Radio Reactions

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As a collector of old radio broadcasts, I read with pleasure “Radio Grows Up.” Afterward I replayed my four reels of CBS “News of the World” broadcasts from late August to November 1939.

What strikes the listener now are the haunting reports from William L. Shirer in Berlin. There he was, beset by obvious censorship, still trying to tell America the mood and nature of the Nazi beast. In mid-September, Shirer, back from the Eastern front, tried to drop hints, underline rumors, venture reports on the imminent fate of the Polish Jews. If millions heard, no one listened.

By contrast, Edward Murrow, based in London, was still echoing the words of the government—a kind of British standoffishness he didn’t shed until the bombing of Britain. Eric Sevareid, broadcasting from Paris, was also learning on the job. Paris was not a place to be in 1939. There were rumors, occasional border skirmishes, and little else.

Except for Shirer’s warnings, the broadcasts offer few insights into the early days of the war, but they are a fascinating reminder of times and events long since gone.