History of Radio 1938 to 1943

About the history of radio from 1938 to 1943 including coverage of World War II including the Munich Crisis and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, War of the Worlds is broadcast, Bob Hope debuts, and more.



Sept. 1 H. V. Kaltenborn was on the air almost constantly for 18 days, broadcasting news of the Munich crisis in at least 85 special broadcasts, some lasting as long as two hours.

Sept. 27. Bob Hope's Pepsodent Show debuted on NBC in the slot following Fibber McGee and Molly. It was actually the comedian's fourth attempt at radio. He had appeared briefly in The Intimate Revue, with James Melton and Jane Froman; Atlantic Family, with Red Nichols's orchestra; and Rippling Rhythm Revue, with Shep Field's orchestra. Although his Pepsodent show was an instant hit, it was the GI audiences of W. W. II that made him a truly international figure, friend of presidents Roosevelt through Ford.

This was also the year of Information Please, Life Can Be Beautiful, and Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre on the Air, which, a month after Munich, scared thousands of people with its version of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds.


Between 1939 and 1949 Milton Berle tried radio six times, but The Milton Berle Show was one of radio's notable failures. When he finally gave up and tried TV, he was an instant success, proving that some comedians have to be seen as well as heard.

Sept. 1 Again H. V. Kaltenborn was on hand, this time to tell his CBS listeners of the beginning of a real "War of the Worlds," as Hitler prepared to invade Poland. At the end of the long morning's broadcast, an announcer said, "We should like to express our appreciation again at this time to the makers of Oxydol, sponsors of The Goldbergs; the makers of Ivory Soap, sponsors of Life Can Be Beautiful; the makers of Chipso, sponsors of Road of Life. . . ."


By midyear, some 20 overseas pickups daily brought news of the war in Europe to Americans. In his Christmas Eve broadcast from London, Ed Murrow reported, "The blackout stretches from Birmingham to Bethlehem. . . ."

The major political parties spent $2.5 million on radio during the Roosevelt-Wendell Willkie campaign. On Dec. 29, in a Fireside Chat, FDR announced Lend-Lease. The U.S. loaned beleaguered Britain 50 overage warships in exchange for 99-year leases on eight military bases in Newfoundland and the West Indies.

New programs of the year ran to game shows: Truth or Consequences, which spilled over into TV, where it continued until 1976; The Quiz Kids, a juvenile Information, Please; and Take It or Leave It, noteworthy only because its top prize of $64 inspired TV's rigged version, The $64,000 Question.


Dec. 8 As FDR addressed Congress the day after Pearl Harbor, 79% of all homes in the U.S. were tuned in.


GIs in Kodiak, Alaska, built a low-powered radio station for their own amusement and then wrote Hollywood stars asking them to record messages for them. Thus grew Armed Forces Radio Service, which by year's end boasted 306 stations in 47 countries. Outlets received weekly prerecorded programming by plane plus news and special events by shortwave.

Disc jockeys stopped playing listener requests after the War Dept. pointed out that enemy agents might use the format as a code to pass military information on to superiors.


Oct. 12 The Blue Network, which had been NBC-Blue, became the American Broadcasting Company-ABC.

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