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Old-time radio, 6 June: D-Day On the Air, Seventy Years Later

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Whether these were old-time radio’s finest hours should be left to those who are there to hear it—surely there remain many among us who were—and to those who will hear, remarkably enough, seventy years to the day later.

It would be remarkable, too, if I could present every last hour of broadcast on this day to that century that came, but the time and space constraints make it impossible at minimum. The entire broadcast days of NBC—6 and 7 June, 1944 (at least, from 0200 hours in NBC’s case)—will survive, miraculously, for the 21st Century listener. So will CBS’s complete coverage of the invasion.

With regret that brevity must be the rule even in the Internet age, I will confine this special entry to selected news and commentaries, many by people whose names and legacies will outlive the war, including but not restricted to Edward R. Murrow, H.V. Kaltenborn, Don Hollenbeck, Douglas Edwards, Richard Harkness, Morgan Beatty, Lowell Thomas, and Robert Trout.

And I will dedicate today’s entry to the memory of those who were there, who did the job that had to be done, who came back alive, who didn’t come back alive, and to their families.

TUNE IN TODAY: D-DAY—THE GREAT CRUSADE BEGINS . . .

And, there are those who fear the earliest known report of the invasion could be a Nazi propaganda feint . . .

Music and News (NBC)—An apparent performance (by an unknown orchestra) of “Finiculi, Finicula” (old-time radio soap opera lovers will know the song as the theme to the classic comic soap Lorenzo Jones) is interrupted by the report that Berlin radio says the invasion has launched with a battle offshore between Nazi and Allied boats, but that the Allies have not confirmed the invasion has actually begun. Meanwhile, in a second news interruption, Japanese submarines and aircraft have been taken down on the other side of the war . . . and further discussion of the early invasion counsels that the Berlin report may be “a trick.”

News and Music: “We May Be Approaching a Fateful Hour” (NBC)—This segment will end with a near-confirmation that the invasion is the real thing and not a mere Nazi propaganda ruse.

First, however, there is a continuation of the previous, in which the music program ended in earnest and a news report continued, also speculating whether the invasion was actually the “Allied feint” to which British prime minister Winston Churchill alluded earlier in the season, a “feint” intended to mask the actual invasion—and continuing to stress that the earlier reports out of Berlin could be a Nazi trick. Meanwhile, there comes a report that the Dutch have advised citizens living near the coast to leave as soon as possible, also in light of the Berlin broadcast . . . and, in due course, an advisory to the coastal French to leave their areas as well. This report also identifies the French port La Havre as a first point in the invasion, with Dunkirk another target, and launches of mass air sorties out of London and directly across the English Channel . . . not to mention the mention of a Nazi broadcast specifically saying, “This is D-Day! We shall now bring music for the Allied invasion forces,” and a report of Allied aircraft dropping leaflets with messages of the invasion for civilians who will need to evacuate their homes near the coast, roads, and rail lines.

Correspondents include Richard Harkness, Morgan Beatty, Robert St. John. It is during this segment that NBC announces it will not sign off for the night as usual circa 2 am but, instead, will stay on the air through the night as the developments of “the invasion,” as D-Day is still called euphemistically, continue and expand.

World News Today: The Early Speculations (CBS)—Robert Trout anchors early CBS reports along the same lines as the NBC reports, including and especially the Berlin radio invasion announcements, a report which may or may not reach the network’s listeners before the NBC report does. This report also discusses the early bombardment of La Havre; a full transcription of the Berlin broadcast based on CBS shortwave listenings; Maj. George Fielding Eliot analysing the Berlin reports; and, a further assurance from Trout that CBS News will lay away from mostly speculative reports and address confirmed reporting of any invasion. As does NBC, CBS announces they will remain on the air past their customary sign-off time, at least until the invasion is fully and formally confirmed.

World News Today, continued: The Confirmation? (CBS)—At last, there comes a reasonable confirmation—ant it begins with Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower himself, by way of Supreme Allied Headquarters, London, a statement that will become as famous in its way as the go-get-’em address Ike has made to his troops that leaked forth the night before but hasn’t seemed an affirmation that the operation would actually commence post haste. This report also airs or transcribes statements from various European leaders or leader-in-exile welcoming what was known officially as “Operation Overlord”; and, a few early observations from actual participants in the early invasion, the first airborne troops aloft. Further, Maj. Eliot notes British Gen. Montgomery’s early progress commanding much of the invasion’s early ground force wave.

TUNE IN TODAY: D-DAY—THE COMMENTATORS

Kaltenborn Edits the News: “The most encouraging thing . . .” (NBC)—H.V. Kaltenborn observes that land control has begun already in the earliest hours of D-Day, particularly because the Allies were able to avoid pitfalls that throttled them in the beginning in northern Africa and in Sicily.

Don Hollenbeck: “A guinea pig’s reaction to the real thing” (NBC)—A further analysis based on the previous lessons learned in the Sicilian efforts, from an NBC correspondent who traveled with and reported the Sicilian operations, emphasising air cover—Hollenbeck has it at over 11,000 aircraft providing early D-Day invasion cover—as a critical element in the success of mass ground invasions.

Morgan Beatty: “An air of optimism . . . ” (NBC)—Following Hollenbeck immediately, Beatty addresses optimism out of Supreme Allied Headquarters after the first hours of D-Day, including and particularly the tactical surprise the Allies achieved in the face of minimal German response to the early invasion—not to mention the fortune of inclement weather that prompted Ike to delay the actual launch of the invasion for 24 hours past its original launch time.

Special Report: Cross-Country Reaction (NBC)—After announcing a bulletin revealing reports that Eisenhower has set up a new headquarters in France, the network shares various reactions across the United States, including a Hartford, Connecticut industrial plant chairman; observations from Syracuse, New York; sirens in Norfolk, Virginia announcing the invasion but waking few in the early morning hours, before people began gathering on street corners later in the morning; weariness after sleepless nights in Toledo, Ohio; Cincinnati taking D-Day “outwardly, in her stride,” but holding a powerful pride in its industrial contributions to the war effort; the U.S. Second Army, headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, knowing it may yet be too early to predict the ultimate outcome while celebrating the early success, and a comment from the mother of a soldier who hails from the city; prayer and emotion in and adjacent to Minnesota’s Twin Cities; and, “patriotic, spiritual determination” from a Douglas Aircraft plant in Oklahoma City, building the C-47 Skytrain transport/gunship variant of the venerable DC-3 airliner, despite their celebratory mood.

Further Channel Surfing: D-Day—The Special Broadcasts

Fibber McGee & Molly: D-Day Broadcast (NBC)—The beloved First Couple of Wistful Vista (Jim & Marian Jordan)—who took a back seat to very few when it came to supporting the war effort, especially by way of many of their show storylines—gladly surrender their customary Tuesday night humour to introduce and conclude a half hour of patriotically themed music.

The Bob Hope Show: From a Van Nuys P-38 Airfield (NBC)—The machine-gun-quick jokester, whose habit of doing shows from military bases as often as he can is already something of a legend in the business, admits nobody feels much like being funny “on a night like this,” and tempers his customary rat-a-tat ribaldry in favour of playing a little appropriate music that only begins with Frances Langford’s stirring “Ave Maria,” continues with a patriotic medley—including the anthems of all military branches—from the Stan Kenton Orchestra, then hands back to Langford for a warm “Good Night, Wherever You Are.” Not to mention a rousing Army Air Corps song led by Jerry Colonna and Vera Vague. It may be a little hokey even in the immediate circumstances, but whatever you think about how well Hope’s topical humour has or hasn’t stood the test of time, even his fiercest critics wouldn’t really accuse him of having his heart in the wrong place in this time and place. That Hope trimmed his usual half hour to a fifteen minute offering spoke volumes, too. Announcer: Wendell Niles.

. . . and, even further channel surfing . . .

Light of the World: Abraham’s Sacrifice (CBS)—This offering (1940-1950) has the audacity to tell the Bible in the form of a soap opera, with a few fictional characters thrown in to flesh out the stories, and has been a small smash amidst the customary doom-gloom-disaster-depravity that has become the soap opera by now. Trivia: Today’s broadcast is the first of the series upon moving from NBC to CBS: God says to Abraham (Alexander Scourby), “Kill me a son,” as Bob Dylan will phrase it in due course, and asks Isaac to pray and give thanks when God rescinds the command; and, the Israelites’ enslavement in Egypt and the early rise of Moses, both aimed at bracing listeners as Operation Overlord proceeds further in earnest.

Additional cast: Unknown. Narrator, known popularly as the Speaker: Bret Morrison. Announcer: Ted Campbell. Music: Clark Whipple. Director: Basil Loughrane. Sound: Jack Andersen. Writers: Katharine and Adele Seymour.

The Romance of Helen Trent: It’s Now or Never (CBS)—The venerable Hummert carnage weepie about the girl who proves you can have a thirtysomething (and older?) love life, years before Mary Tyler Moore puts it on camera, and while walking into and out of ten times as much disaster as good ol’ Mare ever will . . . Helen Trent by D-Day has already become—despite her almost caricaturable black-and-white self—a radio institution who will become one of the five the best-remembered radio soaps of them all. Today: Wheelchair-bound from a trainwreck, Gil (David Gothard) has a hope for a pleasant dinner and evening with Helen (Julie Stevens), at least until she practically hands him an ultimatum (“this month, or never!”) despite his determination not to tie her down to an invalid. Stick it out and you’ll hear a break-in report from Edward R. Murrow describing the opposition on the beaches of France as less than expected, then a quick swing to Douglas Edwards in New York with a news update on the invasion.

Announcer: Fielden Farrington. Music/director: Stanley Davis. Writers: Probably Margo Brooks, Ruth Borden, Marie Banner.

Valiant Lady: War Bonds (CBS)—This soap, hooked around actress Joan Blaine, who gave up a promising stage career to marry a troubled surgeon, opens with a plea to buy war bonds. Whether this being the only portion of the episode that will survive is a good thing depends on your view of soap operas, radio or otherwise.

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