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For most Americans, news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came as an interruption to their favorite radio programs on an otherwise tranquil Sunday afternoon in early December of 1941. Supporting only skeletal news bureaus in Hawaii and the Far East, the national radio networks (the Mutual Network, the Columbia Broadcasting System and the National Broadcasting Companys Blue and Red Networks) relied on stringers from local affiliates for news from the Pacific. An Associated Press bulletin at 1:07 p.m. Eastern Standard Time first reported the attack to mainland news organizations and radio networks. After confirming the initial bulletin with the government, the major networks interrupted regular programming at 2:30 p.m., bringing news of the attack, still in progress, to the American public.
CBS informed listeners of the attack at the start of its regular broadcast of The World Today. Listeners on the West Coast heard only part of the initial bulletin over the CBS network because an announcer preempted the first 30 seconds of the broadcast for a commercial message. The Blue Networks report came during a broadcast of the Great Plays presentation of the drama Inspector General. The Red Network interrupted the University of Chicago Roundtable. With Japanese planes still swarming overhead, a reporter climbed to the roof of the Advertiser Building in downtown Honolulu with microphone in hand and broadcast, over the NBC Blue Network from KGU, the first eyewitness account of the attack, reporting "This battle has been going on for nearly three hours... It's no joke, it's a real war." Ironically, a Honolulu telephone operator interrupted the broadcast after 2 ½ minutes and ended the transmission for "an emergency call."
Over the course of the day, the networks continued fleshing out the story as details became available, bringing home to listeners across the United States the full impact of Japans sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Radio engineers across the country captured the drama of the moment, recording bulletins and reports from the networks to instantaneous cut discs, preserving the course of the historic day as it unfolded.
The twelve radio broadcasts presented here come from recordings in the Arthur B. Church, Tom Brown and J. David Goldin Collections in the Marr Sound Archives. They provide the opportunity to experience the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as America heard it on the Day of Infamy.
Ted Steele, reporting over NBC's Blue Network, delivers an ominous report foreshadowing war with Japan on October 24, 1941. Also note the ad for Esso gasoline, stressing defense conservation.
The airing of news bulletins normally called for the CBS East Coast network to stall thirty seconds in order for the West Coast affiliates to plug their sponsor. However, in the ensuing chaos of the morning's events, the East Coast launched into the initial flash bulletin immediately, leaving stations such as KIRO in Seattle to jump in frantically. Note the fifteen seconds of "dead air" before an abrupt connection is made with New York. The start of the bulletin as heard on the East Coast is available by clicking here.
Stating that "Japan has drawn first blood," this colorful report from Pittsburgh radio station WCAE describes Roosevelt's responses, and mirrors the stunned response of an unsuspecting country.
This bulletin from Pittsburgh's WCAE includes reports from Hawaiian governor Poindexter, and the first acknowledgement of the attack by President Roosevelt, through White House Secretary Steve Early.
Among the earliest eyewitness reports of the attacks were these accounts, including a Honolulu attorney who encountered Japanese machine gun fire while flying his private plane, and reporters for the Honolulu Advertiser.
This newscast, heard over KDKA (Pittsburgh) at 4:30 p.m. eastern time, announces the immediate alert against both espionage and Japanese Americans, who were, according to the report, equally surprised and shocked by the attacks.
This commentary is a mix of both the stark disbelief and the wait-and-see attitude that gripped the nation following the attacks.
Reporting from San Francisco, commentator Upton Close advances the belief that the attack was a strategic mutiny advanced by the Japanese military, which he calls an "inside group of gangsters," and without the consent of the Japanese government.
News of the attack on Pearl Harbor came in fits and starts from many different sources, as is evidenced by this report which offers sketchy information and the advisory that regular programming will be interrupted "from time to time."
By the time this broadcast was heard over Pittsburgh's KDKA at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time, the nation was already on high alert against sabotage.
Security concerns on the mainland resulted in a government-issued blackout order for the entire West Coast of the United States starting at 7:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.
The country's first peacetime military draft (September 16, 1940) raised the specter of conflict more than a year before Pearl Harbor. Americans sensed the possibility of war and popular song as well as other entertainment reflected this growing understanding. The 1941 film Sun Valley Serenade about a Norwegian war refugee traveling with a big band, at once showcased the day's brightest radio stars and foreshadowed a life during wartime. Glenn Miller, the film's musical star, watched "Chattanooga Choo Choo" soar to the top of the charts in the fall of 1941. The song became the first record to be formally certified a million-seller and it was the #1 hit single when December 7th plunged Americans headlong into a second World War. Popular radio entertainment now had a new role - sharing the airwaves with battlefront accounts and assertive political speeches that colored the radio dial.
Even as Pearl Harbor smoldered, musicians scrambled to the studio to memorialize the sneak attack and rally the home front. Recorded ten days after the Day of Infamy, band leader Sammy Kaye's recording of "Remember Pearl Harbor" hit the charts in January 1942, peaking at #3. Its immediate popularity spawned a wealth of patriotic anthems such as "We Did It Before And We'll Do It Again," "Goodbye, Mama (I'm Off To Yokohama)," "The Son-of-a-gun Who Picks On Uncle Sam," and "Let's Put The Axe To The Axis." Later, in March 1942, Peter "Doctor" Clayton brought the "Pearl Harbor Blues" to a burgeoning rhythm and blues audience.
With passions running high, all vestiges of political correctness went out the window. Americans quickly demonized the Japanese in song. Carson Robison's "Remember Pearl Harbor" (a completely different song than Kaye's) backed with the blunt manifesto "We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap (And Uncle Sam's The Guy Who Can Do It)" left little to the imagination.
Ironically, as the war intensified and supplies diminished, a shortage of shellac -- a material used to manufacture 78 rpm discs -- curtailed the output of commercially issued war songs. Then, on August 1, 1942, James Petrillo, President of the American Federation of Musicians, implemented a recording ban to combat the shrinking market for live musicians (the growing trend of jukeboxes and disc jockeys was putting musicians out of work). As the ban dragged on, the Armed Forces, realizing music's importance to the war effort, produced its own V (for victory) discs for the troops. From the attack on Pearl Harbor, continuing throughout the course of the war, music remained an integral part of the war effort.
The nine songs presented below are from the 78 rpm and lp collections in the Marr Sound Archives.
Chattanooga Choo Choo by Glenn Miller. Recorded May 7, 1941.
Author: Mack Gordon-Harry Warren. Bluebird B-11230
Remember Pearl Harbor by Don Reid-Sammy Kaye.
It Before And We'll Do It Again
We Did It Before And We'll Do It Again by Dick Robertson. Recorded December 16, 1941.
Author: Cliff Friend-Charlie Tobias. Decca 4117
Mama (I'm Off To Yokohama)
Goodbye, Mama (I'm Off To Yokohama) by Teddy Powell. Recorded December 16, 1941.
Author: J. Fred Coots. Bluebird B-11412
Who Picks On Uncle Sam
The Son-of-a-gun Who Picks On Uncle Sam by Carl Hoff. Recorded December 23, 1941.
Author: Harburg-B. Lane. Okeh 6609
The Axe To The Axis
Let's Put The Axe To The Axis by Abe Lyman. Recorded December 18, 1941.
Author: Corday-Mann-Weiss. Bluebird B-11410
Pearl Harbor Blues by Peter "Doctor" Clayton. Recorded March 27, 1942.
Author: Doctor Clayton. Bluebird B-9003
Remember Pearl Harbor by Carson Robison. Recorded December 1941.
Author: Frank Luther. Bluebird B-11414
Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap (And Uncle Sam's The Guy Who Can Do
We're Gonna Have To Slap The Dirty Little Jap by Carson Robison. Recorded December 1941.
Author: Bob Miller. Bluebird B-11414
In the photograph above, President Roosevelt delivers his "Day of Infamy" speech to a joint session of Congress on December 8, 1941. Behind him are Vice President Henry Wallace (left) and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn. To the right of the President, in uniform, is his son James.
TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:
"Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.
Always will be remembered the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."
-- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, December 8, 1941.
Voices of World War II: Experiences From the Front and at Home
|A project in partnership with the Truman
Presidential Museum and Library.
Audio from the collections of the Marr Sound Archives - Department of Special Collections.
Miller Nichols Library - University of Missouri - Kansas City.
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