This Is London Calling

In the early days of the 1940’s, everyone listened to the radio. This was long before the age of television, the Internet and the Web. After dinner, we used to gather round the big, clunky radio and listen to the news and whatever else was on that night. On Sundays it was the comedies, Fred Allen, Jack Benny and Fibber McGee & Molly.

But it was also news of how the war in Europe was going. I was reminded of this while reading Lynne Olson’s Last Home Island: Britain, Occupied Europe and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War. She speaks of the important role the BBC played then.

For as long as the war lasted, Europeans engaged in a precious nightly ritual: they retrieved their radio sets, which had been outlawed by the Germans, from a variety of hiding places—beneath the floorboards, behind canned goods in the kitchen cupboard, secreted in the chimney. Then, in whatever the setting, the owners of the sets switched them on and tuned to the BBC in time to hear the chiming of Big Ben and the magical words “This is London calling.”…

During and after the war, Europeans described those furtive moments listening to BBC news programs as their lifeline to freedom. A Frenchman who escaped to London late in the war recalled, “It’s impossible to explain how much we depended on the BBC. In the beginning, it was everything.”

We didn’t receive the BBC in America, but we did get the CBS news broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow and Eric Sevareid. Both reported from London and other locations in Europe during World Was II. I remember Murrow used to sign off his evening broadcasts, “Good night, and good luck.”

I suspect the most likely situation in which people listen to the radio today is in their automobile, where tinkering with their iPhone is dangerous and in some states illegal.

The radio continues to find its way to offices and homes in England, where the BBC is still a major presence. National Public Radio in this country has equally popular radio programs. And then there are the conservative talk radio shows.

It is said that Rush Limbaugh’s program is number one with 14.25 million listeners, that’s 14.25 million listeners, during an average week. But surprisingly NPR is not far behind.

In an essay on the radio Bill McKibben claims that: “National Public Radio’s flagship news programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, featuring news and commentary alongside in-depth reports and stories that can stretch over twenty minutes—are the second- and third-most-popular radio programs in the country, each drawing about 13 million unique listeners in the course of the week.”

That’s a bit of good news, isn’t it?