Transatlantic Call: From Radio Reportage to Video Conferencing

Now, I am not going to get all sentimental and give you the old “tempus fugit” spiel; but I’d like to mention, in passing, that this post (the 355th entry into the journal) marks the beginning of a third year for broadcastellan. Meanwhile, I am resting with a bad back—in the city that never sleeps, of all places. This afternoon, during an inaugural transatlantic video conference with my two faithful companions back home in Wales, my mind excused itself from my heart and took off in reflections about the ways in which technology has assisted in forging a bond between the US and its close ally across the pond, and the degree to which such tele-communal forgings may come across as mere forgeries when compared to the real thing of an actual encounter.

I was reminded of this again when, a few hours after my chat, I sat, as of old, on a bench by the East River, in a park named after Carl Schurz, a fellow German gone west who likened our ideals to the stars that, however far beyond our touch, yet assist those guided by them to “reach their goal.” In my hand was a signed copy of a newly purchased biography of Edward R. Murrow (by Bob Edwards). It opens with Murrow’s report from the blitz on London, Murrow’s residence during the war.

The broadcasts from London (as featured and discussed here by Jim Widner) did much to enhance the American public’s understanding of the plight of a people, who, due to Hollywood’s portrayal of the British, seemed stuck-up, remote, and about as real as the fog in which Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce waded through some of their adventures. Reports from Britain not only brought home a Kingdom but a concept—the notion of brotherhood untainted by the nationalism whose fervor was responsible for the war.

If not as emotional as Herbert Morrison’s report from Lakehurst during the explosion of the Hindenburg, Murrow’s updates from London were delivered by a compassionate journalist who not only listened in but was a part of what he related while on location. On this day, 21 May, in 1950, British novelist Elizabeth Bowen connected wirelessly with her American audience by speaking via transcription on NBC radio’s University Theater. Bowen referred to her novel The House in Paris (1935) as “New York’s child,” the “fruit of the stimulus, the release, the excitement [she] had received here.” Would she have been able to enter into the feelings of a child lost in a strange house, she wondered, if she “had not just returned from another city, equally new and significant to me?”

There are limits to the connections achieved by the wireless, a controlled remoteness that brings home ideas without ever feeling quite like it. Rather than seeing or hearing, being there is believing. I felt far away during my transatlantic call; but I know I will know what home is now once I get back there . . .

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