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WWII Multimedia Timeline: December 7-8, 1941: Pearl Harbor

The World Today
Pearl Harbor Attack
December 7, 1941, 2:31 pm EST
2:31 p.m.: CBS and The World Today
Accounts vary as to when CBS made the announcement. Some say that CBS interrupted their program Spirit of '41, scheduled to end shortly before 2:30 p.m.. No transcription of the December 7 broadcast of

Spirit of '41 is known to exist. The program scheduled to air at 2:30 p.m. was The World Today, a news program. In a 1945 publication by CBS titled From Pearl Harbor To Tokyo, a citation states that Charles Daly made the announcement at 2:31 by saying, "The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor by air, President Roosevelt has just announced." It seems plausible that CBS would wait to break the news, since a news program was scheduled to begin momentarily, when the bulletin came in. During the intermission of The New York Philharmonic Society broadcast which aired during the 3:00 time slot, John Daly summarized the events thus far by saying, "Additionally, that the announcement was made at the beginning of the 2:30 broadcast of The World Today." The announcement time was corroborated in 1999 by Bob Trout, who was part of this CBS broadcast, in a story aired on NPR, December 7, 1999.

Trout, in London, had been cut through to the studio a few minutes before 2:30 Eastern. Normally at this point, Trout would talk to Paul White, the News Director, before actually going on the air, but for some reason on this day Trout was cut directly through to the studio. Trout heard regular small talk and shuffling of papers as John Daly prepared to go on the air. Then, less than two minutes before air time, he suddenly heard a burst of commotion through his headphones: doors opened, teletypes clattered in the newsroom, and he picked up fragments of agitated conversations. "War? Why it's automatically war." Trout pressed the headset against his ears and quickly got the picture. Seconds before air time, Paul White came on the line. Trout told him, "Don't tell me, I know." White said they were going to cancel the North African news and go directly to Washington for a special report. Trout would then give London's reaction. The program began with the regular announcer introducing the show, concluding with, "Go ahead, New York."

According to Trout, John Daly then reported, "The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor Hawaii by air, President Roosevelt has just announced. The attack also was made on all military and naval activities on the principle island of Ohau." [Daly mispronounced Oahu as Ohau. He does it later in the broadcast as well].

In the NPR story, Trout says he sat a bit stunned, listening to the first clear details given out in Daly's broadcast. Trout's version of events clears up a few things, but also creates a few problems. There are several digital versions of CBS's The World Today in circulation. The most common and least problematic of those is included here and will be analyzed in detail. Its run time is 29:16. According to Trout, the broadcast lasted 33 minutes. Are there 4-5 minutes of this program missing? This most-commonly distributed version has the announcer's introduction (ending with "go ahead, New York"), then 8 seconds of silence. It then goes directly to Albert Warner in Washington speaking, without him having been introduced. The John Daly announcement is missing, as is the part when he would have introduced Warner in Washington. However, there is a separate recording in existence that does start with the announcer, and does have the John Daly announcement. This is always distributed around the Internet as a separate file. Neither of these versions has anything that connects Daly to Albert Warner in Washington. A very well done web site by The University of Missouri-Kansas City has a link to an excerpt (2:05 in length) of the version of the CBS broadcast identical to the beginning of the 29:16 version used here, except that the 8 seconds of silence before Albert Warner begins speaking is 15 seconds long. Their clip is introduced on their web site using the following text:

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.

No documentation is given for where this clip originated from. Clearly, however, the "abrupt connection" is not made with New York, but with Washington. It's possible that the 29:16 version was edited by someone who didn't like the idea of 15 seconds of dead air time in his audio file and just cut some of it out before it was mass-distributed. This seems plausible, as there are other versions of this file in distribution that are identical in content except that there is no dead air time. If the U of M-KC version is authentic, it is possible that in the 15 seconds of dead air time, John Daly could have made his initial announcement, which runs 24 seconds long with the program introduction included, and then sent it over to Washington. Since he was basing his report on the very brief statement issued by Press Secretary Early, it seems plausible that there wouldn't be anything else for Daly to add. In Trout's NPR report, he did say that Paul White told him they were going to go immediately to Washington for a special report. However, he also notes other specific times that support his 33 minute claim and possibly indicate that several minutes are missing from the beginning of the broadcast. For example, he says that Daly switched to Albert Warner in Washington at 2:37, and that the broadcast switched to him in London at 2:41 Eastern. Warner's report runs 5 minutes, 30 seconds, which doesn't quite fit neatly into the 4 minute window Trout gives us. Trout's report begins at 6:16 in the 29:16 version. If he's correct that he began at 2:41 and the program began at 2:30 with the program introduction, that's a discrepancy of 4-5 minutes. Trout also says that Ford Wilkins's broadcast from Manila was abruptly cut off at 2:49 p.m. This comes at exactly 16:19 in the recording, again indicating a 4 minute discrepancy. None of this analysis explains why there seems to be no recorded portion of the broadcast connecting Daly to Albert Warner in existence. Perhaps the West Coast version of the program is the only one that was recorded, and Daly re-created his initial "announcement" at a later time. If he did, one would think he would not continue to mispronounce "Oahu" (though as stated above, he does do it much later in the broadcast as well). We do know that Daly was not above doing recreations. The most widely believed version of Daly's announcement was made in 1948 by splicing together two different recordings from two different time periods. More on that later. Here's the 29:16 version of The World Today.

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Analysis: If Trout is correct in both of his 1999 assertions that the program began at the regular time, and that it lasted 33 minutes, then it must have extended a few minutes into the New York Philharmonic's 3:00 time slot. If that's what happened, it might help explain why so many people seem to connect the Pearl Harbor announcement with the Philharmonic Orchestra broadcast. It's plausible that CBS might extend their coverage for a few minutes for Elmer Davis, and for John Daly's reporting of their phone contact with KGMB, which is the most dramatic portion of the entire broadcast. If listeners tuning in to hear the New York Philharmonic heard these details, concluding with Daly specifically mentioning that CBS "will bring you important news bulletins during the broadcast of the New York Philharmonic Society," it might have impacted how they remembered the event. They may have mistaken the end of the broadcast for what they thought was the initial report. Listeners might also have mistaken the news given at the intermission at 3:35 p.m. as the first report.


"I Can Hear It Now" 1948 Recreation
"I Can Hear It Now" set of 78 RPM records, released in 1948
"I Can Hear It Now" 1948 Recreation
Two recreations manufactured by CBS have significantly eroded the collective memory and historical record of the CBS Pearl Harbor announcement. Trout's 1999 NPR report cleared up one of the most famous. The most commonly used audio clip of the Pearl Harbor announcement, whether it be in high school classrooms, on web sites, or in numerous documentaries being produced to this day, goes like this: "We interrupt this program to bring you a new special bulletin; the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor Hawaii by air, President Roosevelt has just announced." The fact is, that particular bulletin never went on the air. It was produced by Fred W. Friendly in 1948 when he and Edward R. Murrow were putting together the first "I Can Hear It Now" compilation of historic sound.
Robert Trout worked with Friendly at both NBC and CBS, and says that only Friendly could find the attack on Pearl Harbor lacking sufficient drama and that it "might profit from a bit of
Friendly-esque enhancement." So, Friendly spliced together part of the original John Charles Daly December 7 broadcast (the one discussed above) with one from Daly announcing President Roosevelt's death in 1945. If you listen carefully, you can hear the change in Daly's voice as it switches from the 1945 clip to the 1941 clip (:13)
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"Farewell To Studio Nine"
"Farewell to Studio Nine"
1964's "Farewell To Studio Nine": Perpetuating The New York Philharmonic Interrupt Myth
In 1964 CBS closed down their New York facilities in Studio Nine to move into better quarters on the other side of Manhattan. The desk in Studio Nine was the sight of the birth of the modern radio broadcast, and all of the New York reporting for the entire Second World War. CBS continued to broadcast from Studio Nine all the way through 1963, including coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. To honor the work that was done there, CBS produced a broadcast in 1964 in which key radio figures Edward R. Murrow, H.V. Kaltenborn, Eric Sevareid, John Daly, Robert Pierpoint, and Robert Trout listened to and commented on some of their old broadcasts. This broadcast, titled "Farewell To Studio Nine," was released on an LP by the same name. It's a lovely piece of work. Unfortunately, it contains several ahistorical recreations. Most distressing is the
segment on John Daly's Pearl Harbor announcement. Daly actually says that he interrupted the Philharmonic, then the broadcast uses the 1948 "I Can Hear It Now" recreation. Ironically, not two minutes later, the record has Daly's announcement of Roosevelt's death in 1945, a cut of which makes up the first half of the bogus Pearl Harbor announcement. Listen carefully (2:19).
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Last modified July 15, 2012