Jeff Kallman's excellent The Easy Ace: A Journal of Classic Radio
is a wonderful place to spend hours on end, rediscovering the Golden Age of Radio
as it's meant to be discovered and celebrated. Article after article
is filled with a wonderful new vignette about Golden Age Radio History.
---The Digital Deli Online.

[I]n his matchless on-this-day approach to chronicling “yesteryear,”
he easily aces out a less organized mind like mine,
which promptly lapsed into a more idiosyncratic mode of relating the past.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A News Editor

On television, the longtime anchor of Douglas Edwards with the News (the predecessor of The CBS Evening News) resembled an overworked businessman taking a break to read the newspaper for the second half of his half-hour dinner break. On radio, the almost-eternal anchor of The World Tonight sounded exactly the way he didn’t on camera: a solid, no-nonsense, and reliable news editor.

Until he retired in 1988, you had an easy time thinking Douglas Edwards was born somewhere inside a CBS facility. By retirement time he seemed as much a ghost as a working journalist, but perhaps that was just the memory of his television years at play. He was pleasant looking and lacked the ominous dramatic voice, and he wasn’t exactly of the Murrow school as a phrasemaker; it didn’t necessarily sound as though the fate of the free world hung in the balance of what he did or didn’t say about it.

Edwards did have a rather full schedule even if you didn’t factor Douglas Edwards with the News. He hosted television’s Masquerade Party from 1952-58 and Armstrong Circle Theater from 1957-61; he even kicked off the daily radio soap Wendy Warren and the News by reading a couple of minutes of news before handing off to the title heroine.

But at least when Douglas Edwards with the News signed off every night, you weren’t tempted to make fun of him signing off. You saved that for John Cameron Swayze and his signoff after hopscotching around the world (well, a map) for Camel News Caravan headlines: “That’s the story, folks—glad we could get together.” Eba-dee, eba-dee, eba-dee, eba-that’s all, folks!

You can read no few histories of CBS News and conclude that Edwards had all the urgency of a bowl of bland oatmeal. Particularly when those rapscallions Huntley and Brinkley finally bumped themselves right past Edwards. A jack-of-all-trades who seemed to squeeze in the news can withstand only so long the onslaught of full-time Serious News in a package of wit, Beethoven’s ninth, and good night David, good night Chet kisses.

Radio was Edwards’s seat and meat. (He even landed a Peabody Award to prove it, thanks to his impeccable spot report from a small plane overflying the sinking Andrea Doria.) He sounded precisely as he really was, a solid reporter turned news editor knowing just which weight to apply to which stories, and knowing equally when to get the hell out of their way and let them speak for themselves.

Edwards was sober and magnificent at 9 a.m. Eastern War Time, 6 June 1944, signing on for CBS World News and striding right into “the last-minute details” of D-Day’s launch in northern France.

Allied air reconnaissance fliers have returned to the scene of a battle which began on the northern French coastline early this morning to report that several beachheads have now been established. Allied forces are splashing their way inland from these beachheads, according to reconnaissance photos. At the same time, Allied parachute troops dropped behind the enemy lines last month are disrupting enemy defence systems and waiting to join forces with the troops pouring ashore on the beaches.

Prime Minister [Winston] Churchill told [the House of] Commons that more than four thousand ships, together with many thousand smaller craft, are transporting the invasion force across the channel. Churchill declared that the invasion is proceeding, and we quote, according to a plan---and what a plan.

At Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, it’s reported that German destroyers and U-boats are rushing into the operational area off the northern coast of France, and no doubt are being dealt with by the Allies. Incidentally, the initials of these headquarters are SHAEF. And you’re going to get mighty familiar with them.

An Allied military commentator at SHAEF declared this morning that H hour for the invasion ranged from six to eight a.m. European time. Another report from that same source revealed that American battleships are supporting the Allied landing, with United States Coast Guard units also participating in the operation.

The British bombing command send more than thirteen hundred of its heaviest bombers roaring across the channel last night, and this morning, for a saturation attack on the invasion area.

And now, here are some last-minute bulletins: Allied troops have landed on the channel islands of Guernsey and Jersey, according to a German broadcast. The same enemy source says Allied tanks have landed midway between Cherbourg and Lahava, but that the greatest concentrations of landing craft have been observed off the two ports themselves. Earlier enemy broadcasts said Cannes was the focal point of the entire attack, and that the drive inland is aimed at the city of Paris.

And, just a few moments ago, this news came from Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces: Casualties among Allied airborne troops on France have been light. We’ll repeat that, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces: Casualties among Allied airborne troops on France have been light.

Edwards then quoted Franklin Roosevelt’s comment, four hours before German radio announcements of the invasion, that the fall of Rome to the Allies “came at an opportune time” for D-Day’s launch, followed by a brief prayer from the president for the success of the troops making the invasion. After which Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander, hit the air to speak to western European people about what was about to begin, with Edwards quoting Eisenhower’s announcement and warning against “preliminary uprisings” before the orders for “great battles ahead” could be given.

From there, Edwards recapped dispatches from pool correspondents Richard C. Hottelet (from London; a remarkable item from that moment between preparation and launch, and from his flight aboard “a British marauder” as it joined the early rounds of the invasion), Herbert N. Clark (via a Combined American Networks pool, on how the Nazis were likely outguessed as to where the invasion might begin: “The master race has fallen down again”), James Willard (also via CAN, on the thousands of Allied aircraft working the night before “softening up” the invasion coast), Wright Bryan (reporting “scattered, small-arms fire from the field” greeting one early flight of Allied paratroops, as well as an Eisenhower visit to their camp the day before), and Stanley Richardson (an eyewitness, shipboard account of naval action opening the paths to the landings: “It was all too incredibly easy”).

After reviewing the bristling overnight newsroom activity (CBS’s Ned Calmer airing an Associated Press dispatch on a German announcement of the invasion’s beginning, though emphasising it was an unconfirmed enemy statement), Edwards made room enough for a quiet reminder that, D-Day though it was, there was still business at hand on the flip side of the planet. A young girl in London told CBS’s Charles Shaw (“he practically was town crier for the city . . . which was largely unaware in the early morning that the invasion had begun”), “Thank God.” Japanese radio in a German language broadcast beamed to Europe expected the landers would be “quickly annihilated by the courageous German army.” Australian radio gave invasion news “the right of way . . . but there’s not much external excitement.”

Here in our own country, reaction from coast to coast was similar. People kept on working overnight shifts in shipyards and other factories, and went to work as usual this morning. But everyone seems to be more serious, and many stopped in their tasks long enough to offer prayer for the success of the Allied effort.

Perhaps most dramatic of all was the ringing of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. The ancient bell was struck six times, as Philadelphia’s mayor Bernard Samuels read the famous inscription, ‘Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.’

And what of reaction in the heart of the Axis?

Well, German propagandists asserted today that, despite the invasion of Western Europe, life continued normal in Berlin, no excitement, no additions, no special radio announcement. But a part of these assertions, obviously, were rather false. From the time of the first landings, a constant stream of broadcasts came from the German transmitters, many of them carrying more than an indication that Hitler’s defences along the western coast had been caught napping.

Edwards was no less flappable eight months later, anchoring CBS World News Today around a series of reports from Corregidor, Guam, Iwo Jima, and Europe. MacArthur struck toward Manila, Nimitz eyed Tokyo and Yokohama, Montgomery eyed the knockout blow in central Europe, and the First Ukrainian Army had two German cities under its shells.

Then came the handoffs, to Charles Collingwood from Paris (the U.S. Third Army and the First Canadian Army’s remarkable, arduous push to the Siegfried Line), Bill Downs in Belgium (with the U.S. First Army, halted in heavy rain, quoting a coffee-sipping GI, “What are those guys out in the Philippines going to think of us, if this keeps up?” and observing, “Simply standing in a chow line is almost becoming an amphibious operation”—before reporting German replenishment aimed at an anticipated major battle west of Cologne), Eric Sevareid (following a commercial for Admiral refrigerators; in London, from Parliament, where members were likely to ask after the protocols for an unconditional German surrender and dismantling of the Nazi military and political-economic administration), and Tim Lenhert (from Pearl Harbour, monitoring Pacific dispatches, interviewing an Army Air Force B-29 radio operator on missions over Tokyo and Iwo Jima: “They have learned that our firepower is quite effective, and more than a match for theirs”).

It’s probably unfair to compare a latter-day The World Tonight with a serving of the 1940s or 1950s. The elder Douglas Edwards didn’t have Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, Richard C. Hotlette, Bill Downs, and the others to hand off. But he still had his surety. Fox News likes to say of itself, “We report. You decide.” Rest assured that those who passed that suggestion had to have heard Edwards on the radio at least once.

If anyone deserves to have the last laugh, Edwards is he. He had to be dragged to television something just short of kicking and screaming, fearing television was destined to be a dead end. He was right only in regard to the high profile of his television life (he spent years doing a five-minute midday television news update).

But it’s also something of a shame that Edwards went to his reward sixteen years ago. As of 4 November, the evidence of his radio rightness will include Edwards’s induction into the Radio Hall of Fame.


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