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REMEMBERING PEARL HARBOR... WHEN RADIO WENT TO WAR!  | December 7, 2016 By Todd Nebel "Let's remember Pearl Harbor, as we go to meet the foe, Let's remember Pearl Harbor, as we did the Alamo, We will always remember, how they died for liberty, Let's remember Pearl Harbor, and go on to victory!"   On December 7, 1941, the American public realized with cold shock that the choice of war over peace had been made for them. This initial shock was followed by a roaring anger, then a deeper determination. For a whole generation of Americans, that moment in time would remain indelibly imprinted in their memories. It came like a bolt out of the blue on a peaceful Sunday afternoon: "The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor!" They might have heard it over loudspeakers while watching a football game, while listening to the radio, while walking home from church or in a breathless call over the telephone. General reactions included disbelief, shock, anger and humiliation as the American public quickly dashed to their radios to find out more. In those days, Sunday afternoons on radio were devoted largely to public affairs and classical music programs. Such programming was probably intended to please the FCC's mandate for programming "in the public interest." The audiences for these specialized programs were not large, but they were loyal. So it was that at 1:30 pm CST, NBC's Red Network was about to broadcast a University of Chicago Round Table program, while NBC's Blue Network was at Comiskey Park, kicking off coverage of a football match between the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cardinals. CBS had just finished broadcasting a labor talk sponsored by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) when an interim program with newsman John Daly cut in at 1:31 pm with the following announcement: "The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor by air, President Roosevelt has just announced. The attack was also made on naval and military activities on the principal island of Oahu." In his haste, Daly stumbled on the pronunciation of "Oahu" before repeating the announcement. The other networks delivered similar bulletins in Chicago. WGN, which happened to be on the air with a regular newscast when the first flash came, was the first Chicago station to air the news at 1:26 pm. Within minutes, all Americans had heard the news, as bulletins adding new details broke into regular programming for the remainder of that afternoon.  In Washington, President Roosevelt met with his advisors, as well as congres- sional leadership, before retiring to work on an address which he would deliver the following day at a special session of Congress. In a reassuring message to the women of the nation, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt — who had a regular Sunday radio address — stood in for her husband that evening and spoke to the nation over NBC-Red.  As afternoon gave way to evening, military censorship began to take effect, leaving radio with limited information and an unlimited demand for news. The radio section of the War Department wisely issued its first command to all radio stations across the nation; in this case, it was determined that stations would not be allowed to broadcast lists of casualties. "The broadcast of casualty lists would in effect set up obituary columns of the air," the statement read, "when such times can be used to elevate morale rather than depress." The War Department also informed all broadcasters that "information regarding strength, location, designation, and movement of United States troops is secret." While Americans sat in a state of limbo, not knowing when a declaration of war would (most assuredly) come, the picture became more clear as evening progressed. More and more analysis and commentary, some of it badly informed (NBC at one point announced — incorrectly — that Manila had been bombed), filled the networks programming. Programming schedules were tossed aside, with some shows cancelled and others delayed to make room for more news bulletins. Even commercials gave way to news. With the largest audience in history at its disposal, radio was able to relieve some of the tension as primetime enter-tainment programs took to the air. Orson Welles, whose "War of the Worlds" broadcast had frightened many listeners three years earlier, was actually scheduled to appear that evening on The Screen Guild Players' production of "Between Americans," Norman Corwin's reassuring drama of patriotism.  Dinah Shore, who was heard every Sunday night over NBC's Blue network, had announced plans the previous week to dedicate her December 7 show to the Americans at Wake Island. The tribute took place as scheduled, even as the Japanese were in the process of attacking Wake Island. As fate would have it, that evening's Charlie McCarthy Show (heard Sundays at 7:00 pm CST on NBC-Red) was to be broadcast from an army camp. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were regulars on the show and later were quoted as saying they were disturbed by the soldiers' grave faces and wondered whether the mood would be too serious for the men to laugh. Fortunately, it wasn't.  But Abbott and Costello were not alone in fearing that the soldiers — indeed, that Americans in general — were in no mood for comedy. Polls taken in the days after Pearl Harbor and Germany's December 11 Declaration of War on the United States suggested that Americans found radio programs "impertinent." The general feeling was that entertainment programs were unimportant in such momentous times. However, this reaction was already tapering off after the first full week of excitement over the war ended and the radio industry began restoring all of its entertainment programs over the next week. On his December 16 program, Bob Hope commented that his troupe "would continue to try to help Americans keep on laughing in the face of war. One of the things that makes us an unbeatable nation is our ability to laugh. We may black out our lights but never our sense of humor."  The blackened lights to which Bob Hope referred had an effect on radio during that first week of war. Blackouts on the west coast followed air raid warnings and the possibility of bombardment to major cities in southern California. Because enemy planes could make use of radio broadcasts to hone in on targets — and because spies might use amateur radio — the FCC ordered all amateurs to get off the air. Many local radio stations in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii were ordered shut down (in some cases, for up to a week) until initial fears of an attack died down.  Pearl Harbor week also saw many west coast radio producers discontinue night- time rehearsals. The most prominent example was the Lux Radio Theatre, hosted by Cecil B. DeMille. DeMille's reasoning was that the Radio Theatre's performers were mainly movie stars who would be unable to reach the theatre because of the blackouts, thus leaving them stranded or unable to get back home.   For Bing Crosby, home was the place to be during the blackouts. When the war broke out and the command was issued for lights out, Bing had equipped one room in his home with opaque windows from which light could not leak out. When the first blackout came, he turned out all the lights except those in the blackout room! As America eagerly awaited President Roosevelt's speech to the joint session of Congress on Monday, December 8, the networks were already rearranging to provide additional war news on a regular basis. The Mutual Broadcasting System decided to set aside one minute every hour on the hour to broadcast the latest war news. Regular programs were subsequently shortened in favor of added time for news. NBC decided to set aside the first two minutes of each half-hour and hour program. CBS followed the practice of overriding regular programs with important news as it was breaking.  During this historic week in American history, the entire country pulled together as one, following its leader Franklin D. Roosevelt into war with full confidence in him and our own convictions.   Few people in American public life provoked stronger emotions than Franklin Roosevelt. The president had just helped America weather one of the worst crises that our country had faced since the Civil War; now, he was both a father figure and Commander-in-Chief as the nation faced another one. Arthur Krock of the New York Times wrote, "The circumstances of the attack on Pearl Harbor were such that national unity was an instant consequence. You could almost hear it click into place in Washington today. Congress, as interpreted by readers and individual members, made a national front that grew in length and depth as fast as its members heard of the President's announcement."  The president began his address with words that have lived in history: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan...."  He concluded, "I ask that Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."  It took less than 10 minutes for the President to deliver his historic speech. As he ended and looked up, his hands gripping the edge of the lectern, the solemn air in the great chamber was shattered by thunderous applause and shouts. This man, the first president to use radio to speak simply and directly to its people, had just spoken to 62 million Americans, the largest radio audience up to that time. Never at any other time in our history was our country more unified — and radio played a major part in creating that sense of unity. On Tuesday, December 9, the president delivered his first Fireside Chat of the war. Following a broadcast of Fibber McGee and Molly and a heartwarming rendition of "My Country Tis of Thee," Roosevelt declared, "We are now in this war! We are all in it, all the way! Every single man, woman and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history. We must share together, the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories, the changing fortunes of war!" He finished by insisting, "So, we are going to win the war, and we are going to win the peace that follows!" At this time, the U.S. had been at war for less than 36 hours, but with these reassuring words, every American felt the same confidence as the president concerning how that war would end.