Radio's Dean Of The
"Be Sure With Pure."
--- Gene Hamilton
On Saturday, April 6, 1940, radio commentator H.V. Kaltenborn aired his
first broadcast for NBC's Red Network after serving 13 years with
the Columbia Network. The newscast also began a long
sponsorship with the Pure Oil Company. It was a major
catch for Pure, because it was sponsoring one of radio's
most distinguished and respected journalists.
H.V. Kaltenborn was the pioneer of radio journalism. He was the
very first newscaster to comment on the current events of the day. At
first, this form of journalism wasn't allowed as he would find out the
Kaltenborn began his radio career in 1923 at station WEAF in New
York. His commentary of the news got him in trouble with the
management of the station. Ironically, Kaltenborn's comments weren't
much different from what was printed in his column in The Brooklyn
Eagle--- yet the reaction was drastically different. While his column
didn't stir up much fuss, those same comments presented on the air were
considered controversial. The root of the problem was that WEAF
didn't want to make waves or be caught in the middle with those people
with opposing viewpoints. Despite the popularity of the newscast and the
protests of the radio listeners, WEAF abruptly terminated
Kaltenborn made his network radio debut in 1927 with the new Columbia
Broadcasting System. He continued to comment on the news as
before--- only this time he didn't have to worry about the network
firing him, since Columbia was trying to attract listeners from NBC's
established Red and Blue Networks.
The radio listeners tuned in to hear Kaltenborn's famous brisk,
staccato speaking voice comment on the latest news of the day. It wasn't
long before other radio journalists began their own commentary of
the news that Kaltenborn originated. Once was taboo before the creation
of network radio, commentary of the news quickly became a routine part of
a journalist's newscast.
Kaltenborn will be remembered for his reporting the late breaking news
during the Munich Crisis. He was at the Columbia studios during
the entire 18 days of the crisis. When he wasn't reporting the news, Kaltenborn was resting on a cot just outside the studio. When the crisis
ended with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain proclaiming, "Peace
In Our Time," Kaltenborn knew Nazi Germany wouldn't stop
there--- and said so on his newscast. He stated, "Today, they
ring the bells, tomorrow they may wring their hands."
Unfortunately, Kaltenborn's grim forecast proved correct.
While he was precise in what he reported on the air, Kaltenborn wasn't
always right. On Election Night in 1948, he was presenting the latest
Presidential election returns between President Harry S. Truman and
challenger Thomas E. Dewey for NBC News. Throughout the evening, the returns were too
close to call. As the evening progressed, Kaltenborn could see a swing
in Dewey's favor. It was enough for him to project Dewey the winner,
despite the returns were still close. What Kaltenborn didn't foresee was
another swing in the votes going to Truman. As evening turned to early
morning, Kaltenborn retracted his original projection and announced
Truman as the winner.
On his newscast, Kaltenborn described how Truman did an impersonation of
the journalist describing how he (Truman) was losing the election. Kaltenborn took the President's comments with class as he stated, "We
can all be human with Truman. Beware of that man in power who has no
sense of humor." Kaltenborn laughed at himself while everyone
else were laughing with him.
Kaltenborn's association with Pure established the oil
company as a major sponsor of nightly newscasts on the NBC Radio
Network. It was also an interesting program/sponsor relationship,
because the newscast was heard on a national basis, yet Pure
was a regional oil company (serving the states of the Midwest and
Southeast). The commercials informed those listeners who didn't live in
the 2 regions of Pure's powerful gasoline Solventized
Woco-Pep and Solventized Pure-Pep. Both contained Pure's
exclusive "special chemical combination" for a
cleaner, more powerful fuel. Hopefully, if those people happened to be
in the Midwest or Southeast, they would stop in at the station with the
familiar blue and white Pure sign and fill up their car or
truck with its powerful, but clean burning gasoline.