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Old Time Radio News Broadcasts

Broadcast News had its shaky beginnings in the days of dot and dash Morse code transmissions. Wired telegraphy had been used to send news of the day, and the practice continued after Guglielmo Marconi developed his "telegraph without wires".

As early as 1898 the technology was used to transmit the results of the Kingston Regatta to the Dublin Daily Express, as well as interested bystanders in the newspaper's office. The value of news coming out of the ether was fully demonstrated in 1912 when the future head of RCA and NBC David Sarnoff remained awake by his wireless set until the last name of the victims from the "unsinkable" Titanic were tapped out from the S.S. Olympic.

"All the News That's Fit to Hear"

The first commercial radio station, eventually known as KDKA, Pittsburgh, received its license on Oct 27, 1920. On Nov 2, arrangements were made for the Presidential Election results in the Harding-Cox race to be broadcast from a tiny shack on the roof of a Westinghouse Electric building. Nearly a thousand people got the results over their radio sets.

March of Time

Although the age of Commercial Radio had begun, radio during the twenties was mostly a hobby-based affair, for some years there were more homemade receivers than "store-bought."  As quickly as manufacturers began putting radio sets on the market, new broadcasters came on the air, both markets supporting each other.

In 1931, Roy Edward Larsen, general of TIME Magazine, was responsible for the launch of The March of Time. The program format was loosely based on the Newsreels, and not only featured a narrator reading the news, and professional actors were hired to play the parts of people in the news. This was effective enough that in the latter part of the decade, people thought they were actually hearing the voices of people like Adolf Hitler, King Edward VIII, or Bruno Hauptman.

At first, The March of Time broadcasts were given away in exchange for advertising the magazine. TIME actually tried to pull the plug on the program a few times because of production expenses. Whenever they did, listeners would write in, begging for the show, especially as the clouds of War developed over Europe.

The Rise of Network Coverage

Edward MurrowThe European War would give rise to the “Just the Facts” style of the Correspondent/Reporter. The pioneer of the Correspondent/Reporters was a young man named Edward R. Murrow

Murrow was born in Polecat Creek, NC, but the family soon homesteaded in Washington State. He earned his college money working in the rugged timber industry. Although there was no such thing as an International Correspondent, Murrow's education was exactly what one would need.

When Murrow joined CBS in 1935 as "director of talks and education", announcer Bob Trout and former United Press correspondent Paul White were the entire network news department. Murrow's early role was to line up interesting people to be interviewed on the air, while Trout gave him pointers on his radio communication skills.

With Fascism on the rise, White sent Murrow to England to head up CBS's fledgling European division. The job was not supposed to involve on-air reporting, but events on the Continent soon changed that.

Meanwhile, on the Other Network…

The Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Westinghouse, and American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T, "Ma Bell") combined in 1926 to form the National Broadcasting Company, NBC. Westinghouse owned Newark, New Jersey station WJZ which was combined with AT&T's WEAF New York. WEAF was created as a laboratory for AT&T to develop broadcasting equipment, which the company soon lost interest; however, having the phone company on board meant that NBC had access to its lines to send its content to other stations.

The primary reason for getting into the broadcasting game was to help RCA and Westinghouse to sell more radio receiver sets to consumers. The RCA executive who wound up calling the shots at NBC, David Sarnoff, initially saw the network as an information service but was soon won over by the profitability of concentrating on entertainment broadcasting.

Although announcer Graham McNamee would set up remote broadcasts from the two Party Political Conventions and the Presidential Inauguration, most NBC News coverage in the early years was a network announcer reading copy from the Associated Press wire during periods of "dead air".

The FCC formally ordered NBC divided into the Red and Blue networks in 1927. Corporate legend holds that the separate networks were named for the colored yarn connected to thumbtacks on a map in the network headquarters. The Red Network generally carried the more profitable and popular programs while Blue was home to more sustained broadcasts like news and public service programming.

One problem holding back the popularity of radio news was the general policy of not broadcasting pre-recorded material. This meant that interviews had to be done in the studio or via remote broadcast, and at a time specified by the broadcaster. The prohibition was temporarily lifted after Blue Network affiliate WLS Chicago sent Herbert Morrison to Lakehurst, New Jersey, to cover the arrival of the Hindenburg airship, resulting in one of the most dramatic recordings in the history of broadcasting with Morrison wailing, "Oh, the humanity!" 

A World at War on the Air

Pearl HarborBy assigning Murrow to Europe when they did, CBS gave American listeners a front-row seat to the descent into a new World War. One of Murrow's first moves upon crossing the Pond was to organize "the Murrow Boys", a group of trusted and well-informed journalists, many of whom were in Europe to work for the United Press. The Murrow Boys, for the most part, had no broadcast experience but were familiar with European politics and could tell a good story.

Among the first of the Murrow Boys were Eric Sevareid, William Shirer, Larry LeSueur, Charles Collingwood, Howard K. Smith, and Bill Downs. In March of 1938, Murrow was in Poland arranging radio appearances by children's choirs when Shirer sent word to his boss that Germany was annexing Austria. Although he was an eyewitness to the Anschluss, Shirer was unable to get his reports out of Austria because of Nazi censors. Murrow arranged for Shirer to go to London to broadcast his report and then flew to Vienna to take over for Shirer.

The Murrow Boys brought the "European Crisis" to American listeners. Murrow, who finally began on-air reporting, opened his broadcasts during the Blitz with: "Hello America. This is London calling". When aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy bombed the American Fleet at its base in Pearl Harbor, Hawai'i, most of the nation received their first news of the attack from the radio or from someone who had heard about it on the radio.

Historians will note that the broadcasts of December 7, 1941, have been preserved. When compared to modern cable news coverage of a major event, the information provided by the networks is scant, and, seen from a historical perspective, often inaccurate. However, given the limitations of communications technology of the time, the inaccuracies are forgivable.

Onward to Victory

DDay OmahaFrom Roosevelt's "Infamy" speech forward, Radio provided the folks on the Home front the closest thing they could get to a front-row seat on the War. Print media was usually able to provide more details about the action, but radio was able to report on advances as well as setbacks within hours of their occurrence.

A good deal of the information which came over the air came from the wire services. Reporters were stationed on or near the front lines as uniformed non-combatants. They were not allowed to carry sidearms or operate any weapons, but their proximity to the fighting put them in direct danger, and those captured often faced execution.

Reporters had access to the generals running the campaigns, but more relevant stories came from the soldiers and officers on the front line. A reporter might hitch a ride from a unit going towards the fighting and spend the trip furiously taking notes on their conversations. Murrow talked his way onto several bomber missions over enemy lines.


One of the things that delayed radio news from the front was strict censorship. Although there may have been setbacks that the brass did not want to be publicized, for the most part, censorship was in place to prevent news reports from giving aid to the enemy in the form of tactics or troop movement. Reporters were required to pledge that all their material would be cleared before broadcast, and the journalists would be subject to military discipline if they broke the rules, although the few times it happened the offending reporters were usually sent home.

Censorship became especially tight during the period just before Operation Overlord, the D-Day Allied Invasion of Europe over the beaches of Normandy. Once the Operation kicked off on June 6, 1944, it was covered in detail by CBS and NBC Radio.

Emergence of Television: Rise of the Boob Tube

The Post War Economic Boom was accompanied by the opening salvos of what would become the Cold War. Sponsors and the Networks began abandoning the Radio for the shiny new technology of Television. TV quickly became the dominant force in entertainment, although those who took the News seriously remained loyal to Radio.

Kennedy Nixon

The slow adoption of TV News may be due to the fact that, in the early days, News on the small screen had little to offer over Radio. The 'Talking Head' format was just that; a reporter reading the news in an otherwise empty studio (often with a curl of cigarette smoke rising next to the anchorman). Listening to the news on the Radio was less distracting and therefore more informative.

As technology improved, the visual element of TV coverage began to be more important. This became apparent during the 1960 Presidential Debates; Radio listeners were convinced that Nixon won the debate while those who saw the young, good-looking Democrat mostly credited Kennedy with the win.

TV newscasting began to take over from Radio with the assassination of President Kennedy. Although most people initially heard about the events in Dallas over the Radio, the visual images of Jackie bravely dealing with her husband's sudden death and the President's coffin arriving in Washington gained the nation's attention and sympathy in ways that Radio could never compete with.

Although the immediacy TV images quickly gained ground on Radio, news analysis and commentary remained the main selling point of radio news. This eventually led to the rise of talk radio. At present, Print, Radio, and TV News are taking a backseat to Internet-based news sources.

Show Title Dates News Type Show Premise
ABC News (Orson Welles Commentary) 1946 News Commetary Orson Welles was radio's "bad boy" and he told it as he saw it on ABV
Alistair Cooke Recordings 1945-1956 News Commetary British born Alistair Cooke had a unique perspective on American life and culture
America First Committee Broadcasts 1940-1941 Major Event/Scandal The America First Committee was dedicated to keep America out of Foriegn Wars, right up to the Attack on Pearl Harbor
America Looks Abroad 1939-1940 War Reports NBC and the Foriegn Ploicy Association looked at the growing danger from Europe
Bob Elson On the Twentieth Century Limited 1946-1950(?) Life in America The 20th Century Limited ran the rails from coast to coast and Bob Elson net the train in Chicago to interview celebrities making the trip
CBS European News Am Edition 1939-1940 Correspondent While America tried to stay out of the War in Europe,the CBS News team kept the audience at home informed
CBS News Around the World (AM Edition) 1938-1942 War Reports As America joined the fray in Europe, folks on the homefront wee kept up to dat by reports from Ed Murrow and his Boys
CBS World News Today 1941-1945 War Reports Ed Murrow and his CBS gang were the first to bring the War in Europe to American listeners
Christmas Time News Reports in Old Time Radio 1943-1963 Life in America The gy in the Red Suit makes his rounds every year, but what is happening in the real world is still important
Complete Broadcast 1939 September 21, 1939 Live History A full day's broadcast from WJSV just after Hitler's forces invaded Poland, starting WWII
Complete Broadcast 1941 (Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor) December 7, 1941 Live History The Date that Lives in Infamy as it was heard on the Radio
Complete Broadcast 1944 (D-Day Invasion of Normandy) CBS Coverage June 6, 1944 Live History CBS covers the Allied Invasion of Europe
Complete Broadcast 1944 (D-Day Invasion of Normandy) NBC Coverage June 6, 1944 Live History NBC takes its listeners along as the Allies cross the beaches at Normandy
Edward R Murrow Radio Recordings & News: I Can Hear It Now 1939-1961 Correspondent A generation of Americans' view of the World wer shaped by reports from Ed Murrow
Election Collection 1932-1953 Live History The right to vote is basic to Democracy, and elections are the embodiment ofFreedom in Action
Elmer Davis and the News 1939-1952 Correspondent Longtime newsman Elmer Davis was tapped by FDR to head the Office of War Information
Frank Singiser News Announcer 1943-1944 Correspondent Journalist Frank Singiser's show was sponsored by the Associated Press, and he would be a panelist for the Kenedy-Nixon debates
Gabriel Heatter 1940-1948 Correspondent An optimist even in the face of War, Gabriel Heater openned his broadcasts promising "Good News"
Hollywood Byline 1949-1950 Life in America Popular screen stars appeared before a panel of reporters to expose their true characters
The Home Front Featuring William B. Williams 1994 War Reports Most WWII stories came from the Front Lines, this series took a look at hpw the battles were fought at home
HV Kaltenborn Edits the News 1939-1947 News Commetary Well known for his wide knowledge of world afairs, diction, and ability to ad-lib, H.V. Kaltenborn was on the air for more than three decades
Keys to the Capitol 1954 News Commetary NBC News panel analyzes what is happening in Cold War era Washington DC
Lowell Thomas 1944-1954 Correspondent One of the poneers of Adventure Reporting, Lowell Thomas brought Lawrence of Arabia to the public eye
Mary Margaret McBride 1841-1957 Correspondent Ms. McBride was a pioneering celebrity interviewer who set the pattern forOprah, Mike Wallace, Terry Gross, and others
Meet the Press 1958-1962 News Commetary People who made the news have been invited to be interviewd by a panel of reporters fir several decades
Monitor also known as Monitor Beacon 1955-1975 Life in America NBC Monitor had a broadcast magazine format that covered news, sports, comdy, music, and interviews of popular personalities
The NBC National Hour 1945-1946 News Commetary The world was changing incredibly fast after the War, and the NBC National Hour helped to make sense of the changes
News Recordings Various Major Event/Scandal Major events reported on a yearly basis from 1938 through the 1970s
Pearl Harbor News Recordings December 7,1941 Live History The Date That Lives In Infamy is well remembered on Old Time radio
Rare News and Current Event Shows 1939-1959 Live History Rare News Broadcasts are an mprotant source of Historical Information
Raymond Gram Swing News Broadcasts 1938-1945 News Commetary Mr. Swing is notable for being one of the first American commentators to recpgnize and publicize the dangers of Hitlerism
Remembering Pearl Harbor December 7,1941 Live History An imprtant view f history can be gained by listening to the perspectives of those who lived through it
Robert Arden News Commentary 1940-1942 News Commetary Newspaperman Robert Arden's commentary helped to explain World Events to an American audience and how thiey affect our country
The Story Behind the Headlines 1938-1947 News Commetary In cooperation with the American Historical Association, Cesar Saerchinger for NBC reported not just the stories, but what they meant
Summer of 1940 News 1940 War Reports Europe was at War and Great Britain stood alone against Fascism. Larry LaSueur kept US audiences informed
Today in Europe 1939-1940 War Reports While War Clouds gathered over Europe, the 'Murrow Boys' kept America informed about what was going on
Victory in Europe Day Radio Recordings May 8, 1945 War Reports Two days after Hitler commited suicide, the Nazi's surrendered
War Telescope 1943-1944 War Reports Veteran reporter Elmer Peterson sent reports on the War from London
Watergate Scandal News 1971-1974 Major Event/Scandal Watergate not only brought down a President, it shattered America's confidence in Government
William L. Shirer Collection 1938-1950 Correspondent William Shirer was one of the original 'Murrow Boys' in Europe before WWII
Your Home Front Reporter 1943 Life in America Owens-Illinois Glass used this show to inform housewives of how to support the War Effort

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