- Historic Sites
“Good Evening, Everybody”
An Interview With Lowell Thomas
August/September 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 5
I don’t know. It just seemed natural. I wanted to be conversational. I was fortunate in being there right at the beginning of radio and then lucky to survive all those years. Even now, it’s hard to believe there was a time when one newsman had the airwaves of the entire world all to himself. Today I believe there are more than twenty thousand men and women handling news on the air. Also, radio suited me because I could get away occasionally and broadcast from here and there and everywhere. I also launched television news many years later, pioneered it for NBC in 1939. The timing on my radio news show may have been an important factor in its success, as explained in a piece of doggerel written as an epitaph for me by Cy Caldwell, a New York columnist:
Here lies the bird Who was heard By millions of people— Who were waiting to hear “Amos ’n’ Andy”
During all the years you occupied radio’s center stage, how did you manage to avoid becoming personally involved in controversy?
If you have a radio or TV news program, whether or not you include commentary, it’s impossible to avoid controversy. After I had been broadcasting the news for a year, I brought out a book to which I wanted to give the title Making Millions Mad. I had quickly discovered that my evening program was a perfect way to make listeners angry. You could step on millions of toes at the same time. The Literary Digest, my first radio sponsor, insisted that everything be played right down the middle, and when possible include both the pro and the con. Basically it was the way they played the game in their magazine, a formula that suited me perfectly. I thought it was the only way to play the role of observer. Let your listeners make up their own minds. Most of those who tuned in seemed to know this was what I was trying to do. Even so the mail swept down on us like an avalanche. My publisher, Funk & Wagnails, not liking my Making Millions Mad, gave it an innocuous title—Fan Mail.
What’s this about babies being named for you, and also some geographical places and even an L.T. museum?
In 1930, when I became involved in a daily news program, both on NBC and CBS, we began receiving letters from mothers who said they had named their infant sons for me. Often a picture would be included. Sixteen or seventeen years later, invitations came to attend their high school commencements—with some suggesting that I might like to provide college scholarships. We kept a file of these youngsters, and in later years I occasionally met some of them.
As for places named for me, the Tibetans who fled from their country named a school for me where they now live on the India side of the Himalayas. Joe Ryan, who developed a spectacular ski area in the Laurentians, named part of Mt. Tremblant for me because his first trip up the mountain had been with me. My friend Arctic explorer Admiral Donald MacMillan named an island for me off the north coast of Labrador. Also, Commander Finn Ronne gave my name to a mountain range in the Antarctic. I believe only one expedition has reached these mountains overland. It was led by a professor from the University of Wisconsin, who brought back pictures and a large stone from his base camp. The museum you refer to is in southwestern Ohio, where I share space with Annie Oakley, and General Mad Anthony Wayne. There’s a smaller one in the Cripple Creek district where I spent my youth. And an architect is working on still another at the University of Denver.
You mentioned that radio didn’t interfere with skiing, and I notice you’re a member of six—or is it seven—halls of fame? Four as a skier. You were instrumental in helping popularize the sport in this country?
If you have an unusual opportunity such as I had, talking to millions every day, and if for background you tell where you are and add a bit of local color, naturally many are grateful—especially if it helps them financially. For more than thirty years I did my news program from almost every ski area in North America, at my own expense—not paid for by my sponsor or the network. Alpine skiing was a new sport that didn’t emerge here until the early 1930’s, when an unusual young woman in New Hampshire, Katherine Peckett, hired the first four Austrian ski instructors. My son and I were in the first class, whereupon I became just about the number one U.S.A. ski enthusiast. I enjoyed it so much I wanted everyone to know that it was the most exhilarating, the most thrilling, the most fun, of all sports. This was obvious in my broadcasts. In fact, over the years this enthusiasm of mine cost me more than a million dollars. My being put in a number of ski halls of fame doesn’t mean I am in the same league as Jean-Claude Killy or Emile Allais. It’s not a tribute to my skiing technique.
What is it about skiing that attracts you?
Since I was a youngster I’ve felt at home in the mountains. Basically I’m an outdoor fellow, and to me Alpine skiing is the ultimate, a sport where you are really on your own, and where your problem changes every moment. You can think of nothing else when you go into action. I have done quite a bit of glacier skiing with my son in Alaska, and some of the same in Canada and New Zealand. It’s a thrill to land with an airplane on a mountain where no one has ever been.