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“To Bring You The Picture Of Europe Tonight…”
In 1938 the European correspondent for CBS was in Austria when the Nazis marched in. He wanted to tell the world about it—but first he had to help invent a whole new kind of broadcasting.
June/july 1984 | Volume 35, Issue 4
As I walked across the Adlon lobby toward the man I took to be Murrow, I was a little taken aback by his handsome face. Black hair. Straight features. Fine chin. Just what you would expect from a radio type, I thought. His neat, freshly pressed dark suit, probably cut in London’s Savile Row, contrasted with my crumpled gray flannel jacket and unpressed slacks. He had asked me to dinner, I was almost certain, to pump me for material for one of his radio broadcasts. Well, I would try to be as civil as possible. He was not the first.
But as we walked into the bar, something in his manner began disarming me. We ordered a couple of martinis and began talking of mutual friends. I was surprised how many there were. We ordered another round.
He started talking about radio in America. The important thing, he said, was its potential. It was not living up to it yet, but it might someday.
“I’m looking for an experienced foreign correspondent,” he said, “to open a CBS office on the Continent. I can’t cover all of Europe from London. ”
It was the first good news I’d heard in months.
“Are you interested?” Murrow asked.
“Well, yes,” I said, trying to stem the surge I felt.
“How much have you been making?”
I told him.
“Good. We can pay you the same’to start with.”
I had hoped he might offer a little more—CBS and NBC paid good salaries, I had heard—but I said nothing. Tess and I could continue to live all right on $125 a week.
“Is it a deal?” he asked.
“I … I … guess so. This is all rather sudden.”
“No more for you than for me,” he said. “Anyway, welcome to CBS!”
We had a good dinner.
Murrow fired me with a feeling that we could go places in this newfangled radio business—that we might, in fact, be the first to steer radio into serious broadcasting of the news. But this exciting prospect was soon dashed.
Murrow needed a seasoned foreign correspondent. It was the first good news I’d heard in months.
After a week with him in London at the beginning of October, I confided to my diary: “One disappointing thing about the job, though: Murrow and I are not supposed to do any talking on the radio ourselves. New York wants us to hire newspaper correspondents for that. We just arrange broadcasts. Since I know as much about Europe as most newspaper correspondents, and a bit more than the younger ones, who lack foreign languages and background, I don’t get the point.”
The point CBS made, Murrow said, was that for us to do the reporting ourselves on the air would commit CBS editorially. Commit the network to what? It made no sense to me.
So much for radio journalism! I felt let down by Murrow and the CBS brass, led by William S. Paley, who owned and ran the network. And I had thought—Murrow had told me— I had been hired because of my knowledge and experience of Europe as a veteran foreign correspondent! But I swallowed my disappointment. I would stay on with this frustrating radio job until I could get back to newspaper reporting. Murrow himself, I quickly learned, would be a grand guy to work with. He was sensitive, serious, and intelligent, with a warmth behind his reserve and a droll sense of humor.
We laughed about concocting a title for me that would impress the state owned European broadcasting companies, whose facilities we would need, and came up with “Continental representative of CBS.” Murrow in London would be the CBS “European director. ” We discussed whether I should make my headquarters in Geneva or Vienna—it would have to be in a centrally located neutral country from which I could arrange broadcasts from all nations without censorship.
I knew Geneva from having covered the League of Nations and I did not particularly like the prospect of living and working there permanently: it was too stodgy. I preferred Vienna, which was cosmopolitan and more centrally located, with better transportation and communication facilities. It had special charm and cultivation, and it was Tess’s native city, where we had met, married, and started life together. Ed agreed with our choice, and the Shirers left for Vienna.
It was obvious those first months of our return to Austria that there was a ferment in that country that threatened to stir up all Europe.