Sunday, January 18, 2009

Radio Memories: Coming Home

It’s Sunday, the new home for our weekly Radio Memories series, where we take a respite from current events in order to renew our connection to our past, by listening to the diminishing echoes of a time gone by.

For several decades, radio gave its audience a serving of plays to entertain the ear, exercising the imagination of a generation of homes. And inadvertently captured a people and their world in audio amber.

This week we present a show where such results were not so inadvertent...

Our offering was first broadcast on May 18, 1951. Unlike our previous entries, it’s not a radio play, but a news program: Hear It Now. Innovative for its day, this brainchild of veteran radio newsman Edward R. Murrow (now returning to our cultural radar screens through a recent film) had a gimmick that made it different than other news broadcasts of the same period, where past events would be recounted by reporters reading from a script: Hear It Now presents the newsmakers themselves, as well as news events, recorded and replayed for the audience at home, so that they can “hear it, now”.

I see that the Wikipedia entry for the show seems to only discuss the very first episode from 1950, which doesn’t exactly do the rest of the series justice. Hear It Now evolved as it went along, getting better as they kept trying to top the efforts of the week before.

While Hear It Now improved, the format, however, remained the same. Like a news magazine, then and now, some smaller “human interest” stories follow the Headline stories that are addressed up front; here the headline story is the Korean War, and in particular the controversy engendered by President Harry Truman over the dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur. Many of the Hear It Now episodes were produced smack in the middle of this contentious decision, and feature a tremendous feast of speeches and interviews giving one side and then the other of this half-remembered chapter of American political and military history.

This week’s particular broadcast, however, is selected because of its memorable second half, the concluding story that starts at approximately 36 minutes into the hour-long program. We get to follow a captain coming home from the Korean War, seeing his 6-month old son for the very first time, and trying to fit in to a world that kept spinning during his long absence. It’s the most arresting moment in the whole Hear It Now series, as far as I’m concerned. There aren’t many unscripted recordings of such slices of family life that have survived from almost sixty years ago; these candid glimpses into how America welcomed its returning Korean War veterans make us regret the rarity of these recordings all the more.

The Hear It Now series was short-lived, thanks to television; a video version of the same program idea, called See It Now, was launched later in 1951, and that spelt the end of the half-novelty of merely listening to stories in the news… the audience could finally see them at home, as well.

Still, there's something to be said for letting the audience get to fill in for ourselves the mental picture of an older mother's pleasure at holding her son again, a father's excitement from seeing his first child, a wife's relief at having her husband returned to her safe and sound, a neighborhood's pride in welcoming home their returning hero, and more... I can just begin to see all that as clearly in my mind as I might have on a television screen, and smile in the way that our imagination stirs us to do, courtesy of these radio memories of what it meant to Come Home:

Recent Radio Memories posts:

Escape: Vanishing Lady

Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful radio broadcast. Amazing that recordings like this still exsist.

Charles Henry said...

There's a pretty sizeable number of news broadcasts that have been saved. But it comes down to people reading copy; interesting, but so much less so that the unscripted interviews on several programs like Meet The Press (which started as a radio show in the 1940s), where the whole point was that the dialog would be spontaneous, not scripted.

So many of these discussion and interview programs were made, and yet not preserved. Just enough survived to give us a sense of the scope of what's been lost...

Listening in to the conversations of decades ago really gives us an understanding of these major historical figures in a way that a biography, or recordings of just the Big Speeches, do not.

Anonymous said...

In this remarkable radio broadcast we hear a captain coming home from the Korean War in 1951.

For anyone who has not gotten their fill of radio yet, in relation to some current topics discussed on this blog, here is a link to another interesting radio broadcast from Israel of an interview with an Israeli IDF soldier coming home from a week of combat in Gaza. Among other topics discussed, his depictions of combat with an enemy who is actively trying to maximize civilian death, and the cynical use of civilian children, are mind blowing.