Tag Archives: WWII

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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The temporary impact of Allied bombs on the ionosphere

Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post contributors including, Mike, Dan, Ron and Bob who all shared this article from the BBC World Service:

The bombs used by Allied forces during World War II were so large, they weakened the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The air raids turned towns to rubble and ash, but now new research shows shockwaves could be felt up to 1,000 km above the UK.

Chris Scott, from the University of Reading said: “I was absolutely astonished [when I found out].

“Each raid released the energy of at least 300 lightning strikes.”

It’s now hoped the research will give us a better understanding of how natural forces such as lightning, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes can affect Earth’s upper atmosphere.

[…]But Chris Scott admits “these were very temporary effects which heated the atmosphere very slightly.”

[…]Chris Scott said: “This [research] is really important if we’re going to understand the ionosphere as a whole.

“We know the ionosphere is controlled by solar activity but it varies much more than can currently be explained.”[…]

Click here to review the full article at the BBC World Service.

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Radio World features a tribute to the Zenith Transoceanic

Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post contributors who’ve shared a link to this excellent article by Denny Sanders in Radio World Magazine about the history of the Zenith Transoceanic:

Zenith Trans-Oceanic Radio in War and Peace

This iconic portable receiver was known for durability and quality

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Nothing proves this more than the story of how the iconic Zenith Trans-Oceanic portable radio receiver came into existence.

Commander Eugene McDonald (1886–1958), the founder of Zenith Radio, was a stickler for quality and insisted that any Zenith product represented cutting edge technology and design integrity.

He was also an accomplished yachtsman. During his many ocean voyages, he constantly was frustrated with the inability of any portable commercial radio set to perform reliably at sea. In about 1939, he ordered the Zenith R&D department to come up with a rock-solid, portable AM receiver sensitive enough to pull in signals from great distances. He insisted that the radio be a multi-band unit including shortwave, marine and aircraft bands.

The Zenith crew came up with a gem: the Trans-Oceanic, a gorgeous piece of engineering housed in a robust and dramatic cabinet designed by the brilliant Zenith industrial designer Robert Davol Budlong.[…]

Continue reading the full article at Radio World Magazine online.

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RSGB and WWII Voluntary Interceptors

(Source: Southgate ARC)

WWII role of the RSGB and Voluntary Interceptors

A new RSGB web page highlights the role of Voluntary Interceptors in the Second World War and the crucial involvement of the Society

At the outbreak of WWII in 1939 MI5 established a unit known as the Radio Security Service (RSS) to detect and monitor enemy radio transmissions. The RSGB were approached to help pick and recruit radio amateurs with advanced Morse skills. These volunteers became known as the Voluntary Interceptors.

Read the RSGB story at
http://rsgb.org/main/about-us/national-radio-centre-gb3rs/the-role-of-the-rsgb-and-voluntary-interceptors/

The former President of the Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society, Harry Heap G5HF (SK), was a Voluntary Interceptor, further information at
http://g0mwt.org.uk/society/g5hf-sk/g5hf.htm

Click here to read at the Southgate ARC.

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Wading River: WWII FBI covert radio station listed on the National Register of Historic Places

(Photo: Camp De Wolfe)

(Source: Riverhead Local via Mike Hansgen)

A house on the bluffs at Camp DeWolfe in Wading River, covertly used as an FBI radio transmission station during World War II to gather military intelligence, has been added to the state and national registers of historic places.

FBI radio operators impersonating German agents used the Wading River Radio Station to communicate with the German intelligence service, according to the site’s registration form with the National Register of Historic Places.

Information covertly gathered by agents at the radio station was critical to inspiring the United States’ development of an atomic bomb.

The station was also involved in the Operation “Bodyguard,” which used counterintelligence to confuse and mislead the Nazi government about the upcoming Allied invasion of Europe.

The radio station operated from 1942 to 1945.

[…]In January 1942, FBI engineers installed radio equipment in the house, hid a large antenna in the woods, and built a diesel-powered generator using an automobile engine to avoid local suspicion about electricity consumption at the house, which was far greater than what was then the norm due to the radio operations. An FBI agent assigned to manage the operation moved in with his family — and two or three radio operators. The first floor was maintained as the agent’s family home, while the second and third floors were used for the FBI operation, according to the national register registration narrative. They remained there for the duration of the war.

[…]The FBI had been looking for a spot to locate the transmission station for the spying operation and were attracted by the home’s cliffside location and the site’s remoteness. According to the national register registration document:

“By January 1942 [an FBI radio engineer] had stumbled upon the Owen House located in the tiny fishing and farming hamlet of Wading River, New York. Located eighty miles east of New York on Long Island’s North Fork the spacious three story building sat on a cliff bordered on one side by Long Island Sound and acres of dense trees on the other three sides, and the only approach to the station was a bumpy, rutted quarter mile path. Even by today’s standards the house is not easy to find. In 1942 it would have been nearly impossible.”

An FBI agent’s inquiry took the Owen family by surprise. They were sworn to secrecy.[…]

Click here to read the full article at the Riverhead Local.

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