The Last Good Meal In a World of Snacks
By Philip A. Lieberman
Philip A. Lieberman, a freelance writer based in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, is writing a book about morning radio newsmen.
It's the only remaining 15-minute commercial network radio newscast, the last oasis of hard news in a desert of soft features and sensationalism.
The influence of CBS' "World News Round-Up" has waned since it debuted in March 1938, its audience diminished as listeners flock to FM stations that offer only headline news, if any. Even many AM listeners no longer have the patience for 15 minutes of uninterrupted reporting, and for years stations have cut the program short or preempted portions for commercials or weather or traffic.
It wasn't always that way. In the newscast's early days, when Robert Trout, Ned Calmer, Douglas Edwards and Winston Burdett served as anchors, there were no interruptions. Radio news was serious business – if people wanted sensationalism or Broadway gossip, there were plenty of Hearst newspapers to read.
Most stations in the 1940s and early '50s offered several 15-minute newscasts rather than quickie updates. By the late 1950s, NBC had cut its feed to five minutes per hour. That left CBS and ABC with 15-minute newscasts at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. The morning newscasts ran Monday through Saturday, a throwback to the early 1950s when many people worked a half day on Saturdays and radio morning men worked six days a week.
3BC's "News Around the World" was never quite as good as "Round-Up." For one thing, it included commercials, so there was less time for news. And ABC didn't have Dallas Townsend.
Townsend, who served as anchor for nearly 30 years after CBS sent Winston Burdett to Rome in 1954, had a resonant, authoritative voice and perfect middle-America diction; it was impossible to determine where he grew up (it was northern New Jersey). English teachers could well have taught pronunciation by tuning in to his newscast.
At one time, radio newscasters such as Townsend had loyal followings, much as the Ted Koppels and Connie Chungs of today. Although he wasn't as well known as, say, Lowell Thomas, Townsend was radio news to a generation. He also anchored newscasts at 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. but abandoned that schedule in his last years at the network because it required him to get up before dawn.
Wven without Townsend, "Round-Up" remains the premier commercial radio news broadcast.