How's this for an introduction: Our countdown to Christmas continues tonight with one of the most remarkable radio performances ever mounted during the 1940s.
There's a bittersweet touch to tonight's special two-hour Christmas Eve extravaganza. It's from a radio series that was never intended to be heard by civilian audiences; it was not carried over regular network radio, but created especially for the Armed Forces Radio Network, aimed at service men and women stationed around the world, away from home and family.
The show is called "Command Performance", and was normally a weekly half-hour series based around a deliberaly loose format where servicemen would write in requests for stars and subject matter, duly answered by virtually every star ever asked to participate... which they would do for free. The Christmas Command Performance broadcasts tended to pull out all the stops in order to raise the morale of the troops at this especially sensitive time, each year surpassing the previous offering, leading up to this Christmas Day broadcast from 1944, one of the most high-powered, star-filled broadcasts probably ever attempted. Featuring a "who's who" of radio, cinema and music, under the guiding hand of host Bob Hope, just coming into what became a lifetime habit of performing for US troops at Christmas time.
As you listen to the broadcast (here reproduced in two parts, hour one and hour two), think of the original target audience: lonely desk clerks in far-off bases, filling out forms far from home, sailors crowded around their radio, on convoy duty in the Atlantic or patrolling the Pacific, pilots tuning in to pass the time over their sometimes long flights from one base to another... from the Aleutians to Australia, London to Cairo, Sicily to Burma, alone or in groups, tuning in to get a refreshing and renewing piece of home. I wonder if there might become a 21st Century entertainment industry equally devoted to helping those fighting for freedom..
I know that two-hours is a long time; since it's Christmas Eve, chances are that you are spending the night with family, and therefore wouldn't be reading this post for a few days anyway... and if you're not with family, you probably have the time to spare, and might even welcome the distraction... just like those lonely, homesick men and women whose service and sacrifice are being honored in this broadcast.