"You know, a visit to Stars for Defense is quite an honor for a young performer. And, an invitation to return kind of makes a fellow feel he’s... well, he’s made it.” –Johnny Nash
Stars of Defense was a series of recordings made between 1956 and 1967 for the United States Federal Civil Defense Administration as a public service program to be broadcast by participating radio stations throughout the country. The intent was to keep Americans prepared for threats from the Cold War. As an early episode states, “Real family preparedness is a big contribution to world peace, for if our defense is strong, no enemy would dare attack us.”
It speaks to a time pre-internet and twenty-four hour news, when the possibility of attack from a foreign enemy was seen as so genuine that family preparedness was treated as a very real priority. Radio stations were provided an album to be broadcast on a designated date. Fifteen minutes in running time, the show provided practical advice to Americans, along with musical entertainment and interviews. M.C’d by Jay Jackson (Tic Tac Dough, The Honeymooners), each album also featured performances by Ray Bloch and his orchestra, in addition to the featured guest.
The radio station’s guest star would introduce the program, at which point Jay Jackson would take over hosting duties. Guests would perform in front of a studio audience and have the opportunity to advertise their current production. Interspersed between performances by The Three Suns, Abe Burrows and others would be advice and information from the Federal Civil Defense Administration. These pieces would range from segments about fallout shelters and preparedness cards to warnings of enemy infiltration through Canada and methods the government was taking to keep inflation down.
Guests included such luminaries as Victor Borge, Andy Griffith, Don Cherry, Eartha Kitt and many more. Spanning more than 400 episodes, much of the wisdom touted on the show still holds water today. As Bing Crosby advised on the show in 1959, “…be ready for emergency action; make sure that your car is in tip top mechanical condition. Keep your gas tank at least half full at all times, and see that your tires are in good condition, too.”
The collection is more than just a piece of radio history treasure. It’s a unique insight into American life during the Cold War.