When the radio networks broke into the Sunday afternoon programming of Dec. 7, 1941, to announce that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, stations’ switchboards lit up with complaints about the interruption of football broadcasts. Denver’s KFEL, which normally broadcast religious programming that hour, logged one particularly irate call from a man asking, ”Which is more important: war news or gospel?”
But less than 24 hours later, when President Franklin Roosevelt offered his own gospel, calling on a joint session of Congress to declare war on Japan, 80 million Americans — almost two-thirds of the population — were listening. ”Yesterday,” Roosevelt began, ”December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” What followed was one of the most forceful, ringing speeches ever given on that historic floor. ”With confidence in our armed forces,” the President intoned, ”with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.”
The six-and-a-half-minute speech, frequently broken up by applause, set the nation on a course toward its proudest victory. Within five days Congress declared war on the fascist axis of Japan, Italy, and Germany. Roosevelt rallied the people, shattered their notions of isolationism, and demonstrated anew his mastery of the young medium. ”The whole issue of electronic journalism came alive at this time,” recalls John Charles Daly, a CBS correspondent who was preparing his weekly radio show from New York when the news of Pearl Harbor came over the wire. He was still in the studio the next day when the time came to switch to the Capitol for Roosevelt’s address. ”We figured he’d make a good speech,” says Daly, 76, who is retired and lives in Chevy Chase, Md. ”The ‘Date Which Will Live in Infamy’ speech fulfilled all of our hopes and then some.”
Dec. 8, 1941
The radio provides respite from war news with a cavalcade of serials and Glenn Miller’s ”Chattanooga Choo Choo,” a number 1 song on Your Hit Parade. William L. Shirer’s Berlin Diary is a best-seller. Movie marquees feature Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, Ronald Reagan in King’s Row, and Bette Davis in The Little Foxes, while a Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward haunts Broadway.