CBS World News Roundup Celebrates 76 Years

The first World News Roundup earned CBS a reputation for great, in-depth reporting and made foreign news coverage a regular part of the network’s programming.
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Written by Staff Writer • Posted on Mar 13, 2014

CBS Radio’s World News Roundup, America’s longest-running newscast, celebrates 76 years on the air today. CBS Radio made broadcasting history on March 13, 1938, when it aired a riveting half-hour program reporting on Nazi Germany’s invasion of Austria. It was the first time that field correspondents like Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer, reporting live from Europe, shared a national broadcast with anchor Robert Trout, based in New York.

Although the mass media of the 1930s seems primitive by our standards—we’ve been spoiled by the instantaneous spread of news thanks to the Internet and 24-hour cable news coverage—the World News Roundup radio show brought the news—in particular, World War II—home to the American people in a way that had not even been imagined before this time.

Throughout the 1930s, despite the financial difficulties accompanying the Great Depression, electricity—and with it, radio—found its way into most American homes. By 1939 a majority of housewives considered the radio to be more indispensable than the clothes iron or the refrigerator. Early on, the majority of radio material was comprised of musical and dramatic performances, though various radio networks eventually developed news departments. Radio news reports began to rival print media, if not in depth of coverage, certainly in immediacy. Ordinary people had never before had such swift and complete access to national and world news.

CBS had actually sent Edward R. Murrow to London in 1937 to head their European Operations department. His job description did not include on-air time, as he was tasked with executive and administrative duties behind the scenes.

In March of 1938, when Germany annexed Austria, Murrow was arranging an on-air performance of Polish children’s choirs. Murrow immediately sent William Shirer to London to broadcast an uncensored report. Back in New York, the CBS home office called for the creation of a “News Roundup” special in reaction to the Anschluss. The initial broadcast was hosted by veteran newscaster Robert Trout in New York with short-wave reports from Paris, Berlin, Rome, London and Vienna. Two of the newer, more memorable voices heard on that first broadcast were Edward R. Murrow (reporting from Vienna) and William L. Shirer. As the war progressed over the next several years, Murrow’s reports from London and Shirer’s reports from Berlin became essential listening for Americans concerned about the events taking place overseas.

If you were tuning in to CBS that Sunday night intent on enjoying some St. Louis blues music, you would have instead heard the familiar voice of Bob Trout announcing a new and historic program. Imagine hearing these somber words as you crowded around the radio in your home, a store, or at a bar. “Tonight the world trembles,” Trout said in a stern tone, “torn by conflicting forces. Throughout this day event has crowded upon event in tumultuous Austria.”

This first instance of World News Roundup earned CBS a reputation for outstanding, in-depth reporting and made foreign news coverage a regular part of the network’s programming. Roundup remains on the CBS Radio Network today, running daily since that first airing in 1938, making it America’s longest-running radio news program.

Amazingly, the recording is still available for us to hear today. If you have the time—it’s approximately 35 minutes in length—listen to this historic broadcast and imagine what it must have been like to hear such a report live in the dark days leading to World War II. Another fascinating tidbit is Edward R. Murrow's obituary, which appeared in the April 28, 1965 issue of The New York Times.