Pioneer Who Shaped Broadcast's World

Feb 12, 2020

Senator_Joseph_R._McCarthy_ca._1954 U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., claimed to have discovered scores of communists and communist sympathizers working in the federal government and military.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

Hi, I’m Valerie Mendoza talking to you from Topeka about Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism by Bob Edwards. One of the selections for this season’s theme of Radio Waves. 

So, I’m a history geek and had heard of Edward R. Murrow who was a journalist famous for bringing down former Senator from Wisconsin Eugene McCarthy during the 1950s. At the time McCarthy was capitalizing on the fear of communism and accusing many people, without evidence, of being communists. His slanderous statements ruined careers and caused people to be fired, inform on one another based on scanty evidence, and in general created fear. The public in general and government officials eschewed standing up to  McCarthy for fear of being labeled a communist and thus losing their reputations and livelihood. The country was paralyzed as no one would stand up to him--until Murrow did so. Murrow brought down McCarthy and his fear mongering through news reporting on his television show See It Now

Murrow used McCarthy’s own words and speeches to show how the Senator played fast and loose with the truth and twisted facts for his own gain to create a culture of fear. As Edwards writes, quoting Murrow’s now-famous broadcast, “the line between investigation and persecuting is a very fine one, and the junior senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind between the internal and the external threat of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.”

One of the things I really like about Edward’s book is his reproduction of lengthy Murrow quotes from his recordings. But Edwards went beyond talking about Murrow and McCarthy. 

I learned that Murrow participated in radio before migrating to tv and not only that, but he pioneered radio journalism. Edwards recounts how Murrow established radio as a vital source of news and brought World War II into the homes of Americans via live radio reporting. He opens the book with an extended excerpt of Murrow’s account of the German blitz on London in 1940. 

“I’m standing on a rooftop looking out over London. At the moment everything is quiet. .Off to my left, far away in the distance, I can see just that faint-red, angry snap of antiaircraft bursts against the steel-blue sky, but the guns are so far away that it’s impossible to hear them from this location. . .searchlights spring up over on my right. I think probably in a minute we shall have the sound of guns in the immediate vicinity. . .You’ll hear two explosions. There they are!”

Murrow earned great respect through his war reporting and when he returned to the states after the war was over, he resumed a prestigious radio career that he later parlayed into a television career. In this new medium of tv, he, too, pioneered the news broadcast.

However, it was learning of Murrow’s war reporting via radio that caught my attention. It brought to mind today’s podcasts and how listening (as opposed to watching) has once again gained favor. And how through listening words and sound gain prominence over images. 

I’m not a big podcast listener, but I see the virtues of it. Help me out fellow Radio Readers, what podcasts should I listen to? Let me know on our Facebook page HPPR Radio Readers.

I’m Valerie Mendoza and I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you.