World War II on the radio

At the lake I listened to the radio a lot. I got to know all the characters in all the soap operas: Ma Perkins, The Guiding Light, Our Gal Sunday. At eleven o’clock, “It’s high noon in N’Yawk, and time f’Kate Smith.”

Kate Smith, the original ‘singing fat lady’ (“It aint over until the fat lady sings”, i.e. God Bless America at the end of the baseball game) had a half hour show at noon eastern time, and also had a half hour on Sunday evenings. The whole nation tuned her in for her last song every Sunday, ‘God Bless America’.

What I really waited for, on the radio, were scratchy short-wave correspondents’ reports from the war zones. They couldn’t tell much, the reports were heavily censored, but we wanted to hear whatever we could.

In the evenings the stations broadcast dramatic, sanitized, dramas depicting battles that had taken place. These were certainly fanciful, but it brought the war home to me.

One Sunday evening, CBS announcer Bob Trout broke into a radio program to announce that “we have a report that Japan has just surrendered”, followed by the phrase ‘hold that wire’ on the teletype. The network stayed with the newsroom, waiting for clarification, but none came. Later it was declared a hoax, but no further information was ever forthcoming.

I listened, rapt, to reports of the Sicily invasion, the shelling of Italy from Sicily with the ‘Long Tom’ guns, and later, the invasion of Italy itself. Newspapers had huge headlines announcing the surrender of Italy’s government, followed by shocking pictures of Benito Mussolini, strung up by his heels and being spat upon.

Then, one morning, the radio station announced that the Allies had invaded Normandy. All programming was cut off: no soap operas that day. The station only played music while waiting for reports from the invasion. The only real scrap of further news was that the Allies had secured a beachhead “ten miles wide and twelve miles deep.”

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