Content sharing in the ’30s

It’s probably 16 inches wide, and you hold it carefully by the edges. It could be made of glass or aluminum, coated with black cellulose nitrate. If you’re lucky the coating hasn’t started flaking off yet. Alternatively it might be made of vinyl, like an LP, but bigger. It plays at 33 1/3 RPM, holds 15 minutes of recorded sound, and was a key tool in the development of syndicated radio programming in the United States. We’re talking about transcription discs.

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In the 1920s, radio stations needed a way to replicate and share programming consistently. They weren’t allowed to play commercially released records on-air because musician’s unions believed that hurt record sales. So radio content had to come from somewhere else. Live broadcast was inconsistent, time consuming, and expensive. Not every radio station could afford to have its own in-house musical groups, but all stations wanted to attract more listeners. At this time the first radio networks were beginning to form. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was created in 1926, and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) was formed in 1927. As these networks made more programming and acquired more satellite stations, they needed a way to distribute programming. Larger radio stations were creating programming of their own that they wanted to share with the networks. In short, there was a huge market for pre-recorded radio programming, but distribution of content was still a major hurdle. Transcription discs were the solution.

By the 1930s, transcription disc recorders had become ubiquitous at larger radio stations. Program producers were able to pre-record a program, make copies, and distribute it to other radio stations for future broadcast. This meant that stations in networks could all get the same programs. Individual stations could also add out-of-network programming to their repertoire by purchasing them from distributors. A station could also record its own unique local program using transcription discs, and then re-use it later. As a result, small stations could avoid the expense of live programs. Bigger stations and networks could get their shows to a wider audience. This meant listeners in Boston, Kansas City, and San Francisco could hear the same program at the same time. The ability share programming is a big reason why radio contributed to the growth of popular culture across America. To paraphrase Marr Sound Archives director Chuck Haddix, “radio was like the internet” because it brought people closer through information sharing. Everybody got to hear the same radio programs and news broadcasts, giving people similar cultural and political knowledge. We take this for granted today. Imagine for a moment a conversation with someone from two or three states away. They hadn’t heard Adele’s latest song or weren’t able to listen to that Ted Talk that enthralled you. Of course the opposite would be true as well. Its 75 degrees here in Kansas City. What snow storm in Ohio? That political protest in Washington that they went to? You had no idea until weeks later. Certainly newspapers allowed content-sharing, but radio was a huge leap forward, and it’s largely thanks to the humble transcription disc. One of the big 1930s radio stations that made a lot of transcription discs was KMBC here in Kansas City. Many of these discs are now held in the Marr Sound Archives.

KMBC joined CBS in 1928 as the 16th affiliated station. In 1930 station moved to the eleventh floor of the Pickwick Hotel. Under the direction of Arthur B. Church, KMBC became a model for other stations. Church and KMBC produced a wide variety of syndicated shows which were recorded on transcription discs and then distributed. One of these programs was the Texas Rangers. Another example from the KMBC collection that highlights the importance of transcription discs is a recording of one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats.” The recording can be heard below. It was made by CBS at the White House on May 2, 1943. It was then presumably broadcast by all CBS network stations, including KMBC. FDR could not have reached the entire country without transcription disc technology.


Museum of Broadcast Communications. Encyclopedia of Radio. Edited by Christopher Sterling. Vol. 3. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004.


Glenn Miller and the American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces’ Propaganda Broadcasts

gmiller1The Marr Sound Archives holds two albums from the uncommon broadcast recordings of Major Glenn Miller and the American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. These two albums are compilations of recordings over the American Broadcasting Station in Europe, EMI Studio, St. John’s Wood, Abbey Road, London England and are simply titled “Major Glenn Miller and the A.E.F. Orchestra.”

Miller was fulfilling a request by the Office of War Information to broadcast the orchestra’s performance under his direction to the German military and German prisoners of war. The propaganda broadcasts were intended to show Germans that the Allies wanted inclusion of all countries in the quest for peace and that American music and life among the Allies was lively, lovely, and upbeat.


Glenn Miller and “Ilse Weinberger” at an ABSIE microphone, London, England, 30 October, 1944. Photo courtesy: The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band: I Sustain the Wings: Volumes 1 and 2 by Edward F. Polic.

German “Ilse Weinberger” serves as announcer with Glenn Miller, at times, answering her in pretty bad German, but mostly speaking in English between the performances of 13 works. It is also significant that the A.E.F. Orchestra performs the “Song of the Volga Boatmen” in order to drive home the point that the Russians are now allied with America and Europe against the Germans.

According to Glenn Miller experts, these two LP’s were bootlegged by Joseph Krug of the Colony Record Shop in New York City when doing business as the A.F.N. Record Company around 1949. His efforts were quickly shut down by the Miller estate. The details of the case can be found here.

The A.F.N. was intentionally meant to confuse the patron into thinking that the Air Force Network had published these. Even though few of these albums exist, Marr has had one copy of each of the two volumes gifted to their collection.

These recordings of Glenn Miller’s cooperation with the propaganda offices of Allied Forces during WWII are hard to come by but worth the listen. Unfortunately, Glenn Miller died 39 days after the recording of these broadcasts and therefore makes them precious items.

These particular broadcasts were recorded October 30th and November 6th, 1944 and aired November 8th and November 15th respectively. There isn’t much remarked on the containers about the band except that Sergeant Johnny Desmond and Sergeant Ray McKinley sing solos on “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (McKinley) and “Now I Know” and “My Heart Tells Me” (Desmond).

Although the band members are not listed on the albums’ containers, a resource in the Marr Sound Archives entitled “The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band: I Sustain the Wings: Volumes 1 and 2” by Edward F. Polic clearly lays out who played in the orchestra at the time of these broadcasts. These reference resource books are exciting because of their details of discographies, scripts, personnel, and Glenn Miller’s life.

Contributed by Vicki Kirby, Library Information Specialist II and Special Formats Cataloger

Visual Rhetoric Analysis in WWII Propaganda

Deliver us from evilCountless times each day we are bombarded by visual rhetoric, the use of images to influence or persuade an audience. The persuasive element of visual rhetoric lies in its ability to instantly connect with our emotional mind before the rational part of the brain is signaled. Using an example of World War II propaganda from UMKC LaBudde Special Collections I will demonstrate the mechanics and effectiveness of visual rhetoric while expanding understanding of how images influence people.

Visual rhetoric techniques make use of the appeal of pathos, a form of persuasion appealing to an individual’s emotions – rather than their rational mind – therefore having greater persuasive influence (“The Forest of Rhetoric”1). Although it might seem hard to believe that humans can be influenced subconsciously, it can be explained by the observations of neurobiology researchers Joseph LeDoux and Antonio Damasio. They suggest that when the eye observes a visual image, a signal is sent to the cortex, the part of the brain that houses rational thought (Damasio). But before the sensory signal is sent there, another signal is first sent to the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions and memory (LeDoux). Thus, the amygdala creates an emotional response before the mind can fully perceive an image. This circumvention of reason and provocation of emotional response is the goal of visual rhetoric elicit.

In the next section I will analyze an example of World War II propaganda and explain the techniques used in the image. Upon looking at the poster, “Deliver us from evil,”2 emotions of dread and fear are conveyed to the viewer. There is also a strong desire to help the child in the center and a loathing felt towards the enemy. But why?

The first aspect that conveys these emotions is the color scheme. The black and white image expresses a sense of negativity and despair because there are no bright colors that normally illustrate happy moods. Even the blue font reading “Buy War Bonds” is muted and doesn’t stand out, compelling the viewer to focus on the girl rather than the intended response of promoting war bond purchasing in a more natural, less contrived way. The quote at the top of the poster, “Deliver us from evil,” is an excerpt from the Lord’s Prayer, something that most onlookers would be able to recognize because at the time the majority of Americans were Christians. This quote emphasizes a sense of desperation because prayers are commonly associated with a time of great need and obstacles to be overcome. It also acts as a call to arms for the American population to rise up and fight off the “evil” (Deliver us from evil). The word “evil” obviously refers to Nazi Germany, symbolized by the swastika in the center of the poster, surrounding a frightened girl. The poster also associates the word “us” with the young girl in the center, asking the viewer to save her and girls like her. Looking at the child communicates a feeling of empathy and suffering because her hair is disheveled, her eyes are tearing up, and her clothing is worn and dirty. The use of a young girl is also a key factor in this example of visual persuasion intended to demonize the enemy. The girl is a symbol of innocence and purity that, in the context of the image, is in danger of being corrupted and harmed by the Nazi government. This imparts a sense of protection on the viewer to defend the child, and creates a negative impression of the German government. Thus, it becomes assumed that the enemy is wrong and therefore we, Americans, are in the right. All of these factors are linked with the hardship and pain which the viewer is able to identify easily.

Returning to the connection between the word “evil” and Nazi Germany, this link is made for two reasons: the matching colors of the word and swastika and the placement of the symbol surrounding the little girl. In the poster, white is the brightest color and since both the word “evil” and the swastika are both the same shade of white the eye recognizes this and the mind instantly associates one with the other in the context of the image. As for the position of the swastika, it looks as if it is trapping the little girl and is therefore responsible for the hardship and agony that the girl is experiencing.

The combined effects of associating the word “evil” from the Lord’s Prayer with the swastika causes the viewer to associate Germany and Nazis with negative images. This leads civilians to dislike and even hate the Allied enemies and subsequently generate a sense of duty to support for the war effort with the hope that children similar to the one in the poster are protected. Underlying all of these emotions is the subtle message of the poster “Buy War Bonds” (Deliver us from evil). This is intended to be the overall reaction to viewing the propaganda, and although it is not overly emphasized, there is no room left for questioning the message or an alternative option. It’s a firm, declarative statement with the unsaid “or else” that implies that the child in the poster will suffer if not followed.

Visual rhetoric is a persistent influence on our lives every day and is a powerful force in shaping our biases and perceptions. Being able to recognize patterns of visual persuasion and decipher how certain themes evoke certain responses will enable scholars to be more effective at communicating with the general public. Increasing public understanding of visual rhetoric will not only increase the awareness of the many influences people encounter daily. It will also lead to more logical and unbiased decisions made due to people recognizing the media’s and interest groups propaganda efforts and therefore rationalizing the issue instead of letting emotion control one’s actions.

Contributed by Alex Poppen (for English H225)

1“The Forest of Rhetoric.” Silva Rhetoricae. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.
2“Deliver us from evil.” WWII Poster Collection. Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library, University of Missouri–Kansas City, Kansas City, MO.

Christmas Eve at the front

Soldiers on Christmas Eve, WWIIWe take our worldwide communication capabilities for granted. In an age where FaceTime and Skype allow us not only to speak to those halfway across the world, but to see them at the time, it is easy to forget that only a couple generations ago such interaction was impossible.

Radio made communication between service members and their families possible. The urge to communicate with their loved ones during World War II culminated in “Christmas Eve at the Front,” a nationally broadcasted radio special “spontaneously suggested by American servicemen” serving on the front lines to show Americans back home how they were spending the season, as well as send their well-wishes and messages of encouragement. Listen to an excerpt from the program.[audio:|titles=Christmas Eve at the Front]

“Christmas Eve at the Front” connected soldiers from England, China, India, and the Pacific theater to American radios. Listeners heard soldiers in England gather to sing Christmas carols. They also learned that the rations they saved for the war effort helped to give the soldiers a special holiday treat. As one soldier commented, the group used saved rations of powdered milk and eggs, combined with corn starch and cocoa, to make ice cream.

But the war was also difficult for the soldiers. They commented on working twenty-four hour watches, even on Christmas, with the enemy flying nearby over their heads. And yet, as a gunner from Pennsylvania put it, “There’s one ship in our group called “Heaven Can Wait”. It’d be like heaven to be home for Christmas this year. But Heaven not only can—but has to wait—until our job is finished.”

Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

You may request access to the complete recording from the Marr Sound Archives.

Christmas mailings during wartime

2011-12-15_ChristmasMail_Church_ViaWikimediaFor many, the holiday season is a time of family, good food, and gift-giving. During wartime, however, this time of year can be rough for families separated from loved ones serving overseas. I heard just the other day that many troops overseas get so excited to receive any word from home or even better, a care package. Thanks to technology, communication is much easier as we don’t have to rely solely on snail-mail. Could you imagine how useful Skype or instant messaging would have been back in World War II?

Inevitably, snail mail was the only option for them, but they made the most of it. According to a 1943 interview (available by request) with Kansas City postmaster, Alexander W. Graham, millions and billions of people send out Christmas cards, letters, and packages every year, including those serving in other countries. This interview served mainly to inform Kansas City listeners about cut-off dates for Christmas mailings. As an example of these deadlines, Postmaster Graham noted that the cut-off to send Christmas mail to somewhere as far as Australia was mid-September for Army and Navy personnel. Talk about doing some early Christmas shopping!

Since that time, shipping nationwide has gotten faster. I looked on the USPS 2011 mailing deadlines for nationwide shipping deadlines and found that a package can reach its domestic destination within five days. According to postmaster Graham, this deadline, which was subject to change based on how far across the country it would travel, was December 10th. Oh, how spoiled we are, that we have the luxury of Fed-Ex and UPS overnight shipping!

This interview had a specific purpose: to alleviate the shipping issues that the postal service frequently dealt with every holiday season. I think the funniest quote from the interview was the last comment on the subject. The KMBC interviewer asked Postmaster Graham if he had any other suggestions for listeners. His responded with the following: “…a postman is not allowed to loiter on his route, and if Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen would […] indicate the zone delivery district number on the cards and packages they mail, they will do far more to relieve the postal employees of their Christmas headache than offering them a cup of hot chocolate.” Apparently, mailmen of that time were getting sick of drinking hot chocolate. So when you mail out your Christmas cards and gifts this holiday season, think of Postmaster Graham’s wise words, and don’t forget our troops overseas!

Gabby Tuttle, KMBC Project staff/Liberal Arts (BA) student

Kansas City after the Pearl Harbor attack

Pearl Harbor attackIn commemoration of Pearl Harbor day, I thought it might be nice to share with you what glimpse the Arthur B. Church collection offers us of how Kansas Citians reacted to the attack on Pearl Harbor. As you are probably aware, on the morning of December 7, 1941, isolationist sentiment in the United States was dealt a cruel dose of reality by Japanese militarism run amok, thanks to the hypnotic qualities of political syncretism, which had become all the rage at that moment in history.

Because programming relating to the war within this collection is predominantly composed of coverage following the D-day invasion, we have little formal documentation of reactions to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, recordings of normal everyday news coverage of local events following December 7 of that year offer us a different and, perhaps, even more interesting lens through which to view this bygone moment of national, but also local trepidation. From the offerings of the collection, this takes the form of words spoken at the Kansas City Man of the Year award ceremony that was held on December 10, 1941—only three days after the attack (to offer a little context, this event fell two days after the United States declared war on Japan, but still a day prior to the declarations of war against Germany and Italy). Although several of those speaking that night broached the subject of war over the course of the roughly 40-minute program, the task of engaging the issue more directly fell to retired Rear Admiral Hayne Ellis of Kansas City, who had recently been designated the city’s Director of Civilian Defense. Although his comments on the coming war were somewhat scattered because they weren’t exactly topical at the award ceremony, they have a certain aggregate coherence and offer a quite plain message, so I have attempted to condense this aspect of his speech as follows:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the bugle call has sounded. In 1942, Kansas City will be a city at war. Kansas City in 1941 was not a war-like city, but it was not a sleeping city either. … Our large steel plants are working day and night to turn out tons and tons of the stuff that we need to lick Japan, yes, and Hitler too. … An industrial future for the Midwest in postwar days has been assured. And what is more important, we of Missouri and Kansas will be able to play a part in the industrial side of winning the war. … 1941 is almost over. Now bring on 1942. 1941 has been a year of peace and progress. 1942 will be an era of death and destruction. But we of Kansas City and we of America have met challenges and responsibilities before. We will not shake from them now. I know something about the caliber of our ships and men in the Pacific. I know something about our adversary, who three days ago struck with such a ruthless, premeditated and cowardly blow. I know something about you— you Kansas City men and women who will work and worry and sacrifice from now on. And lastly I know that, come what may, whether it be weeks, in months, or in years, the ultimate victory will be ours.”

We today might be inclined to wonder how Americans living in such dark times were able to cope with the dread of impending war, but the message to be taken away from both the retired admiral’s talk and the audience’s positive reception of it seems rather clear.  The evidence offered by this artifact from the airwaves suggests that the prevailing attitude—at least among residents of Kansas City—was one of steadfastness and optimism.

Dustin Stalnaker, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

“The Nazis must have loved children– they stole so many of them.”

2011-11-14_Nazis_Goldin_elevenAllan Sloane knew the shock and venom of this statement when he wrote it into his documentary Eleven Memory Street (1950). This piece of creative radio journalism tells the story of a girl who was a victim of a seditious Nazi program. Lebensborn, or Fount of Life, was a program meant to purify the German race by encouraging Aryan breeding. The program which provided care for racially acceptable mothers and their children is also associated with the planned kidnapping and relocation of thousands of Polish children. These children were chosen for their racial traits for the purpose of Germanization.

Yovinna Solyska, was one of those children, and starting with a letter from her mother (whose return address became the title of the radio play), Eleven Memory Street traces a detective hunt by a team of U.N. workers to reunite the mother and daughter. Allan Sloane, a reporter for the U.N., traced the development of the case with a microphone, and mixed the audio with his poignant narration.  The result is a powerful documentary.

The United Nations, since its beginning, has used the medium of radio as one of its ways to inform the world of its aims and activities. And Eleven Memory Street is a prime example of why. Article 1 of the U.N. Charter states that one of the purposes of the U.N. is “To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character.” At one point in the investigation, Sloane stopped to consider the significance of what he was involved with. He recounts, “Something began to dawn on me. This is the United Nations really at work. A British bureau chief, working with a Danish assistant to find a Polish child who might be in Czechoslovakia and an American reporter standing by.”

Marr Sound Archives is now a wealth of information on U.N. historical radio. The J. David Goldin Collection includes over 400 episodes of “The United Nations Today,” a program of radio reports, interviews, and sound clips by the U.N. The collection has over sixty episodes of “U.N. Story,” a dramatic series. There is also a large collection of special documentaries similar to the one discussed here.

Eleven Memory Street stands out among these radio documents. It is an important experiment in international journalism and documentary making. And it shows the ugliest result of war. The children, the innocent, are lumped into the statistics of casualties and missing people. This story shows how much cooperation and energy it takes to change one of these statistics by a barely noticeable amount – and how much it is worth it.

For an introduction to U.N. Radio on the web check out the U.N. Radio Classics archive.

Troy Cummings, guest contributor

The more things change…

Harry S TrumanIn light of the recent debt ceiling showdown within the federal government, the continuing gridlock in Congress, and the increasing popularity of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is important to remember that America has fought this same type of ideological battle many times before. Perhaps the most relevant historical examples for our own situation are the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. In the Arthur B. Church KMBC Collection, there are many speeches available for listening from this period. I’d like to focus on one in particular, a national address given by President Truman on 13 July 1949. It’s startling to hear the connections to our own time. Here is an excerpt from the speech. [audio:|titles=Truman on the Economy]

Consider the scene in July 1949: still fresh from World War II, less than one year from our foray into Korea, right in the middle of the Alger Hiss saga. Unemployment is high due to the influx of veterans and young people newly arrived to the American workforce, and the growth of the economy has slowed down significantly. In the midst of this, Truman is fighting a battle over the budget, a battle that extends back to the 80th Congress, called the “Do-Nothings” in a completely non-affectionate way by the President. At issue are government spending and the national debt. What to do about it is an answer that, clearly, we still haven’t figured out.

Truman, perhaps not the most gifted orator (especially when compared to his predecessor), is nonetheless appealing because a) he’s folksy and b) he sounds furious. He is the last president without a college education and that simple fact adds to his appeal, in this writer-with-crippling-student-loans’ opinion.

The speech itself is compelling because it may as well have been given last week. Confronting what he considers backwards logic from people with “selfish interests,” Truman argues that the worst things to try and cure a slow economy are cuts in spending or cuts in taxes. Instead, the government should increase revenues and spending in an effort to stimulate growth and reduce unemployment, and focus on deficits down the line. For a guy with no college education, he sounds suspiciously like numerous economists today.

It is interesting to note here, as with many historical documents, the ideological shift of the country’s two primary political parties over the years. Truman was a Democrat in many ways that are familiar to us today: expansion of the New Deal programs, increased regulation, etc. But it is fascinating to hear him argue with great vehemence for substantial military spending, a position that sounds much more like the Republican Party of the post-9/11 universe. Did he know that there would be an upcoming engagement across the world at that time? It’s hard not to assume so; there were certainly plenty of skirmishes at the 38th Parallel in Korea at the end of Chinese Civil War and through the remainder of 1949.

Most people are familiar with George Santayana’s quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.”  Perhaps as many as are familiar with Carlos Santana’s quote “I don’t actually speak <insert guitar riff here>.” When it comes to matters economic, it is hard to tell if our current lawmakers remember Santayana’s exhortation about the past, or Santana’s smash hit “Smooth” featuring the dulcid tones of Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas for that matter! It is somehow both comforting and disconcerting to know that we’ve struggled with these same issues, frankly, since the birth of our nation: comforting because America may have reached its zenith in the decades after this speech; disconcerting because we’ve come full circle–and then some–and still don’t know what to do.

Erik Klackner, guest contributor

To access the complete recording, you may request part 1 and part 2 from the Marr Sound Archives.

“Tune Chasing” the past

KMBC Tune ChasersEvery fall and spring since 1989, Johnson County Community College holds the Ruel Joyce Recital series. Offered as a free event for the public, the series brings together local classical musicians from the KC Metro area for a low-key performance. The series was created to honor Ruel Joyce, remembered by many as a talented classical musician and head of the local musician’s federation from 1977 until his death in 1989.

What the public seems to have forgotten is that Ruel Joyce was also a member of the Tune Chasers, a musical group featured often on KMBC radio. Any sampling of the Tune Chasers would demonstrate their versatility as performing artists. The majority of their sound is of a classical or jazz-like nature, but include uncommon instruments like the xylophone and washboard. They covered a number of popular folk songs and silly novelty numbers like “Grandpappy (He’s a champeen a-spittin’ down a crack).”

Additionally, the Tune Chasers contributed to the war effort in the 1940s by singing upbeats songs like “Shut my mouth (for Uncle Sam),” “There’s a helmet on my saddle,” and “Little Bo Peep has lost her jeep.” During the height of their popularity at KMBC, they not only had their own time slot every week, but they also guest starred on other KMBC programs like “Night time on the trail.”

The members of the Tune Chasers also played what I consider to be an abnormally large number of instruments. Ted Painter played double bass, guitar, and banjo. Vaughn Busey played the clarinet in virtually every song, but also played the sax and drums. Our friend Ruel Joyce played double bass, guitar, and sang vocals. The leader of the Tune Chasers, Charley Pryor, played drums, vibraphone, xylophone as well as a customized musical washboard. Playing nine instruments between its members, it is clear that the Tune Chasers had talent.

So why doesn’t anyone remember them? Perhaps their largely instrumental repertoire was a factor. The Tune Chasers played a number of local gigs in the KC Metro area, but don’t seem to have headlined any of them. Very little evidence of the Tune Chasers exists outside of their musical collection. Among the little bit of evidence we have found is a concert review from the February 18, 1948 issue of Variety Magazine. In the review, the Tune Chasers played at an outdoor concert that flopped. At $1 a head, the concert barely made $2000. Further, it seems that the members didn’t go on to bigger things after the Tune Chasers. The only name that actually makes a hit on the internet these days is Ruel Joyce, and that is only because of the local recital series. It’s rather
depressing: a truly talented musical group fades away over the years until all that’s left is a music festival, and the event description doesn’t even mention the group name.

Click here for a listing of Tune Chasers music in the Marr Sound Archives.

Christina Tomlinson, KMBC Project staff/History (MA) student

Labor Days of yore

2011-09-01_LaborDay_Church The first Monday every September is Labor Day, and it has been ever since legislation was rushed through Congress in merely six days in 1894. Americans celebrate Labor Day by engaging in the most relaxing pastimes: closing public pools, preparing for football season, putting their white linen pants at the back of the closet, and partaking of a staggering array of grilled meats. The day was initially proposed to celebrate the “strength and esprit de corps of trade and labor organizations” at a time when unions were incredibly powerful. Their power has eroded in the 107 years since Labor Day was declared a national holiday, but I think I can speak for all of us when I thank the gentlemen from the Pullman Strike of 1893 for getting a Federal holiday as a token of reconciliation from President Grover Cleveland and company.

Labor Day 2011 comes at an ironic time, with unemployment at 9.1% and the economy still not recovered from the crisis of 2008, but one need only to look back 70 years to see a Labor Day on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. And thanks to the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection at UMKC, we cannot just look back, we can listen up.

On September 1, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered a radio address rife with the emotion of impending war. Less than a month earlier, Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill to draft the Atlantic Charter; within a month, the USS Greer was fired upon by a German submarine and the first Moscow Conference began. A mere three months later, Roosevelt would deliver the most famous speech of his life on “a day which will live in infamy” and war was declared on Japan.

American labor in September 1941 was engaged largely in the task of producing weapons of war despite the United States’ neutrality at the time. Roosevelt speaks to this dichotomy by declaring that “We have never sought glory as a Nation of warriors. We are not interested in aggression. We are not interested—as the dictators are—in looting. We do not covet one square inch of the territory of any other Nation. Our vast effort, and the unity of purpose that inspires that effort, are due solely to our recognition of the fact that our fundamental rights-including the rights of labor—are threatened by Hitler’s violent attempt to rule the world.”

It is endlessly fascinating to view this speech through the lens of the history that we know occurred after it was given. Two things particularly leap to mind. First, Adolf Hitler was an actual living person, a world leader in the middle of an intensely terrifying quest for world dominance. Over the course of time, that fact has been obscured by the invocation of Hitler and Nazism as code words for anything we find disagreeable, but there was a time when Hitler was “current events,” and hearing Roosevelt speak about the need to support the Allies in their efforts against the Nazi regime reminds us of that. Second, it is startling to hear the evolution of the United States as an international power. It took less than twenty years for us to go from Roosevelt’s powerful message of weaponry production as a defense for our fundamental rights to perhaps the greatest presidential farewell address of all-time, Dwight Eisenhower’s profound warning about the ever-expanding military-industrial complex.

You can read this speech online, as you can with lots of great speeches, but it’s really amazing to hear the words spoken.[audio:|titles=FDR Labor Day address]Roosevelt was an incredibly gifted speaker, filled with extreme intensity, and the Labor Day 1941 speech is a perfect example of his skills.

Of all the ways to document history, audio is the most captivating. This is an obvious thing when you’re talking about a speech, perhaps, but it holds true for anything. Watch video of the Hindenburg disaster with no sound and it is certainly eye-opening. But it really becomes heartbreaking when you hear Herb Morrison fight back tears and try and put into words what happened. Ditto the Kirk Gibson home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, perhaps the most famous play in baseball history. The story is great, the video is great, but it becomes a transcendent moment when you hear Ernie Harwell’s call of “I don’t believe what I just saw!”

There are a lot of great historical audio recordings to be found in the KMBC collection at UMKC, including a great deal more from President Roosevelt. History comes alive when you hear it, and when I listened to the Labor Day speech I felt connected to a time and a place that I have no real comprehension of. I could practically taste the doctor-recommended Chesterfield brand cigarettes! Roosevelt’s Labor Day speech, and many of the others available, give us an opportunity to be in the moments that our parents and their parents lived.

Happy Labor Day, America!

Erik Klackner, guest contributor