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When I researched this week’s post C is for Christmas, I noticed that Washington residents in 1943 could listen to some BBC content over their airwaves. I would have enjoyed listening to a show on December 19, 1943, that attempted to explain the British Christmas pantomime show, a “traditional English Yuletide entertainment.” Listening to King George VI’s annual message at 10am on Christmas Day would have been moving in the middle of the war.
I got curious to see what else was available on the radio during this year of ally-ship between the US and the UK.
J.B. McGeachy, chief correspondent of the BBC Overseas Service, hosted a world news roundup utilizing feeds from BBC offices around the world. Washington DC listeners tuned into this show at 7:15pm on Sunday nights, airing on WWDC. The University of Saskatchewan includes a brief biography of McGeachy in their record for his archives. The BBC Overseas Service was a precursor to the BBC World Service that my local NPR station airs in the overnight hours.
Answering You ran at 11:30pm on Sunday nights. The Washington Post often described it as a transatlantic conversation. From what I can tell it was produced in New York and London. For example, here’s the description of the first show of 1943, on January 3:
Maj. Alexander P. de Seversky, aircraft designer, and George Lowther, writer of “Superman,” will be included on the New York panel with F.G. Miles and Mrs. Miles, leading British aircraft designers in London.
Another regular program was the Radio Newsreel from the BBC. Like film newsreels, these shows featured live action (in sound) and interviews. The Radio Newsreel aired late at night on Mondays on WOL.
Stars and Stripes in Britain was a show where the BBC covered stories for American audiences about what their fellow Americans did in Britain during the war. This show aired on WOL at 7:30pm on Sundays. Here are some of the people who were interviewed in 1943:
- The crew of the Banshee who flew the first bomber that reached Germany, February 7.
- A US Navy gunnery officer who described submarine and dive bomb attacks on a shipping convoy, March 7.
- The crew of Hell’s Angels, a B-17 Flying Fortress, July 4.
News wasn’t the only programming that Washingtonians could hear from the BBC. There were often church services broadcasts on Sundays — I saw one from the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Plymouth and one from St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London. There were various performances by the BBC Symphony Orchestra throughout the year.
The Washington Post published a daily listing of the schedule of radio programs in a chart. On the same page, a column featured slightly more detailed descriptions for a selection of shows, usually under the headline of something like “Radio Highlights.” I did a bit of casual research with some searches and perusing of a few of these daily features in 1943 issues of the Washington Post. I have access to the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database through my St. Louis County library card.
Once I identified a show, I tried a more general search of the internet. Mostly what I discovered is that our history of radio programs has literally disappeared into thin air. It would be interesting to do more of a deep dive of BBC content on American radio waves, but I’m not sure that I’d get much more satisfying detail than I managed here.
The Internet Archive has a small collection of 1940s BBC radio shows and an explanation of why we have so few recordings:
Little of the BBC’s radio output of the 1940s has survived, as most shows were broadcast live and were not recorded. The 78 rpm disk recording technology, which was all that was available prior to the development of tape recording, resulted in sound quality that was significantly worse than a live broadcast, so it was better not to fill the air-time with recordings, and being a non-commercial broadcaster the BBC had no financial incentive to preserve its output.
In a description of the show It’s That Man Again (a reference to Hitler), that article also pointed out why they might not be as interesting as I would think:
The humour in the scripts tended to date very quickly, and the point of a joke might be lost just a fortnight later.
We don’t stand a chance of understanding those jokes 80 years later.
By, M. K. (1943, Dec 19). Yule theme stressed in shows originating in all parts of world. The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/yule-theme-stressed-shows-originating-all-parts/docview/151655574/se-2 RADIO NOTES FOR TODAY. (1943, Dec 25). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/i-radio-notes-today/docview/151617188/se-2 Today's highlights. (1943, Feb 07). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/todays-highlights/docview/151642973/se-2 Today's highlights. (1943, Mar 07). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/todays-highlights/docview/151611940/se-2 Radio highlights. (1943, Jul 04). The Washington Post (1923-1954) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/radio-highlights/docview/151657337/se-2