Of the many regularly scheduled radio news programs that were heard during World War II, none did a better job of covering the war for its listeners than World News Today.
A weekly half-hour program, World News Today aired over the CBS radio network every Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. EST. Originating from CBS’ New York studios, each broadcast would open with a brief, up-to-the-minute summary of important war-related events that had occurred during the week. This would be followed by one or more shortwave reports from CBS correspondents serving in different battle theaters around the world. (Sometimes these reports had to be cancelled or cut short due to poor reception conditions or what was alleged to be enemy jamming!) Many programs featured Bill Slocum, Jr., doing a live remote broadcast from somewhere within the U.S. (One week he might be broadcasting from a B-24 bomber flying over the Gulf of Mexico, while the next week, he could be onboard a Coast Guard patrol boat in New York harbor.) On occasion, CBS’s chief military analyst Major George Fielding Eliot would be on hand to comment upon some battle or military action that was taking place. In addition, each program usually featured one or more interviews with someone directly involved in the war effort. The people interviewed ranged from senior officers responsible for directing major aspects of the war, to junior enlisted personnel who had done something newsworthy. (Although these interviews were intended to sound spontaneous, it was often apparent that those being interviewed were reading from a script.) Each broadcast would feature two commercial announcements from the program’s sponsor, the Chicago-based Continental Radio and Television Corporation, makers of Admiral radios and appliances. With no new consumer products available to sell, these commercials often described the role that Admiral was playing in helping to supply radio equipment to the war effort. Later, during the final months of the war when American manufacturers had started converting back to peacetime production, these commercials began promoting the many new Admiral products that would be available to the public, "once victory was attained." Each program would close with a public service announcement encouraging listeners to help the war effort by joining a car pool, using V-mail, buying U.S. War Bonds, etc.
Recordings of at least ninety-four World News Today broadcasts -- most of them air checks from Chicago radio station WBBM and dating from late 1942 to the war’s conclusion in 1945 -- survive in good sound. Any attempt to summarize them all, even briefly, would result in an article at least five times as long as this one. Instead, here are some highlights taken from various broadcasts and which this writer believes will be of interest. In some cases, bracketed comments have been included to help expand upon or clarify what was being discussed.
11/8/42: CBS New York (John Daly): Allied amphibious landings have occurred along the coast of French North Africa. [Code-named Operation Torch, these landings were made during the night of 7/8 November at the ports of Algiers, Oran and Casablanca.]
11/29/42: A PSA explains that gas rationing, which starts Tuesday, is actually intended to save rubber tires rather than gasoline. "Share your car and go twice as far."
12/27/42: CBS Buenos Aires: based on information provided by the U.S., the German ambassador to Argentina has been revealed as a spy. [This information came from decoded "Magic" intercepts.]
1/03/43: A dramatized commercial about the radios used in tanks mentions that "Admiral is making many of them." A PSA cautions listeners not to pass along rumors.
1/10/43: An Admiral commercial advises listeners to keep their radio sets in good repair (with the help of their Admiral dealer) so that they can stay current on the latest rationing requirements.
1/17/43: A PSA for buying war stamps mentions that "A 2-cent bullet will stop a Nazi and a 10-cent war stamp will buy 5 bullets." The broadcast ends with a WBBM time announcement: 1:30 p.m. [Chicago time.]
1/24/43: Bill Slocum, Jr. does a live remote broadcast from Chicago’s Stevens Hotel, which was taken over by the Army Air Force as a radio communications training center on August 1, 1942. The grand ballroom is now the school’s dining hall. [When it opened in 1927, the Stevens was the world’s largest hotel. It is now known as the Chicago Hilton and Towers.]
2/7/43: CBS Cairo: After recalling a sign posted in Norfolk, Virginia back in 1917 that read "Sailors and Dogs Keep Off the Grass," Chester Morrisson describes how junior military personnel now serving in Cairo are encountering a similar attitude. CBS Honolulu: Webley Edwards interviews LCDR David C. White, a submarine skipper who has just returned from a patrol. White describes torpedoing a Japanese cargo ship loaded with explosives while operating in "the yellow sea."
2/14/43: CBS New York: correspondent William J. Dunn, just back from Australia reports that casualties among war correspondents is four times higher than those for military personnel.
2/28/43: Bill Slocum, Jr. does a live remote broadcast from inside a 30-ton M-4 tank during a test run at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. (Slocum has to shout to be heard over the tank’s noisy engine.) CBS New York: Douglas Edwards interviews Joe James Custer, a United Press correspondent who was wounded in action while on board the USS Astoria in the Pacific. An Admiral commercial advises listeners to sign up for their Admiral dealer’s "regular service" so that they can be sure of getting replacement tubes for their radios.
3/7/43: CBS Algiers (Charles Collingwood): yesterday, in North Africa, German forces attacked the British 8th Army and suffered "heavy losses in tanks and men." [Decoded Ultra intercepts allowed British General Montgomery to deploy large numbers of anti-tank guns to counter the attack. After losing 52 tanks, German Field Marshal Rommel was forced to call off the assault. With the Axis forces in North Africa in retreat and facing ultimate defeat, Rommel was recalled to Germany on March 9th to keep him from being captured and to avoid the embarrassment of him being the senior officer who would ultimately have to surrender to the Allies.] A commercial describing the Admiral radio of the future hints at television with "Technicolor."
3/14/43: CBS Rio de Janeiro: although coffee is rationed in the U.S., there is no shortage of it in Rio. A "coffee accord" has been reached between Brazil and the U.S. so that 2,300,000 bags will be shipped here. CBS Australia: a pilot who participated in 21 bombing missions describes how he once landed a plane that had been badly damaged by enemy fire. In a remote broadcast from Anacostia Naval Air Station, Bill Slocum, Jr. interviews LCDR Tommy Booth, a Navy test pilot who flew a Japanese Zero that had been captured intact. While acknowledging that it is well built and easy to handle, Booth considers the Zero to be inferior to U.S. fighter planes because of its slower speed and lack of armor. A bi-partisan group of U.S. lawmakers is meeting with the President to announce that they are agreeable to the U.S. joining some sort of international organization that will replace the League of Nations. [This new organization would ultimately be called the United Nations.]
3/21/43: CBS New York (Douglas Edwards): in a speech this morning (his first since last November) Hitler admitted that Germany is a war zone because of Allied bombing. [In early March, Berlin had had its heaviest air raids to date, resulting in considerable damage and loss of life.] Col. William C. Henry of the Army Signal Corps describes the task of running telephone lines up to Fairbanks, Alaska, where holes for the telephone poles had to be blasted into the frozen ground using dynamite. In Alaska, telephones can handle more voice communications than radio, which is limited by the number of available frequencies and is subject to atmospheric interference such as that caused by the "northern lights."
3/28/43: CBS Washington (Lee White): Meat rationing in the U.S. begins tomorrow. It has been suggested that men who do heavy labor should get a larger ration of meat per week than white-collar workers. CBS London (John Daly): last night, the Royal Air Force conducted its biggest night attack yet on Berlin. 900 tons of bombs were dropped, which is more than twice the amount that the Germans dropped on London during their biggest raid [which occurred on April 19, 1941.]
4/18/43: An Admiral commercial explains how bricks of spun glass are used to keep dust and dirt out of Admiral-built military radio equipment while still providing adequate ventilation.
5/16/43: CBS Algiers (Charles Collingwood): just six months to the day that Allied forces landed in North Africa, Tunisia fell to the Allies. [On May 7th, Tunis and Bizerta were captured. The formal surrender occurred on May 13th.] An Admiral commercial telling "The Story of RADAR" refers to RADAR’s "super-human power to see and hear." RADAR built by Admiral is "the 1943 model of America’s ‘Smart Set.’"
7/4/43: CBS Honolulu: Webley Edwards interviews a soldier and a sailor who tell how they celebrated the 4th of July in 1942 and how they expect to celebrate it next year. In a live report from the Crossville Internment Camp near Knoxville, Tennessee, Bill Slocum, Jr. interviews the camp CO Colonel Frank Addington, who describes how German and Italian POWs are treated. (The "Golden Rule" applies, since many Americans are in German and Italian POW camps.) In Crossville, POW officers see to it that their men maintain good order and discipline. Although the quarters are cramped, the POWs eat well. Slocum remarks that a German Panzer officer told him that the British and the Americans will eventually have to fight the Russians.
7/25/43: CBS Algiers (John Daly): The 7th Army entered Palermo (Sicily) last Thursday [July 22nd.] Via shortwave, an Atlas news photographer describes the surrender of the city and the scene when the 7th Army entered it. (Many residents asked about relatives living in Chicago and Brooklyn!) An Admiral commercial mentions that the radio equipment used in the invasion of Sicily had to be "built to take it." Admiral subjects the radios it builds to "battle conditions" to insure that they will continue to operate while in combat.
8/8/43: CBS Honolulu: Webley Edwards interviews a 19-year-old B-24 tail gunner from Colorado who refused an offer of $1,000 to give up his seat for a bombing raid on Japanese-held Wake Island. (It was his first combat experience and he shot down a Zero.) He and the other crewmembers later received Air Medals for this mission. An Admiral commercial, advertising for workers for its Chicago factories states that, "no experience is necessary and new workers will be paid while they learn."
8/29/43: An Admiral commercial describes the hand-cranked emergency radio that is part of every military aircraft’s rubber life raft kit. (The antenna is raised using a box kite.) Bill Slocum, Jr. does a live report from the training aircraft carrier Wolverine based in Chicago and which is being used on Lake Michigan to train pilots from Glenview Naval Air Station in making carrier landings. [The Wolverine was originally built in 1913 as a side-wheel excursion steamer named Seeandbee. Acquired by the Navy in 1942, it was converted into a training aircraft carrier and put into service in January 1943. It was the Navy’s first side-wheel aircraft carrier. It was decommissioned in November 1945 and sold for scrap in 1947.]
9/5/43: From Pullman Headquarters in Chicago, Bill Slocum, Jr. interviews "Admiral" Burt Dewey, the 71-year-old Superintendent of Car Service who has routed railroad cars for the U.S. military during three wars. Dewey describes briefly how Pullman cars are scheduled for priority military transport assignments. (66% of all troop transport is done using Pullman sleepers with some 3,000 cars in service daily.)
9/12/43: A PSA asks women to work in menial jobs so that "skilled workers" will be free to take work in defense plants.
10/3/43: CBS Washington: Robert Lewis interviews Rear Admiral Thomas Gatch, the former CO of "Battleship X" (USS South Dakota). Launched in 1942, its name was kept a secret because of its advanced armament and weapons systems. An Admiral commercial describes the "salt water treatment" that Admiral-built radio equipment is subjected to prior to being accepted for sea duty.
10/31/43: CBS Honolulu: Webley Edwards interviews two Army lieutenant colonels just back from the Southwest Pacific. They describe the jungle fighting on Vella Lavella in the Solomon Islands and remark that not all Japanese officers are fanatical, and will desert their troops when the going gets tough. An Admiral commercial mentions that seven radios, all used for different purposes and having a total value of $50,000, are onboard each B-17 "Flying Fortress." When these seven radios are multiplied by the total number of Flying Fortresses, it equals many thousands of radios, which helps to explain why no new consumer radios can be built at this time.
12/19/43: Bill Slocum, Jr. does a live report from the Fleet Post Office in New York City on the volume of Christmas mail (some 400,000 letters and 25,000 parcels) that is being processed there daily. Among the many things the FPO has received for processing have been two quarts of ice cream, a live queen bee, plus many bolognas and cheeses. No alcohol is believed to have been mailed. A FPO postal code has already been assigned to Tokyo in anticipation of U.S. troops receiving mail there.
12/26/43: CBS Algiers (Winston Burdette): General Eisenhower has been named to lead the Allies’ "second front" invasion of Europe. [President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill jointly announced Eisenhower’s appointment on December 24th.]
1/9/44: An Admiral commercial tells about "Pierre," a member of the French underground who receives his orders via radio. "Admiral Radio is proud to be a part of the coming invasion." Two commissioned Army nurses, who spent 22 months living in tents in the jungles of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, tell of their experiences. (One had a grass hut built for $25.00.) Once back in the U.S., they found that rationing and shortages were not as bad as they had expected them to be.
1/16/44: CBS London: Larry LeSueur interviews Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, the highest-ranking woman in the Army and director of the Women’s Army Corps. American WACs serving in Britain are "fit and trim" and "adapting to war." They will eventually serve on the European continent, once the battle lines are secure.
1/30/44: CBS Detroit: former Michigan State University football star LT Tommy Harmon describes being shot down during an air action over China. Badly burned, he landed in a lake and remained under his parachute so as not to be strafed by Japanese pilots. He was not able to receive medical treatment for 17 days and it took him 32 days to make his way back to safety. For security reasons, he cannot discuss his escape route in China. [Tom Harmon (1919-1990) was also an actor and a sportscaster. He is still considered to be one of Michigan State’s all-time great football players.]
3/5/44: From the hospital ship USS Refuge in Baltimore, Bill Slocum, Jr. interviews Vice Admiral Ross T. McIntire, Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy and President Roosevelt’s personal physician. When asked about Roosevelt’s health, McIntire states emphatically that, "the President is in perfect health." [Roosevelt was in fact seriously ill with cardiovascular disease and had a little over a year to live.]
3/26/44: CBS London: Charles Collingwood interviews two American soldiers who had taken prisoner a German aviator who had bailed out over England. The German told them that he was a 22-year-old corporal and that he had been wandering around for 5 hours trying to find someone to surrender to.
4/2/44: CBS London: Larry LeSueur interviews a B-17 "Flying Fortress" crew chief who describes how planes are serviced and maintained after each bombing mission. All work must be done at night using mostly flashlights. The maintenance crews sleep while the bombers are out on a mission. The crew chief mentions that his assigned plane, Screaming Red was lost over Berlin while on its 46th mission. [The aircraft’s actual name was Screaming Red Ass and it was shot down on 3/8/44. The pilot, co-pilot and one crewman survived and were taken prisoner.]
4/9/44: CBS Washington: after mentioning that the movie The Story of Doctor Wassell opened last night in Washington, Don Pryor interviews the real Dr. Corydon M. Wassell, who describes how he evacuated over 40 wounded U.S. servicemen from Java to Australia with the help of a Dutch seaman.
6/18/44: CBS Rome: Sergeant York was the first American film shown in Rome after it was liberated by the Allies. [Rome fell on June 5, 1944.]
7/2/44: CBS Washington: Don Pryor interviews a USNR lieutenant from the Navy’s Office of Public Information, who describes the equipment used to make combat recordings during the D-Day invasion. Audio was recorded onto movie film that was then rushed to London to be processed. After being reviewed by the censor, the recordings were made available for broadcast. In addition to teaching CBS engineers and reporters how to use this equipment, the lieutenant served as Edward R. Murrow’s engineer during a flight over the invasion beaches. Sixteen of these "film recorder" units were in use on D-Day.
8/13/44: CBS Washington: Don Pryor interviews CDR Rankin, CO of "Rankin’s Raiders," a "Black Cat" squadron based in the Pacific that flies night missions using amphibious Navy Catalina (PBY-5A) planes that have been painted black.
9/3/44: CBS London (Ned Calmer): today is a national day of prayer in Britain to mark the 5th anniversary of the start of the war in Europe.
9/10/44: CBS Paris (Charles Collingwood): the Allies are advancing towards Germany through France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Some units are within 20 miles of the German border.
10/15/44: Germany has announced that Field Marshal Rommel has died from "head injuries" sustained in Normandy. [On Hitler’s orders, Rommel committed suicide on 10/14/44 for his alleged involvement in a plot against Hitler’s life.] CBS Washington: John McCaffrey interviews the Surgeon General of the Army who describes the battlefield care being given to wounded soldiers. (They receive first aid within minutes of being hit.)
10/29/44: Pacific Fleet Headquarters, Pearl Harbor: Webley Edwards interviews LCDR Joy Hancock from the Navy Women’s Reserve who is doing advance work prior to the first WAVES arriving in the Pacific in December. CBS San Francisco: Japanese Radio has claimed victory in the Battle of Leyte Gulf [which took place October 23-26. During this, the last major World War II sea battle in the Pacific, Japanese naval power was virtually wiped out.]
11/5/44: CBS Rome: Winston Burdett reports on the social and political conditions in Rome, where the black market is flourishing and there is much hunger and discontent. It is anticipated that once Northern Italy is liberated, "anti-Fascist partisans" [i.e. the Communists] will be causing trouble that could result in civil war once the Allied forces depart. Italy’s rich are already planning to leave the country and take their wealth with them.
12/31/44: CBS London: Eric Severide gives his impressions of the mood of the British people at the end of 1944. The "Churchill spell" is broken and Anglo-British relations are souring. Although many believe that there will be peace in the coming year, they are worried about England being overshadowed by the U.S. in the post-war world. In Budapest, the Russians are killing German SS soldiers without mercy in retaliation for the killing of Russian emissaries [on December 29th] who had approached German lines under a white flag of truce.
1/7/45: Bill Slocum, Jr. interviews a Coast Guard lieutenant from Shaker Heights, Ohio who is a "beach party" veteran: a member of one of the teams that goes ashore in advance of an amphibious landing force to insure that vehicles and supplies can be landed safely. While on one Pacific island, the lieutenant and two other volunteers had to crawl up to a cave full of Japanese soldiers and toss in hand grenades, which they first had to borrow. (Prior to this, they had had no experience or training in using hand grenades.) For that action, they all received Silver Stars.
3/11/45: Earlier in the week [on March 7] American troops captured intact the Ludendorff bridge over the Rhine River at Remagen. A bridgehead has now been established, and men, tanks, and equipment are pouring across to the east bank. The Russians are moving in on Danzig. Fighting continues on Iwo Jima for a third week. [U.S. Marines landed on Iwo Jima on February 19th.] Ten square miles of Tokyo were destroyed by a massive incendiary bomb attack [conducted on March 9th by 334 B-29 bombers.]
3/18/45: Food rationing will continue after Germany surrenders. President Roosevelt has already told the American people that they will have to "tighten their belts" in order to feed starving Europeans. A bill has been introduced by Republican lawmakers to limit food exports to Europe in order to maintain a sufficient amount for "home front rations."
4/8/45: With the war almost over in Europe, plans have been speeded up for re-converting American industries back to peacetime production. Secretary of War Stimpson has recommended that the Army and Navy be merged into a single organization. (The Navy is cool to this idea out of concern that the Army would domination such an organization.)
5/15/45: Victory in Europe is less than a week old. [Hostilities in Europe came to an end at one minute past midnight on May 9th.] Himmler, Goering, Hess and other top Nazi leaders are now in custody. Carrier-based aircraft are attacking Japan. Larry LeSueur describes his first-hand impressions of the Russian occupation of Austria. Major Eliot discusses the current state of Japan’s defenses, now that its air force has been virtually destroyed. President Truman has warned about the terrible consequences for Japan if it doesn’t surrender unconditionally. [Truman was undoubtedly referring to the use of the still secret atomic bomb.]
7/22/45: The first American troops have been sent from Europe to the Pacific. SW from London: the results of Britain’s election will be known by this coming Thursday. [Churchill’s Conservative Party was narrowly defeated and he was replaced as Prime Minister by Clement Attlee.] Tomorrow, the U.S. Senate starts debate on whether or not the U.S. will become a member of the United Nations. It has been revealed that Navy Captain Zacharias (a leading expert on Japan) has been making official radio broadcasts warning the Japanese to surrender or face total destruction. [Captain (later Admiral) Ellis M. Zacharias was the wartime deputy chief of the Office of Naval Intelligence.] A PSA advises listeners to spend their summer vacations close to home so that the nation’s transportation system can handle troop movements.
7/29/45: In Washington, there is optimism over important new developments in the war with Japan. [The first atomic bomb had been successfully tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16th.] The U.S. Senate has approved the U.S. joining the United Nations.
8/26/45: The Allied fleet is expected to sail into Tokyo Bay within a few hours. It has been a week since Japanese representatives arrived in Manila [on August 19th] to arrange the details of Japan’s surrender. CBS Manila: occupation troops have not yet entered Japan. [The first American units – Army Air Force technicians -- arrived on August 28th.] A PSA asks for part-time farm workers to help harvest the 1945 crop. "No experience is necessary."
9/2/45: It has only been a few hours since Japan formally surrendered. [The surrender ceremony took place in Japan on September 2nd and while it was still September 1st in the U.S.] Allied occupation troops are now going ashore in Japan. In a recorded report from Northern Luzon in the Philippines (sent via Signal Corps facilities) a CBS correspondent describes his interview with Japanese General Yamashita "The Tiger of Malaya." Although a prisoner, the general is in good spirits and laughed at the suggestion that he had considered committing hara-kiri. So far, few high-ranking Japanese leaders have committed suicide. [Yamashita was later found guilty of war crimes related to atrocities committed in the Philippines by Japanese troops under his command and was hanged in Manila on 2/23/46.] SW from London: tomorrow is the 6th anniversary of the beginning of the war. Now that Lend-Lease has ended, many in Britain want to stop buying from the U.S. and barter only with countries within the British Empire. Traveling under a pseudonym, former Prime Minister Churchill is in Northern Italy on holiday. A PSA encourages listeners to buy and hold war bonds to prevent inflation and post-war economic depression.
* * *
Recordings of the CBS World News Today World War II broadcasts are available inexpensively in the MP3 digital audio format. (The collection offered by OTRCAT.com is the most extensive and user-friendly.) Listening to them at a rate of one per week, it will take almost two years to hear them all! (Following the progress of the war on a week-by-week basis is quite a different experience from reading about it in a book!)
Speaking of books, here are three very useful ones to have handy while listening to the World News Today programs:
Click here for a the recordings of World News Today >>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eric Beheim is a life-long radio enthusiast. A former commanding officer of a Naval Reserve Combat Camera unit based in San Diego.
Eric Beheim leads a multi-faceted career as a free-lance writer, professional musician, and owner of his own music and sound project studio.
Born in the first wave of "baby boomers" he grew up with radio and remains a life-long radio enthusiast. His particular interests are collecting news and commentary programs from the late 1930s and early 1940s (including World War II news), and programs that feature performances of operettas and musical theater presentations.
Read more about Eric Behiem...