Saturday, May 5, 2018

May 6 Radio History

➦In 1911...comedic actor Frank Nelson was born in Colorado Springs.

Moving to Hollywood in 1929 he soon became a leading man on numerous radio shows. Nelson began his entertainment career in radio and later moved into television and movies. In 1926, at age 15, Nelson played the role of a 30-year-old man in a radio series broadcast from the then-5,000-watt KOA-AM radio station serving the Denver, Colorado market. In 1929, Nelson moved to Hollywood, California and worked in local radio dramatic shows, usually playing the leading man.The first sponsored radio show he appeared in to reach a national market was Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel, a situation comedy radio show airing from November 28, 1932, and ending May 22, 1933, starring two of the Marx Brothers, Groucho and Chico, and written primarily by Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman.

Nelson found fame as the put-upon foil to Jack Benny on Benny's radio show during the 1940s and 1950s. He found fame playing an unctious clerk or customer service worker on Jack Benny’s NBC radio show, and later on the Benny and I Love Lucy TV shows on CBS.  He took the same over-the-top character to numerous other TV shows and commercials, as well as in voicing for cartoons.  He lost a years-long battle with cancer Sept 12 1986 at age 75.

Orson Welles
In Orson Welles was born in Kenosha Wisconsin. Besides his movie work, which began with the great Citizen Kane, Welles was a star of bigtime radio; his Mercury players produced The War of the Worlds and dozens of other hour-long dramas, many under the title ‘Campbell Playhouse’ on CBS. Other radio series starring Welles included The Shadow, Harry Lime, and The Black Museum.  He died following a heart attack Oct. 10 1985 at age 70.

➦In 1937...WLS-AM reporter Herb Morrison describes fiery disaster of zeppelin Hindenburg ("Oh, the humanity!") at Lakehurst, NJ.  Here's a corrected synch of Herb Morrison's recording of the event matched with footage from the Pathe newsreel and the Universal newsreel. Where film isn't available, pictures are substituted.

Some of radio's greatest moments are when the actual event occurs live on the air or while a reporter is recording and the unexpected happens. One such event happened to reporter Herb Morrison on May 6th, 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The mighty German passenger Zeppelin, Hindenburg, was attempting a mooring. The Hindenburg was one of Nazi Germany's finest airships. It was supposed to reflect the greatness of the German Reich and its leader, Adolf Hitler.

Herb Morrison
The airship had made this voyage before and friends and family were at Lakehurst waiting for the arrival of the great zeppelin. Reporter Herbert Morrison was there too thanks to his radio station, WLS, Chicago. The day was rainy and there had been strong thunderstorms earlier. Morrison was recording the event for later rebroadcast. The early part of his recording reflects information about the airship and the day and what is necessary to bring it into mooring under such conditions.

Engineer Charles Nehlsen was manning the Presto Direct Disc recorder. The recorder includes a large turntable with a 16-inch platter, a heavy-duty lathe, which would actually cut into the lacquer disc, and an amplifier. It was important that these recorders be perfectly level and that vibration be avoided. Ultimately, the complete broadcast would be recorded on four 16" Green label lacquer discs.

As the zeppelin arrives, listenMorrison is describing the mooring when suddenly it bursts into flames. Morrison is shocked, but keeps talking though breaking occasionally overcome by the tragedy unfolding in front of him. Later the broadcast continues after the tragedy as the victims are being brought in and survivors are interviewed.

An interesting side note is at the moment of explosion, when Morrison is heard yelling "It burst into flames!" the vibrations from the explosion caused the recorder to bounce on the disc creating deep grooves until Engineer Nehlson is able to momentarily lift the lathe from the disc and place it back down. The discs, which are contained at the National Archives reflect the grooves and the force of the explosion.

It was radio news at its finest; news events reported as they happened. The description is brought home to radio's listeners and we in turn grieve for the dead and injured. This event reflected the potential and power of radio broadcasting immediately before and, later, during World War II as the Murrow Boys and others would bring the war home to America via the airwaves.

While the event was not aired live, it did air later. In those days radio reporting of events was always broadcast live only since the networks had policies forbidding the use of recorded material except for sound effects. But Herbert Morrison, the reporter, was not there to report disaster and had no facility for broadcasting live. Instead, he was there at the behest of his radio station, WLS, Chicago, to record a report on the grand airship.

Later that day, Morrison and his sound engineer, Charlie Nehlsen left New Jersey with the transcription discs and headed back to Chicago. The morning after the disaster is when parts of the recording first aired over WLS. Logs of when it first appeared over NBC are not known to exist. It is known that at least five minutes of the recording did broadcast on May 7th at 11:38 AM in the New York area and over the Red Network. It was later in the day that the longer sections were played to a national audience. This was one of the few times that the networks allowed a recording of an event to be broadcast. (Radio Days)

➦In 1944...Fishers Blend radio stations KJR & KOMO in Seattle swapped frequencies.  KOMO was moved to 1000 kc where its power could be increased, while KJR, now at 950, was sold within two years.  With the new frequency, KOMO was broadcasting at 50,000 watts, sending its signal over several states.

➦In the final hours of WWII, the German radio announcer known as “Axis Sally” made her final propaganda broadcast to Allied troops.

➦In 1975...a ham radio group known as REACT acted early and their warnings kept casualties down to 3 deaths in a tornado that struck Omaha, Nebraska.

➦In 1996...the Howard Stern Radio Show debtued on WCCC-FM, Hartford, Connecticut.

➦In 2015…Veteran radio newsman/talk show host Ty Wansley died of congestive heart failure at 63.

Wansley began in broadcasting as a newscaster in the 1970's at two of St. Louis' powerhouse radio stations, KWK and KATZ. Following several prominent years in his native St. Louis, Wansley was wooed by Sheridan Broadcasting to become the National News Director of the Sheridan Network.

Following his successful stint at the helm of the Sheridan Network, Wansley returned to St. Louis to become National News Director of Amaturo Broadcasting; overseeing the news departments of radio stations in St. Louis,Miami, Houston, and Detroit. In 1979, Wansley moved up the broadcasting ladder as he traveled to Chicago, where he headed the news department of WBMX and WJPC radio.

In 1982, Wansley transcended the world of reporting and became a popular talk show host at WVON radio with his program,Tell Ty. The popularity of Tell Ty prompted WLS Radio to recruit TY to join the ABC talk show line-up , which evolved into the very unique talk-show tag-team of Ty and colorful politician and prominent attorney Edward R. Vrdolyak. Wansley and Vrdolyak enjoyed immense success on Chicago's ariwaves, which included a popular collaboration on WJJD-A.M.

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