting on the events happening in the European theater as World War II raged on.  The reports often featured interviews with military personnel of all ranks in the American and Allied armed services.

Reporting on news in the world of sports, Bill Stern's Sports Reel aired from 1945 to 1954.  Bill Stern started with a career in theater and vaudeville, and turned those traits towards sports, becoming one of the greatest sportscasters of all time.  In 1937 Bill Stern started a sports show for NBC called The Colgate Sports Newsreel as well as broadcasting blow by blow accounts of boxing matches on Friday nights, a first in the radio industry.

If you are interested in history, or curious about how the news was being reported in the early days of radio, we suggest you check out some of these interesting radio news programs.



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