August 5, 2016

1944. CBS News on D-Day

The Columbia Broadcasting System on D-Day
Members of Edward R. Murrow's team of war correspondents, London 1944. From left to right: Richard C. Hottelet, Gene Ryder, Bill Downs, Charles Collingwood, Charles Shaw
From a CBS advertisement in The New Yorker, June 17, 1944, p. 40:

LISTEN: June 17, 1944
100 hours before the dawn of D-Day, Edward R. Murrow flew over the Calais beach and made the first broadcast from a bomber over Festung Europa.

Then came midnight June 5 in New York, 6 a.m., June 6 in London. Charles Collingwood was carrying a wire recorder to an LST bound across the Channel. Richard Hottelet was in a Marauder in the first air wave. Larry LeSueur and Bill Downs were marching with the Allied ground forces.

In the CBS world-news room in New York and at 12:37 a.m. Ned Calmer broadcast an AP eavesdrop from Germany that the Allies were on the move, repeated it every half hour until 3, warning listeners to doubt the Krauts bearing news. At 3:17 Bob Trout unlocked a new secret cupboard in Studio 9, yanked down a hand-microphone with a long tail of wire, flipped a switch that put him on the air to the whole U.S., and moved into the news-ticker with the mike, reading aloud swiftly and steadily from the rapid fire of ticker-news pouring in. Paul White, CBS news chief, warned Trout to expect an important announcement at 3:30. At 3:32 Eisenhower's first communiqué broke directly into the network by short wave from London. The invasion was on.

Major George Fielding Eliot took over to analyze the communiqué. At 3:39 Murrow spoke from London; at 4, CBS broadcast General Eisenhower's recorded alarm to the invaded peoples—followed by the King of Norway's speech to his people underground—then the Prime Minister of the Netherlands; then the Prime Minister of Belgium. Back and forth over the Atlantic the broadcasts erupted; at 5:14 CBS' Richard Hottelet, now back on the ground after his Marauder flight, told his story from London. The 4 major networks were pooling their English broadcasts to America, so the CBS frontliners were augmented by such competent colleagues as Bryan, Vandercook, Anderson, Mann, and the top BBC men. At 5:45 CBS switched to the seething Pentagon in Washington, then back to Supreme Headquarters in London, back to New York for Trout and Eliot once more, back to London for Charles Shaw, to Washington again . . .

Newspapers were dated 5 o'clock that morning—by 5 o'clock CBS had already issued 4 hours, 23 minutes of a constant stream of invasion news and analysis, as the 141 CBS stations across America "lighted up." The stream swelled. On came Ned Calmer again, Major Eliot, Charles Collingwood's wire-recording of his LST shoving off. Bill Henry, Col. Morrison, Quentin Reynolds—one after another—spelled it out until at 10:00—after more than 9 hours of steady news, the first regular program came on the CBS air. A few more followed, but were soon erased by more news. About 11 the CBS monitor heard BBC warn that General De Gaulle would speak at 11:30. America heard him over CBS only, with a running-translation interpolated. At 3, CBS brought King George's prayer. London had promised a second communiqué for the U.S. "pool" at 5:30, but an overseas mix-up had put the communiqué on the news-wires and the BBC air ahead of U.S. radio. So Quincy Howe analyzed it, ad lib, as the ticker version was torn off and handed to him at the microphone at 6:11.

You've now read a fraction of the salients of the most critical day in the history of the world, noted in the little room where history channels to our nation . . . The President prayed at 10 . . . Then Murrow's voice again, through heavy static ". . . the sound of a giant factory in the sky . . . 8,000 tons of bombs . . . people went about their business calmly." Other voices: ". . . the first wounded have come back, and they smiled . . ." John Daly's clipped summaries. William L. Shirer's soft, piercing observations. Then toward midnight Quentin Reynolds' moving personal sketch of Montgomery the man, and his new American uniform . . .

And on the window-sill a thick paper book, bearing the title "Liberating a Continent; Index to Invasion" published by the British Information Services. On the cover of the book there was an empty coffee-glass, and a good deal of dust. That acrid smell on the east wind was cordite.

This is CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System.