Saturday, December 07, 2019


The USS Arizona on Dec 7, 1941
It was a Sunday.

The weather was clear and cold with temperatures around New York in the 30s.

Maybe you went to church that day or were working around the house or making Sunday dinner.

Maybe you were reading the newspaper.

You had plenty of choices: The Daily News, the Post, the Times. Of course. But, more, you had the World-Telegram and the Journal-American and the Brooklyn Eagle and the Herald Tribune.

In the suburbs, you might have had the Peekskill Star and the Poughkeepsie Journal and the Patent Trader and the Reporter Dispatch.

And others.

Radio was the primary electronic entertainment. The Jello-O Program Starring Jack Benny was one of the dominant programs, heard on NBC Sunday nights at 7:00 p.m.

Fibber McGee & Molly was the top show of the day, with Bob Hope, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, and Red Skelton nudging Benny and his antics out of the top five.

Suspicion with Cary Grant, directed by Alfred Hitchock, was probably in a movie theater nearby.

"Chattanooga Choo Choo" by Glenn Miller was the number one song.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the New York Giants. Not in baseball, but football at the Polo Grounds.

It was December 7, 1941.

The smell of war had hovered in the air for a few years. Europe was fully engaged in combat from the late 1930s, and Japan was kicking the tires on difficulties with the United States.

But we had no idea. Twitter wasn't speculating on trouble. No Facebook status suggested what was about to happen. TV was in its infancy.

And so, unless you were in Hawaii, and could listen to the radio there, you knew nothing until 2:26 p.m. That's when the Mutual Broadcasting System interrupted (on WOR in New York) the Giants/Dodgers game with an announcement of an attack on Pearl Harbor, and that was because a statement had come out from the White House.

The attack had actually begun one hour and thirty-one minutes earlier.

Radio, so far known as a vehicle for entertainment and commentary, was now being whisked into news.

The blinders had been taken off, just as they would on TV 22 years later as John F. Kennedy was dying in Dallas.

At approximately the same time, NBC -- the owner of two radio networks (the Red and the Blue) -- broke in on NBC Red. Sammy Kaye's show was on at the time. NBC Blue stopped National Vespers, while Columbia -- CBS -- interrupted the New York Philharmonic.

John Daly, who would later host the very popular What's My Line game show later on, presided at the mic on CBS. Mutual could lean on a staff that included Gabriel Heatter. On NBC, the esteemed Lowell Thomas presided, along with H.V. Kaltenborn and Walter Winchell.

And back on CBS, there was one name. The name. Perhaps the very godfather of electronic media news: Edward R. Murrow.

They'd all be heard from.

At 3:15, on NBC Red, Kaltenborn opened his commentary by saying, "Japan has made war upon the United States without declaring it."

That was a point that could not be debated.

At 4:06 p.m., an unnamed reporter on NBC Red working for KGU delivered the chilling eyewitness report. In the middle of the report, he says, "It is no joke. It is a real war."

He would also be "cut off" by an operator interrupting him. There were a few reporters cut off on the day, likely by the U.S. Government.

I honestly can't even imagine the fear that must have been prevalent that day as people lurched towards their radios for more information.

The next day, of course, President Roosevelt asked for, and received a declaration of war against Japan in the famous, "Date Which Will Live in Infamy" speech.

It was drilled in my head, and the heads of my siblings, that we were never to forget Pearl Harbor and to honor the 2,403 Americans killed that morning, including 65 civilians. The USS Arizona alone lost 1,177 men.

Visiting the memorial has long been a goal.

We've been taught to "Never forget" Sep 11, 2001 and for good reason, of course.

But, please, never forget Dec 7, 1941. Never forget the horror and loss of life.

And, in some small way, please tip a fedora to those who brought the information to you via the printed word and on the radio.

Many of the audio I mentioned can be found in this wonderful collection of radio news from 1941 on

I encourage you to follow the links that I've posted here to listen to these historic pieces of audio.

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