Words at War: World War II Era Radio Drama and the Postwar Broadcasting Industry Blacklist

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Howard Blue. Words at War: World War II Era Radio Drama and the Postwar Broadcasting Industry Blacklist. Scarecrow Press, 2002. 406 pages; $34.95.

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In the 2003 world of instant, tactile communications, a McLuhan time frame where everyday parlance is laden with brightly coined electronic terms-E-mail, palm pilots, spam, gigabytes, cell (a back formation of cellular) phones, slamming, downloading, pixels-that allow large segments of the population, people who aggrandize their importance, status, and rank, to regularly pause, turn on miniaturized equipment, and check for messages hoping for the instant shot-in-the-arm gratification so necessary in American society. What happened? How did all of this come about? Why is everyone wired, waiting for that opportune moment, hoping that this is the day when their message will come in?

But, of course, this was not the scene in the late 1930s when only one form of communication-radio-satisfied the nation's need for quick information about events unraveling in faraway Europe, a continent caught up in territorial warfare and political brinkmanship. Here, on a daily basis, many Americans-sitting in their front rooms-listened woefully to the news blaring from their prized Atwater-Kents about the international conflict. Now, they realized, it would only be a matter of time before American boys would fight on foreign soil. Why wouldn't they? Each day, programmers reported the dismal facts about Nazi expansion, Italian duplicity, and, off in another part of the world, Japanese conquests. Here, on the eve of Pearl Harbor, the radio industry coalesced the nation with its twenty-four-hour coverage of troubled times.

Soon, the country's greatest fears became a stark reality and eventually American troops fought in virtually all corners of the world as the conflict took on unprecedented dimensions. Back on the Home Front, a cautious public listened intently to the war news as hundreds of stations blanketed the airwaves with ongoing coverage. For better or worse, radio had now become the medium that shaped the American mind. But how well did network radio succeed? Who were the principal players? What programs became household names? These are some of the questions that Howard Blue answers in his wonderful study, Words at War: World War II Era Radio Drama and the Postwar Broadcasting Industry Blacklist.

According to Mr. Blue, by the late 1930s, various radio dramatists were hard at work producing network plays that warned of the impending Nazi threat. …