“Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea. Let’s go to press -Flash!”
That’s how Walter Winchell began his radio programs of the 1940s. A popular newspaper columnist, Winchell easily made the transition to the airwaves, fiercely tapping a telegraph key beneath his rapid-fire delivery. His 215 words a minute were considered the fastest on the air.
Reporters of the Winchell era came to mind recently with the death of Charles Kuralt, whose career began in newspapers and evolved into radio and television. Kuralt spotlighted the extraordinary side of the ordinary world.
Kuralt’s radio career brought him in touch with a man who is revered as the “father” of modern broadcasting – Edward R. Murrow. Against the muffled thunder of bombs falling from German airplanes, Murrow’s “This is London . . .” crackled over radio speakers across the country and brought a world war into the living room.
Many of the well-known radio news reporters during World War II were called “commentators” and comment they did. One of the most famous was H. V. Kaltenborn, whose clipped delivery was imitated by many, including President Harry Truman, who was often the target of Kaltenborn’s barbs.
“Ah, there’s good news tonight!” proclaimed Gabriel Heatter on his daily broadcasts. At the same time, Elmer Davis was establishing a network career. A Hoosier, his soft midwestern monotone became familiar to millions as he recounted events involving American boys in faraway places.
One newscaster whose career spanned 50 years got his start by chance. Lowell Thomas filled in one evening for the regular announcer and the rest is history. Even today, if you press your ear closely enough to the speaker of an old Philco cathedral radio, you can hear Lowell’s baritone voice say, “Good evening, everybody.”
One of the most memorable bulletins in radio archives features the voice of John Daly, who was in the announcer’s booth on December 7, 1941: “We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin: The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor by air, President Roosevelt has just announced.”
Other famous voices of the past include Boake Carter, Charles Collingwood, Floyd Gibbens, Edwin C. Hill, Fulton Lewis, Jr., Graham McNamee, Eric Sevareid, Paul Sullivan, John Cameron Swayze, and Raymond Gram Swing.
An Indianapolis radio station, WFBM, was the only local station to have its own reporter on the scene during World War II. He was Gilbert Forbes, a legend of the local airwaves who established many “firsts” in the early days of radio.
Forbes heads the list of many professional broadcasters in the history of Indianapolis. They include Howard Caldwell, Frank Forrest, Jim Gerard, Gordon Graham, Fred Heckman, Bob Hoover, Allen Jeffries, Lyell Ludwig, Harry Martin, Dick Reed, Gene Slaymaker, Glenn Weber, Joe Pickett, Lou Sherman, Mike Ahern, and many others.
These were the voices we turned to for news. Though each had a different style, the goal for all was the same: tell who, what, where, when, and why. And at the end of the program, they might echo that famous closing line of the legendary Walter Cronkite: “And that’s the way it is.”
Flash! This Just In: News Voices from the Past