World War II

In 1937, CBS sent Murrow and his wife to Europe. CBS wanted to set up a network of reporters to provide first-hand observations of the changes in Europe. There was no network news at the time so there was no pattern to follow. Not only was there no pattern, Murrow had never been in the news business and never written a newspaper story. What he did know is how to organize people and work with people to get what he needed.

In addition to setting up the reporting network, he was to schedule talks and set up interviews people with important people. But these interviews were for entertainment. News on the radio was limited to reading the news headlines on the hour by announcers. There was very little research and very little reporting on current events.

His first hire was William L. Shirer, an American expatriate who worked all over Europe. Shirer’s hiring was Murrow’s first big test with the CBS brass. Shirer was no announcer, he was a newsman. The bosses back in New York thought his voice test was terrible with a flat, nasal, midwestern accent even though he worked in Europe for 10 years. Murrow refused to budge. He wanted reporters who could write and think about what they were reporting, not announcers who just read what they were given.

The first big story of the new network landed right in their lap. On the same day Shirer landed in Vienna, Hitler’s troops marched into the capital to add Austria to the growing Nazi machine. He was all set to report on the Nazi troops when he was physically removed from the radio station. Shirer flew back to London to deliver his first hand report and Murrow flew to Vienna.

CBS had Shirer and Murrow pull together a special news round up from Europe using newspaper reporters who were working in the continent’s major cities. Murrow reported from Vienna, Shirer from London, Edgar Mowrer from Paris, Pierre Huss from Berlin, Frank Gervasi from Rome, Senator Lewis Schwellenbach from Washington D.C. and hosted by Bob Trout in New York. Murrow’s live report from Vienna was the first of his career.

(Gervasi could not find a radio transmitter in Rome so he phoned in his script to Shirer who read it over the air.)

The special report was new a revolutionary because it reported the news from multiple locations and, most importantly, from where the news was taking place. This broadcast became the basis for World News Roundup which still runs today on the CBS Radio Network.

During the time leading up to WW 2, Murrow and Shirer were able to provide first hand accounts of the events leading up to America’s entrance into the war. Murrow reported live during the Blitz in London and Shirer often reported from Berlin.

Eventually, Murrow hired a group of reporters, including one woman, who became known as Murrow’s Boys. Those reporters included Eric Sevareid, Charles Collingwood, Howard K. Smith, Mary Marvin Breckinridge, Cecil Brown, Richard C. Hottelet, Bill Downs, Winston Burdett, Charles Shaw, Ned Calmer, and Larry LeSueur.

These reporters, since they were from a neutral country, were able to provide news from the European hot spots. They covered all of Europe from London to Moscow. Murrow hired his “boys” without regard to how they sounded but for their experience covering real news. Sevareid was the first to break the news that France surrendered to the Germans in 1940. In spite of American’s reluctance to enter another war in Europe, the CBS news organization proved very popular for keeping the public up-to-date about what is happening in Europe.