On a lazy Sunday morning at the Pearl Harbor naval base the day was just beginning. It was approaching 8:00 in the morning. Meanwhile, in New York City it was already afternoon. The east coast was listening to a football game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers which had an approximate 2:00 PM EST kickoff. At approximately, 2:26 WOR (possibly Mutual) broke into the game with this surprise bulletin about an attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. The NBC Red network was broadcasting Sammy Kaye's Sunday Serenade with Sammy and his Orchestra, Tommy Ryan, Alan Foster, and the Three Kaydettes. The day's broadcast was just about finished and next up was the rather bland University of Chicago Round Table. The topic was "Canada: A Neighbor at War." Canada, part of the British Empire, had declared war on Germany soon after England. While we supplied material to the British, Canada was supplying an even more precious commodity - men.
Just as the NBC network program changeover was to take place, it upcut the start of the Round Table with its first bulletin on the Pearl Harbor bombing at 2:29:50 pm read by NBC news writer Robert Eisenbach. At the same time, on the Blue Network, NBC interrupted its Great Plays broadcast of "The Inspector General" with the same bulletin.
Meanwhile, over at CBS where the only regularly scheduled news broadcast on Sundays was about to begin, things were in a disarray as the United Press wire news flash flowed in about the bombing. The 2:30 P.M. program was The World Today. Normally, this program would have gone on the air to report current world events and there are about 17 seconds of intro leading to the announcer summarizing what will be heard on the program, followed by John Daly beginning his report (as in this example. This day, information was coming into the newsroom about the United Press bulletin that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. The decision was made to break in immediately with the bulletin read by announcer John Daly about the attack. This created a problem for CBS West Coast which normally used that 17 seconds for their own opening and to plug their sponsor - Golden Eagle Gasoline. Not all of the bulletin seems available in audio format. In addition to what you hear in the Daly audio, former CBS writer Edward Bliss wrote the bulletin also contained this:
"The news came in just after the two Japanese envoys in Washington made the appointment to call at the State Department and follows reports from the Far East that Japan was ready to launch an attack on Thailand.1"
More likely, East Coast heard no opening announcing the World Today program, but rather the roughly 12 second bulletin announcement then a switch to Washington to hear Albert Warner. This whole thing would create about a 29 minute program which fits considering the bulletin came in over CBS at 2:30 p.m. West Coast listeners heard the normal opening as in the bulletin clip, but then realizing that the normal opening to the program in New York was not going on, frantically tried to switch to New York. At this time, switching circuits could take that 5-10 seconds, and so after the opening, West Coast listeners heard silence as the switching took place and Albert Warner came on immediately.
CBS continued with additional commentary on the impact of this event by Albert Warner (below). But NBC continued its regular programming. That CBS' regular program was news-related offered it a better opportunity to give broader coverage.
At 2:38:20 P.M. NBC Red offered another bulletin that Manila was being bombed (which later proved to be false). This was followed at 2:52 P.M. by the University of Chicago Round Table moderator mentioning that Burma was being bombed. At CBS at 2:33 P.M., Washington D.C.-based newsman Albert Warner speculated on what possible steps FDR would take given that the Japanese envoys were meeting with Secretary of State Cordell Hull as the bombing was taking place. At 2:39, Warner interrupts his own analysis with a bulletin that the Japanese are bombing Manila.
Probably surprising today, but not then, NBC went back to regularly scheduled broadcasting until the top of the hour at 3:00 P.M. Radio was driven mostly by commercial sponsors. To interrupt a sponsored program required the permission of the sponsor executives. While there were several interruptions during the University of Chicago Round Table on the Red Network, there was only one on the Blue Network during its regularly scheduled Great Plays. CBS on the other hand was in the midst of a news program and could continue without problems broadcasting breaking news.
In London, CBS broadcaster, Robert Trout, spoke briefly about what impact the news would probably have on Britain, which was not yet aware of the news. Due to the Austrian Crisis a couple of years before, all of the U.S. Radio news organizations began beefing up their overseas coverage especially CBS; they were ready to report from overseas. Then during an analysis by Elmer Davis, John Daly cut in with another bulletin that the attack was still going on. CBS was able to get a telephone line from New York through to Ford Wilkins, their stringer in Manila who began to report that the Phillipines were now under attack. But due to sudden censorship by the U.S. Government, he was cut off at 2:49 P.M.
At 3:00 P.M. CBS began broadcast of its regularly scheduled New York Philharmonic Orchestra program. NBC Red returned at 3:15 P.M. with comments from H. V. Kaltenborn. Except for bulletin interruptions, regular programming continued into the evening as the fact of a country soon to be at war began to dawn on America. As events developed, government control of the air waves began to unfold. On the NBC Red network at 4:06:40 P.M. a report from the roof of KGU in Honolulu was suddenly cut off by a telephone operator seizing the line for an "emergency" at 4:09:15 P.M.
Later in the evening, Hawaiian time, KGU broadcast this brief summary of events and eyewitness reports.
The coming of America's involvement in the second World War also brought the increasing development and rise of broadcast journalism. Much of that credit goes to Edward R. Murrow and the CBS News team, but there were equally innovators at NBC and the Mutual Broadcasting System. But on this day, we could only witness the first pangs of its birth.