D-DAY ON RADIO
The D in D-Day had no definition, military or otherwise.
Nevertheless, Tuesday, June 6, 1944 was the Day of Deliverance for radio - emerging from the shadow of newspapers to become America’s primary source for news. As Broadcasting magazine editorialized, “The biggest news story since creation is being reported in split seconds. Radio really found itself on D-Day.”
Unlike the sudden shock of Pearl Harbor, the networks had over 30 months to prepare for the Allied invasion of Nazi occupied France. When it finally came - even in the dead of night - their news departments were on alert and ready to report it. (1)
Preparation at NBC even included a new use for its familiar system cue. The three note melody struck on chimes that tagged all NBC programs since 1929 - G, E, C - was altered during the first hours of D-Day to alert network personnel to contact the office immediately. For this purpose a fourth note was added to the melody which became G-E-C-C. It was heard several times in the early morning hours of June 6th when it became apparent that D-Day was a reality.
Wire services began flashing the bulletins at 12:37 a.m. ET, quoting Germany’s Trans-Ocean News Service which reported that the long anticipated invasion had begun with paratroop landings and bombardment along the northern coastal areas of France.
Remembering the false alarm dispatched by the Associated Press two days earlier and wary of Nazi propaganda efforts to confuse the enemy, network newsmen cautiously reported the news but cited German radio as their source of information. The overall tone of “facts first” and putting journalistic egos aside was bluntly defined by CBS news chief Paul White, who told his staff shortly before D-Day, “Remember, winning the war is a hell of a lot more important than reporting it.”
Less than an hour later the BBC was advising residents of coastal Europe to move inland but stay off heavily traveled roads. Meanwhile German radio reported the bombardment of LeHavre - yet, there was no confirmation of the invasion from the War Department. Finally, after three hours of winging it, the networks received shortwave confirmation from General Eisenhower’s SHAEF, (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force), post in Great Britain at 3:33 a.m. that the Normandy landing - Operation Overlord - was underway.
Both CBS and NBC transcribed over 24 hours of D-Day programming beginning with the opening bulletins, continuing through the memorable day and into the next. This priceless chunk of broadcasting history is stored at Internet Archive - https://archive.org/details/radioprograms - and provides the networks’ pooled reports and individual interpretations of events which allow us to mentally picture the invasion in the sounds of Network Radio.
Our choice of condensed network reports, (also posted below), begins with CBS - 1. Anchor Bob Trout, 34, ad-libs his way through the early going of his ten hour reporting marathon when he takes a portable microphone trailing 60 feet of cable and walks along the newsroom’s bank of busy AP, UP, INS and Reuters teletype machines and reads directly from them looking for something new to report. Trout is given a breather in these hours by Ned Calmer and military intelligence expert Major George Fielding Eliot. Finally - at 49:40 into the recording - U.S. Colonel Ernest Dupuy is heard from General Eisenhower’s SHAEF headquarters with the official announcement of the invasion. This is followed at 55:30 with Edward R. Murrow from London reading Eisenhower’s Order of The Day to his troops followed by a report from pool reporter Herbert Clark.
NBC’s anchor, Robert St. John, picks up at this point on the post, NBC - 2. At 4:17 a.m. ET, (3:09 into the recording), a switch is made to London for the first eyewitness report of the action. Wright Bryan of WSB/Atlanta and the Atlanta Journal provides a colorful 14 minute description of his flight aboard a C-47 dropping paratroopers into France. Following a patriotic break for The Star Spangled Banner, the network’s three leading news voices analyze the strategy of the invasion: HV Kaltenborn in New York, John W Vandercook from London and Richard Harkness in Washington. Harkness is interrupted by a shortwave report from London: James Wellen’s eyewitness account of a bombing raid over France from a Marauder B-26 bomber. St.John follows with late bulletins and Harkness returns with more background information, concluding with the Office of War Information’s warning to be wary any D-Day news coming from German sources.
Additional reports did come from both Allied and German sources during the early morning hours and radio listening zoomed as more Americans awoke to the news of D-Day. C.E. Hooper’s sets-in-use estimate for the morning of June 6th was 118% higher than the first Tuesday of the previous month which was considered normal. The special Hooper survey commissioned by CBS estimated that radio listening over D-Day was 82% higher than usual peaking between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. ET when the figure reached 138%.
By 6:45 that evening enough information had been accumulated so radio’s most popular daily newscaster could weave it all into a comprehensible narrative in his own folksy style. In the post below, Lowell Thomas NBC-3, his familiar greeting since 1930, "Good evening, everybody!" was probably heard by more people than ever before.
While Thomas was recapping the day’s events for his NBC listeners, Blue’s George Hicks was aboard the USS Ancon headed across the English Channel toward Normandy and his place in broadcasting history. The 38 year old chief of Blue’s London bureau had boarded the amphibious command ship with a 75 pound Amertype Recordgraph film recorder on loan from the Navy and stationed himself beside an anti-aircraft crew to capture the sounds of invasion which was in its 18th hour.
As the ship approached the coast it came under fire from German Junker bombers and the ship’s 40mm twin-barrel guns responded. The crew near Hicks scored a hit and the twin engine plane is heard crashing into the water. All networks aired the gripping Hicks pool report and recorded it for repeat broadcasts. The New York Daily News described it as, “…without a doubt the most thrilling invasion broadcast.” The BBC transcription also posted below, Hicks-Blue, D-Day, 4, 5 & 6, is outstanding in its quality but for some reason it was preserved in three, five minute segments.
George Hicks was hailed for his work and his report was cited for its form which was unique at the time. As Broadcasting later editorialized, “Perhaps the most significant development was the use of transcribed reports of radio war correspondents over all networks. Heretofore, NBC and CBS have turned thumbs down on recordings of any kind. The invasion coverage may well spell and end to that taboo. …. It is a special event on film, wax or wire and it’s here to stay.”
Official Washington had been quiet for most of the day during which the networks cancelled all scheduled programs to broadcast nothing but commercial free war news and music. (2) It was finally announced that President Roosevelt would address the nation on all networks and most independent stations at 10:00 p.m. ET. The weary 62 year old chief executive, who had only nine months to live, offered a prayer for victory. The President’s speech the night before announcing the fall of Rome registered a 45.2 Hooperating but out of respect to its content, no phone calls were made by the polling firm during the seven minute broadcast posted here as FDR Prayer-7.
As midnight neared and D-Day wound to a close, NBC’s Lyle Van summarized the day’s happenings - nearly 24 historic hours capsulated into a clearly reported 15 minute newscast also posted below as Van News NBC-8.
Another fascinating perspective of the invasion is heard from John Nesbitt's Passing Parade on CBS from June 6, 1944, a remarkable word-picture that captures both its enormity and little known details.
A week later CBS ran an ad that expressed the feelings of many: “The emergency pooling of keenly competitive foreign staffs of all networks and their joint use of limited transatlantic radio channels enabled all four networks to perform the greatest public service in the history of radio broadcasting.”
Coupled with the steady anchoring and knowledgeable analysis provided by the networks, outspoken Paul White of CBS News would summarize Network Radio’s overall job on D-Day with a satisfied nod and say, “A helluva job!”
Indeed it was.
(1) All networks maintained skeleton crews during the overnight hours with entire news departments on call to report for assigned duties in the event of the invasion which had been anticipated during the first week of June.
CBS News Director Paul White’s New York staff included John Daly, Douglas Edwards, Major George Fielding Eliot, Everett Holles, Quincy Howe, Alan Jackson, Quentin Reynolds, Wlliam L. Shirer and Robert Trout augmented by Bill Henry, Albert Leach and Joe McCaffery in Washington and its London bureau of Charles Collingwood, Bill Costello, Bill Downs, Joseph C. Harsch, Richard C. Hottelet, Larry Lesueur, Edward R. Murrow and Charles Shaw.
NBC’s William Brooks had Don Goddard, Don Hollenbeck, H.V. Kaltenborn, Robert St. John, Cesar Saerchinger and Lowell Thomas in New York; Morgan Beatty, Leif Eid, Richard Harkness, Capt. Thomas Knode and William McAndrew in Washington; David Anderson, W.W.Chaplin, Edwin Haaker, Don Hollenbeck, John MacVane, Merrill Mueller and John Vandercook in London: Max Jordan in Italy and Robert Magidoff in Russia.
Mutual’s New York bureau under John Steele consisted of Cecil Brown, Boake Carter, Leon Cherne, Henry Gladstone, Royal Arch Gunderson, Gabriel Heatter, Charles Hodges, Paul Schubert and Frank Singiser in addition to Walter Compton and Fulton Lewis, Jr. in Washngton. Mutual’s overseas crew included Arthur Mann, Larry Meier, John Thompson and Tom Wolfe in London; Seymour Korman in Italy and Leslie Nichols in Cairo.
Blue News Director G.W. Johnstone had stateside reporters/commentators Martin Agronsky, H.R. Baukage, Don Gardiner, Earl Godwin, John B. Kennedy, Walter Kiernan, Drew Pearson, Leland Stowe, Raymond Gram Swing, Henry J. Taylor and Walter Winchell plus Arthur Feldman, Thomas Grandin, George Hicks and Ted Malone in London; Donald Coe and Gordon Fraser in Naples and Fred Lee in Cairo.
(2) CBS presented limited serious dramatic fare in keeping with D-Day during prime time except for the Burns & Allen sitcom which was presented as scripted. Advertising agency Young & Rubicam blamed its inability to reach sponsor General Foods for not to canceling the program but it did eliminate the program’s commercials.
Copyright © 2015 Jim Ramsburg, Estero FL Email: firstname.lastname@example.org