THE FOOTE FILES (CBSDFW.COM) — As tensions in Europe began to increase during the 1930s, a disastrous event took place on May 6, 1937 in New Jersey, and radio was there to cover it for Americans.
The Hindenburg was a German passenger airship that was navigating from Germany to the U.S. It carried 36 passengers and 61 crew members. It took off from Frankfurt en route to the U.S.
During its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, the ship caught fire and was destroyed. All told, 35 people died. There was one ground fatality as well.
Commercial radio had come a long way by now since it became a reliable medium for the public to obtain news and information going back to 1920. There were numerous news crews covering the landing of the Hindenburg, both in extensive photographs and filmed newsreels. But one of the most famous reports came from reporter Herbert Morrison at WLS/Chicago.
Morrison was filing an on-the-spot eyewitness radio report for the station which was broadcast the next day. Part of his broadcast was later dubbed onto silent newsreel footage. Those companies shooting footage included Pathe’ News, Movietone News, Hearst News Of The Day and Paramount News.
WLS’s call letters stood for “World’s Largest Store” since it had been owned at one time by the Sears Roebuck & Co. department store chain (most people today would know WLS for being a #1 top 40 station under ABC ownership during the 60s and 70s, and today it has a news/talk format under Cumulus Media).
It eventually became a 50,000 watt AM station with a non-directional signal day and night, so people within 750 miles of its antenna could pick the station up from far away, along with WGN and WBBM Radio there.
Morrison’s reporting on this event is absolutely stunning to listen to. A great example of radio serving their listeners and the public with important information during times of emergencies, as well as doing what it does best — being a medium of the mind.
Enjoy this recording of Morrison’s report.