H.V. Kaltenborn's radio career goes back to April 21, 1921 when he addressed the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce while speaking from an experimental station in Newark, N.J. The group had assembled there to see the new invention of radio. A year later on April 4, 1922, he made the first of what later became a regular series of radio talks on current events. Kaltenborn called them the "first spoken editorials ever heard by a radio audience." He joined CBS in 1930 as a regular weekly news commentator.
When he was twenty years old, he left home and joined up to fight in the Spanish-American War. While in the service, he was providing stories for his home newspaper, the Merrill (Wisconson) Advocate. After he mustered out, he decided to spend some time in Europe, returning because his father was dying. When his father died before he arrived back in the United States, he decided to try to become a "big city journalist" and took a job with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. While there, he soon began writing stories about New York City Hall and its politics. He was learning the basics of political reporting. Soon, however, at twenty-four, he left the Eagle to go to college enrolling as a special student at Harvard. Even while studying, he continued to provide stories for the Eagle and the New York Post. Having met his future wife, Olga, on the steamer ship returning to the U.S., while overseas working for one of his Harvard professors, he decided to save as much money to prepare for marriage, and upon graduation, worked as a tutor for Vincent Astor, the son of John Jacob Astor. When he finished, he return to the Eagle, which sent him to Washington DC as correspondent replacing Chauncey Brainerd, who was becoming the paper's city editor. But soon, he had to return to Brooklyn because Brainerd did not like his job as city editor and wanted to return to Washington. To sooth the switch, Kaltenborn was offered the job of drama critic, something he was interested in because of his own experience in dramatics. In January 1914, he was sent to Paris to be the interim Paris correspondent and run the small bureau there. Within two months, he returned where he eventually became the war reporter during World War I.
By 1930, the Brooklyn Eagle like other papers were struggling under the beginnings of the Great Depression. Kaltenborn was asked to take a huge salary cut which he could not afford and so he quit. Soon after he left, he signed a contract with the new Columbia Broadcasting System for a regular weekly news commentary. He was also assigned to special events of national or international significance. The reporter/broadcaster was known as a commentator who never read from a script and spoke in a clipped voice. His "talks" were extemporaneous created from notes he had previously written. His analysis was welcome into homes especially during the war and the time leading up to America's entry into it. He had an international reputation and was able to speak intelligently about events because he had interviewed many of those involved. From the contacts he developed in his travels and his ability to speak fluent German and French, Kaltenborn seemed chosen for the role he developed at CBS.
One of his most famous periods was during the Munich crisis in 1938. Much of what listeners heard was Kaltenborn speaking without script even after sometimes having been up for most of a night covering the breaking news. Some claimed that when Kaltenborn was awakened during the Munich vigil, one merely had to utter Munich and Kaltenborn could talk for hours on the subject. During this "Munich Crisis" on August 27, 1938, Hitler had made some demands of the Czechoslovak government. Kaltenborn reported on these demands from London offering analysis on the situation. By September, it appeared that Czechoslovakia would have to cave and give up the Sudetenland and those critical days in that month, the reporter is probably best known for making 102 broadcasts ranging from two minutes to two hours in length. He even slept and ate in the studio to continue to cover and analyze events. Kaltenborn called this "the first great international crisis in which radio broadcasting participated intensively every step of the way."
By the end of World War II, the reporter had moved CBS to the National Broadcasting Company and had his own broadcast commentary sponsored by the Pure Oil Company. On the end of the war, Kaltenborn exuberently spoke [Click for Sound] about what the Japanese surrender meant.
Kaltenborn had very specific views about radio's role in presenting the news. Later in life he wrote on the subject through many of his books. In an introduction to one of his books, Kaltenborn Edits the News, he spoke to the subject.