History of Radio 1936 to 1937

About the history of radio from 1936 to 1937 including the use of radio the Presidential campaign, Edward R. Murrow joins CBS, the Hindenburg disaster is caught on tape.



Radio was used extensively in the presidential campaign. The Republicans even retained an advertising agency to fashion their pitches. Still, old pro FDR, who held off, delivering only "nonpolitical" speeches until nearly the end, swamped Alf Landon.


Edward R. Murrow had joined CBS in 1935 as "director of talks" after journalist Raymond Swing turned down the job. As all signs pointed to escalating war in Europe, CBS felt it should have a European director of news, and the position went to Murrow in 1937. At first the work included covering cultural events as well as newscasts, but as the war momentum increased, Murrow concentrated on the news. Listeners also heard reports from William L. Shirer in London, Edgar Ansel Mowrer in Paris, Pierre Huss in Berlin, Frank Gervasi in Rome, and Robert Trout in New York.

The status of the radio news commentator suddenly gained new importance. General Mills decided to sponsor H. V. Kaltenborn, and Raymond Swing got sponsorship from White Owl cigars.

Kaltenborn, known for his ability to ad-lib, became a celebrity. News chief A. A. Schechter said of HVK: "You could wake Kaltenborn up at four o'clock in the morning and just say 'Czechoslovakia'-one word-and he'd talk for thirty minutes on Czechoslovakia."

This was an important asset. During the early days of radio news, the ability to keep your listener enthralled with reports and descriptions of the day's news-often without any written script or backup material-was a vital factor in holding an audience.

Our Gal Sunday and Stella Dallas premiered, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia read the funnies over WNYC during the New York newspaper strike, and Mae West shocked the nation with a suggestive rendition of the biblical story of Adam and Eve.

May 6 Herb Morrison of WLS, Chicago, showed up at Lakehurst, N.J., to cover the landing of the Hindenburg. As he began to describe the huge German dirigible slowly descending toward its mooring, it suddenly burst into flames. Morrison relayed the following highly emotional broadcast, considered one of the most moving in radio history: "It's burst into flames! Get this, Charlie! Get this, Charlie! It's crashing! Terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please. It's burning-bursting into flames! It's falling on the mooring mast and . . . the folks . . . oh, this is terrible! Oh, four or five hundred feet into the sky. It's a terrible catastrophe, ladies and gentlemen. It's just smoke and flames now and the plane is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast . . . Oh, the humanity. . . ." (He was crying audibly by this point.)

May 9 Ventriloquism was considered an impossible act for radio until Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy proved otherwise. They were a sensation when they went on the air. Much of the credit went to the ongoing feud between W. C. Fields (a regular on the show, together with Don Ameche and Dorothy Lamour) and Charlie. One of the memorable lines from the classic feud was Charlie's "Pink elephants take aspirin to get rid of W. C. Fields."

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