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Radio Newscasts

Father and daughter listening to the radio in their home, 1940.  Image courtesy of American Memory FSA-OWI Collection.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 Company’s 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 Network’s 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."

Philco radio, ca. 1939Over 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 Japan’s 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.”


Click on the radio Philco radio, ca. 1939 buttons below to listen to the newscasts.

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Audio Sound
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Brief Descriptions of Audio Sound Files
Philco radio, ca. 1939

Ted Steele, reporting over NBC's Blue Network, delivers an ominous report foreshadowing war with Japan on October 24, 1941. Also note the advertisement for Esso gasoline, stressing defense conservation.

Philco radio, ca. 1939

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. In this clip, 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.

Philco radio, ca. 1939

This bulletin from Honolulu, heard over WCAE (Pittsburgh, PA) at 4:15 p.m. Eastern time, offers the first direct-contact report from Hawaii.        Read a Text Transcription of this Bulletin

Philco radio, ca. 1939

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.

Philco radio, ca. 1939

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.

Philco radio, ca. 1939

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.

Philco radio, ca. 1939

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.

Philco radio, ca. 1939

This commentary is a mix of both the stark disbelief and the wait-and-see attitude that gripped the nation following the attacks.

Philco radio, ca. 1939

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.

Philco radio, ca. 1939

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."

Philco radio, ca. 1939

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.

Philco radio, ca. 1939

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.


Text by Scott O'Kelley, Marr Sound Archives
Digital Audio by Scott Middleton, Marr Sound Archives

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Father and daughter listening to the radio in their home, 1940. Image courtesy American Memory FSA-OWI Collection.  Click to go to "Voices of World War II" home page.
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.
© 2001-2004 UMKC University Libraries. All Rights Reserved. 'Voices' Home Page


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June 14, 2004