Category Archives: Recordings

75 years ago today: “Christmas Eve at the Front,” a ground-breaking global broadcast

How would Christmas Eve at the Front have sounded on a radio back in 1943?  Something like this…


Christmas Eve, 1943:  America’s third in WWII.

On this day, exactly three-quarters of a century ago, America tuned into a special live broadcast that would not only engage American listeners, but also every major network in the US at the time: CBS, NBC, and Mutual Broadcasting Company.  The simulcast program, “Christmas at the Home Front,” starred troop entertainment veterans Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, as well as numerous others including screen actor Lionel Barrymore–also well-known for his regular portrayal of the miserly Scrooge in NBC’s annual radio drama “A Christmas Carol”–and featured an address by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This broadcast also included live audio feeds from North Africa, Italy, New Guinea, Guadalcanal, New Caledonia, China, India, Panama, Alaska, Pearl Harbor and even Navy ships in undisclosed locations. Keep in mind, this was 1943. These audio feeds weren’t carried over the Internet or a satellite network, they were shortwave radio signals from remote sites–signals that were bounced off of the ionosphere and back to the studios where they were incorporated in a live radio show.  No doubt, this holiday special required months of planning to orchestrate and perhaps even a leap of faith to execute.

Being something of a WWII radio buff, I’ve listened to this recording a few times in the past. And after receiving Bill’s message about it recently, I listened again; the audio obviously came from a recording at NBC studios, very pristine considering the recording’s age and the number of times it’s likely been copied or changed formats, but also with demarcated track switches, not exactly as it would have sounded on the air at the time.

Radio broadcast with entertainer Bob Hope, 1943. Source: Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress

So I did what any self-respecting radio geek would do: I fed the recording into an AM transmitter to recreate the sound as it might have played on American radios of the time, and made an off-air recording of the entire broadcast.

Hopefully now, with the help of this recording, you may be able to imagine what families on Christmas Eve in 1943, huddled around their radios, might have experienced as they strove to feel a little closer to loved ones serving in the war, while enjoying a little light entertainment and absorbing the latest message from their president.

But it’s also meaningful to note that times have certainly changed since 1943.  Without a doubt, it’s often easy to be lulled into a nostalgic appreciation of that time, and former times generally, made all the rosier by the present knowledge that the outcome of the war was, in many respects, favorable to us.  But those who know history know the truth: that war is hard, that our struggles both here and abroad were real, and that people died–as many as 85 million.  When the drama was over, the fallen did not rise again to play in another film; they were gone, forever.  This is the grim shadow that lies beneath the warmth of entertainment broadcasts like this one.

Fortunately, our civilization continues, and will always view the war and the political circumstances surrounding it through the fading glass of advancing time and hear it through the crackle of increasing distance.  And fortunately, our then-enemies are now among our strongest allies.  We have a diverse and international audience here at the SWLing Post, so I hope this recording is recognized for what it is: simply a moment in entertainment history that the passing of time allows us to enjoy, during a war the likes of which we hope never again casts such a shadow over us.  One such was enough.

Now sit back, close your eyes, and set your time machine’s dial back to Christmas Eve, 1943…

Imagine you’ve just turned on the family console radio, the frequency dial gradually warming with its familiar glow, and have tuned to your local NBC station; soon, the voices of well-known entertainers begin to fill the parlor and the rest of the household, their tasks or play momentarily abandoned, quietly join you there to listen…

Click here to download this recording.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bill Hemphill, who reminded me of this show recently when he shared this excellent feature article from the American Legion website

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Washington State’s Long-lost ‘Magic Radio’ Santa Gets New Life

This is what the announcer said at 4:30 p.m. one day about a week before Christmas 1950 over the airwaves of radio station KELA in Lewis County: “Yes, stand by for Santa Claus! The Beacon Store, Santa’s headquarters for southwest Washington, presents the most important radio program of the year, Santa’s very own. Santa’s Magic Radio! We’re going to take Santa’s Magic Radio and talk to Santa at his North Pole headquarters! So, stand by for Santa Claus!”

First of all, let me be very clear: I believe in Santa Claus. Second, I’m a sucker for grownups who do things to make the lives of kids more magical. When I was a little kid in the 1970s and was in my “doubting Santa” phase, I’d hear local and national media reports about NORAD tracking Santa’s sleigh, and my doubts were instantly – and permanently – erased.

Fast-forward about 40 years, and I learned this week that there were some grownups in Lewis County who did a pretty special thing every year to help Santa and local kids.

For about three weeks before Christmas, from sometime in the 1940s to sometime in the 1980s, radio station KELA in Centralia/Chehalis would use a “Magic Radio” to connect with Santa Claus at the North Pole for 15 minutes each day. With the swirling sounds of a blizzard in the background, and with help from a fast-talking elf named Tommy Tinker, Santa would read letters from local kids about what they wanted for Christmas.

Click here to read the full story at MyNorthwest.com, including a recording of the December 1950 broadcast

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

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From the Shortwave Archive: Radio South Africa (RSA) New Year’s call-in program 1977

Minolta DSC

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Tom Gavaras, who shares the following recording of Radio South Africa which was originally recorded on December 31, 1977 from his home in Plymouth, MN using a Hammarlund HQ-180.

Tom notes:

During the late 1970s, Radio South Africa (RSA) would broadcast a New Years call-in show. This recording is from 1/1/1978 (12/31/1977 in the US). At two minutes into the recording, you can hear the interval signal for RAI (Italy) in the background. I have scoped (edited) the music. Unsure how long RSA carried on this tradition, but heard a similar call-in broadcast the following year on 1/1/1979.

Click here to download this recording.

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Catching coastal shortwaves with the CC Skywave SSB

After Thanksgiving Day (here in the States) my family took a little camping trip on the coast of North Carolina. We spent a few nights near Holden Beach and Oak Island–some of my favorite parts of the NC coast.

Weather was splendid on Sunday, so we took a long walk on the beach and, of course, I packed a portable radio–this time, the CC Skywave SSB.

The Skywave SSB is a pricey portable, but it has certainly become my choice travel radio as it covers so many radio bands (AM/MW, FM, SW, AIR and WX). It’s also incredibly portable and can hang with the best in terms of sensitivity and selectivity.

I didn’t check propagations conditions on Sunday, but there were signals booming in from everywhere. I took a few short sample videos:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Being away from sources of radio interference and standing next to (and occasionally in—!) the Atlantic Ocean certainly helped a great deal with reception.

I had planned to put my Elecraft KX2 on the air while here, but simply didn’t have the time to fit it in with family activities.

Post readers: Do you have any radio vacations on the horizon?

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Shortwave Archive: 1979 Radio Moscow Mailbag Studio Recordings

If you’ve been a shortwave radio listener since the Cold War, you no doubt remember Radio Moscow‘s Mailbag program with Joe Adamov.

Tom Gavaras, a new contributor at the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive, recently shared a series of seven Radio Moscow studio recordings and noted:

These recordings were originally provided to me on reel-to-reel tape directly from Radio Moscow (which I dubbed to a cassette). At that time, I was program director at St. Cloud State University’s radio station KVSC-FM (St. Cloud, MN) and aired Moscow Mailbag once a week during the afternoon news block programming. Transcription shows from other shortwave stations were played on other weekday slots at the same time.

Here’s the first studio recording:

We’re publishing a new recording each week over at the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive. Click here to follow this series.

Many thanks, Tom, for sharing these excellent recordings!

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