Max Jordan

That many people, Max Jordaneven those in news broadcasting, have not heard of Max Jordan demonstrates the type of person he was. A somewhat unassuming man, yet excited by the world and world events around him, Max Jordan was one of broadcast journalism's pioneers.

Born in Wuerttemberg, Germany in 1895, his father was a chemist who soon worked with Eastman Kodak helping them open branches in Italy and Switzerland. Young Max got a taste of traveling in some of the cities of Europe; attended school in three different schools during this time and soon learned French, German, Italian and their sundry dialects. He attended High School in Stuttgart where he formed a world view of life. During the early part of the Great War, he attended Frankfort University as a student of Philosophy. After the war and during the height of the Weimar Republic, Jordan attended Jena University (he often contributed articles to various newspapers on events) where he received a Ph.D returning to Stuttgart with plans for an academic career. While there he became involved in democratic demonstrations for the Weimar government. His interests introduced him to many contacts who would later become valuable during his journalism period during World War II.

In the early 1920s after a trip to Italy for a press feature syndicate, he joined the staff of the Berliner Tageblatt, one of Germany's leading newspapers. In 1922, while working for the newspaper, he got wind that the Soviet Foreign Minister would be attending a conference in Genoa. This was the first event since the Russian revolution when a member of that government attended such conferences. Jordan was able to locate the Minister while he stopped in Berlin and interview him. His interview was front page news and his first scoop on the Soviet Union's plans for its place in the world at that time.

Germany in the late twenties and early thirties was in the midst of change and Max Jordan found events in post World War Europe fascinating. He turned this curiousity into an avocation by becoming a member of the print journalism club when he signed on with the International News Service, the Hearst Wire Agency. It was as an INS reporter that he watched and reported on the changing face of Europe especially Germany as the carefree twenties turned into depression. Jordan witnessed the fall of the Weimar Republic caused by a lack of faith by the German people and fueled by lack of interest by England and France, and the rise of National Socialism centered in one man, Adolph Hitler. In 1924, he was asked by Hearst if he would be interested in working full time for them and live in America to help establish a European service for the organization. Soon, this inquisitive man came to America as a young man. He fell in love with the United States and soon chose to become a citizen of his new country. His old newspaper hired him on as its foreign correspondent and he began traveling the country in search of stories. Leaving for a world tour in 1929, he had made many contacts including the National Broadcasting Company who had an office across from his in Washington, D.C.

In August, 1931, Jordan was engaged by the National Broadcasting Company to do some translation of a speech by the German president Hindenburg. After this he continued to act as NBC's primary German translator over the next few years.

Just as Europe was changing, so too was radio news. In 1934, Jordan left his print job with the INS and joined NBC as their European Representative. This made him responsible for providing subjects and persons to talk about European life including news events. His counterpart in England was Fred Bate. Over at the Columbia Broadcasting System Cesar Saerchinger was doing a similar job. Jordan had already established himself among the political elite. With his German background and command of language he soon placed NBC in the enviable postion as preferred American network. CBS's opinion of Hitler did not help; when Saerchinger had secured a 15 minute broadcast with Adolph Hitler, he was told to forget it as CBS did not want to give any forum to Herr Hitler. Goebbels, Hitler's press representative, did not forget this.

When Austrian Chancellor Englebert Dolfuss was assassinated in 1934, Jordan reported on the spot himself from the funeral rather than have someone else do the talking. Jordan's unique position at this time being a German native and one with a solid understanding of the political situation, he claimed that Dollfuss was a victim of the times having been abandoned "by the western democracies, [Dollfuss] had sought Mussolini's support, not knowing where else to turn." Jordan claimed that "it is certain that [Dollfuss] never meant to be a dictator.1" He was heard more and more often as the face of a changing Europe. In 1937, he scored a coup over CBS getting the scoop on Hitler's entry into Austria (Anschluss). William L. Shirer, Columbia's European Representative, had to fly to England to get on the air as he was not allowed to use the Austrian broadcast facilities. Jordan, on the other hand, had been good friends with Erich von Kunsti, who was head of the broadcasting house, but though under arrest, he steered Jordan to his pro-Nazi assistant Ehrenberg, who allowed him access to broadcast his report on the Anchluss. When the Big Four European powers (England, France, Germany and Italy) met in Munich to discuss the situation in the Czechoslovak Sudetenland, Jordan was there to cover the meeting. First reporting from the airport [Click for Sound] on September 27, 1938; then in the morning of September 29 [Click for Sound] on the final day; and again, when an agreement had been signed by the four powers giving the Sudetenland to Germany during the Munich Crisis, it was Jordan who was first on the air [Click for Sound] with the reading of the agreement that evening. In his book, Beyond All Fronts, he tells how he was able to succeed:

When we reached the police cordon, near the Brown House, Johnny [Schmidt Hansen of German radio] showed his credentials mumbling "Rundfunk." It was like a magic password taking care of both of us. We slipped by the main entrance of the building and arrived at the back door which allowed direct access to the radio room under the roof.

Once I was inside I had no trouble finding my way through the maze of corridors right into the main lobby. There, behind closed doors, the meeting of the Big Four was in progress.

Max Jordan broadcasts from the Zepellin HindenburgHe was also onboard an earlier flight of the German Airship Hindenburg on its maiden flight to the U.S. He was allowed to make a special shortwave broadcast from the airship. Rev. Paul Schulte was on board and celebrated Mass from the ship while Jordan served the Mass.

While recording world events on the continent, Jordan had a stronger interest in the religious. By the time America entered the war, he had become NBC's Director of Religious Affairs. And later after the war, his interest in religion had increased even more when he left broadcasting altogether and became a Benedictine priest living in Beuron Abbey in Germany under the name of Fr. Placid Jordan O.S.B. He died in Illgua, Switzerland on November 28, 1977 in the role he most loved. Yet despite his retreat to obscurity, Jordan will always be a significant figure in broadcast journalism.


McLeod, Elizabeth: Max Jordan, NBC's Forgotten Pioneer, Web Page
Kendrick, Alexander, Prime Time: The Life of Edward R. Murrow, Little, Brown, New York, 1969
1 Jordan, Max, Beyond All Fronts: A Bystander's Notes on This Thirty Years War. The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, 1944