If there remained doubts by the end of the 1930s that broadcasting was integral to American civilization, the events of September 3, 1939 dispelled those notions. That was the biggest news day in the history of radio. Within the eighteen hours between 6 A.M. and midnight, listeners heard live transmissions of several profound events:
- The declaration of war against Germany issued by the British and French governments
- An address to the British Empire by King George VI of England
- A speech by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
- A speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt
- A Speech by Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King
- News reports about the torpedoing of a transatlantic liner
Only hours old, the instantaneous communication possible through commercial radio was bringing the new World War directly into the living rooms of the American people. Of course, the events leading to the war had been scrupulously covered by radio: from the crises to the speeches, from the threats to the battles. Now that a conflagration had engulfed Western civilization, radio would continue to function as the principal source of information for the nation.
In the twenty-seven months between the outbreak of World War II and the American entry into it, network radio struggled to remain as neutral as possible. This was especially difficult for foreign correspondents like Edward R. Murrow and William L. Shirer. Strongly antifascist and by nature Anglophiles, it was no easy task for them to report an unbiased description of Rotterdam being leveled by Nazi bombs, or to stand in a London studio of the British Broadcasting Corporation and report on the Blitzkrieg that was being unleashed on the British capital. Eric Sevareid, as a CBS correspondent who had covered the fall of France, summarized one of the difficulties of such assignments when he remarked in 1940:
After you've gone through this thing called total war you're apt to have different standards.... When you've seen the homes of civilians destroyed, hospitals bombed and helpless women and children killed in the street and in air raid shelters, you have a new idea of what's important.... Everyone over there has narrow escapes from death every day. It can't help but change your outlook, give you a new perspective.
Network policies, as well as journalistic
professionalism, tried to keep radio
programming as neutral as possible. Even
without governmental suggestion, the
networks in September 1939 quickly
enunciated editorial postures that included:
- Avoidance of horror, suspense and undue excitement in reporting news and the plight of refugees
- Scrupulous checking of news sources before broadcasting
- Careful labeling of propaganda when used in broadcasting
One of the first to feel the weight of this neutralist policy was the noted network commentator, H. V. Kaltenborn. His antifascist commentaries on the news were stifled by CBS. The network commenced calling him a news analyst, thereby allowing him the right to assess the facts, but offer no opinions. And when Kaltenborn moved to NBC in late 1939, he encountered similar restrictions.
The network policy of neutrality also extended to entertainment programming. Dramatic shows could not involve sabotage, subversion, or spying within the United States. Heroes could not be involved for one side or another in the war. Broadcasters could not openly side with any of the combatants. Yet, programs skirted proscriptions by concentrating upon patriotic topics. By lauding American society and its institutions, radio effectively proclaimed the principles of democracy, equality, freedom, individualism, and the rule of law. It was not difficult to link such values with the anti-Axis position.
There were other signs of distaste for the totalitarian cause. Children listening to Captain Midnight in late 1941 heard their hero striking "fear into the hearts of foes of democracy and freedom" in Japanese-occupied China. In February, 1940, the noted movie director, Louis de Rochemont, spoke on
We, the People of the Maginot Line and the invincibility it gave to France against a possible German assault. The actors on one broadcast of the
Lux Radio Theater in 1941 donated their salaries to the China Relief Fund.
The newspaper drama, Big Town, dealt intermittently with themes of racial and religious tolerance. The Screen Guild Players dramatized the politicized films Meet John Doe and
Waterloo Bridge, and indirectly-related motion pictures such as I Met Him in Paris, Shop Around the Corner, Ninotchka, and Winter in Paris. Three weeks after the war began in Europe The Columbia Workshop rebroadcast its acclaimed warning about imminent dictatorship, The Fall of the City. And three new series—Bulldog Drummond and revivals of Fu Manchu
and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes—clearly presented British heroes fighting crime. Probably the most stridently anti-Nazi program in this time was the soap opera
Against the Storm, Sandra Michael's serial about refugee families seeking new lives in America. Set in a small college town, this soap used refugees and college lectures as contexts in which to make patriotic and anti-totalitarian statements.
American radio certainly sympathized with the Anglo-French position. Thus, when news commentator Drew Pearson predicted in July 1940 that Germany would defeat Great Britain, his comment drew much unfavorable attention. Those few stations that broadcast a pro-German attitude were usually local ethnic stations airing German-language or Italian-language programs for enclaves in Milwaukee, New York City, and Chicago. Such programming was quickly taken off the air.
Although an overwhelming majority of Americans sympathized with the Allies’ position, almost as large a majority favored an isolationist foreign policy for the United States. Embittered by sacrifices made during World War I and true to the non-interventionist policy that had been operative since George Washington’s presidency, patriotic organizations and citizens carefully audited radio to ensure its impartiality.
The forces that most effectively kept radio true to a neutralist policy were iso¬lationist groups such as the America First Committee. When they perceived political bias, these citizen censors loudly complained to the stations, networks, sponsors, and the Federal Communications Commission. They also utilized radio to spread their own messages. Col. Charles A. Lindbergh was a frequent speaker, arguing that Europe's wars were not America's concern. Former President Herbert Hoover was a strong voice, suggesting in 1940 that if a Nazi peace were established in Europe, the United States should begin developing economic ties with the New Order. Senators like Robert Taft and Burton Wheeler, newscasters like Boake Carter and Fulton Lewis, 'Jr., and social leaders like Bruce Barton, a Congressman and founder of the advertising agency, Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, also lent their prestige to the neutralist lobby.
Theirs was an effective campaign. Governmental and network policy as well as public opinion did not abandon neutrality until the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the German and Italian declarations of war on the United States four days later.
World War II was a radio war. From the early reports of the stunning attack at Pearl Harbor, to the surrender ceremonies aboard the U.S.S.
Missouri in Tokyo Harbor in September 1945, Americans experienced the battle most directly via broadcasting. News reporters transmitted from the theaters of war, the federal government maintained a liaison with its citizenry through radio, and networks and local stations were eager to interrupt regular programming to bring the latest news flashes.
The war affected other areas of broadcasting besides news. Government War Bonds programs such as
Treasury Star Parade, Millions for Defense, and Music for Millions mixed Hollywood celebrities and heavily-propagandized scripts in emotional pitches for bonds. Other official messages—from appeals for scrap metal, used fats and grease, and planting Victory gardens, to conserving the life of rubber tires, squelching rumors, and meeting the strict requirements to earn a Victory-Home sticker—reached listeners.
In the early weeks of the war, all radio rallied to national needs. In the midst of the plots, soap opera characters began discussing Red Cross or U.S.O. volunteerism. Mrs. Edward G. Robinson, representing the women's U.S.O. division for California, appeared on
Dr. Christian to appeal for donations to the organization. Vox Pop, the popular interview program, hosted a survivor of Pearl Harbor, and then used the opportunity to suggest that those who failed to double up in automobiles were guilty of criminal negligence, while those who took joy rides in automobiles were guilty of sabotage. On the
Kraft Music Hall, host Bing Crosby stressed the importance of buying war bonds in order to "clip the Nips."
The plot of an Amos 'n' Andy broadcast dealt sympathetically, but negatively, with a wealthy woman who wished to avoid government agencies and start her own private war projects. Shows as diverse as
Lum and Abner, the Quiz Kids, and the gossip program, The Voice of Broadway, made ringing speeches about buying bonds to support the American troops fighting the war.
Even local stations entered the crusade. Ethnic stations like WBNX (New York City) and WHOM (Jersey City) aired anti-Nazi shows in German. Station WGR (Buffalo) created a "Commando Corps" of youngsters to sell War Bonds and Stamps. Participating children received armbands for identification, and depending upon the amount of their sales, they were able to move up in the ranks from "Private" to "General."
These were impassioned weeks, and the rhetoric of radio programming testified to the depth of the feelings being demonstrated. Typical of these intense emotions was the following speech made by the central character in
The Adventures of Ellery Queen, not usually a program in which the actors became topical.
It is true that I spend a great deal of my time editing and writing but my major purpose in life is to bring criminals to justice—to see that they are put where they cannot terrorize decent people again. Today the most vicious gang of international criminals in all history is loose in the world. So we Americans have organized—a wrathful army of men, women, and children—to track down these criminals together. You're in this army, even if you're not shouldering a gun—not everyone can. But everyone can take a shot at the Axis just the same—with no more effort than it takes to stop at your corner drugstore. Because one 25¢ War Stamp bought from your druggist puts 12 bullets into the magazine of an American's gun—yes, 12 bullets and you may be sure our boys will deliver your 12 messages to the Nazis and Japs without fail. And that 25¢ War Stamp not only means 12 shots at the Axis—it's also an investment because your 25¢ immediately goes back to work earning money for you, money you will get back with interest after it has done its share for Victory. So buy bullets through War Stamps from your druggist tonight. Yes, and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that—buy War Stamps every day until the day of Victory.
As animated as was such rhetoric, there were those who felt that radio needed to paint the enemy in ever more sinister colors. Arch Oboler enunciated that position when he told a group of radio officials and scholars that radio programs needed an "injection of hatred and passionate feeling.” His radio plays that year reflected his position. Oboler created diabolic pictures of what he termed "the Jap-Nazi world" that would materialize if indifferent Americans did not dedicate their energies and money to the war effort. In his fantasy, "Adolf and Miss Runyon," he had Hitler roundly denounced by a typical American woman who then killed him in a car accident.
In his drama, "Hate," Oboler heatedly preached that the Nazis were "a filthy, ruthless, bestial crew ... they hate us and our kind, intend to destroy us and all we stand for. We must kill them with any weapon, by any means, if we are to survive. We must fight; we must hate."
In a short radio play in 1942 entitled "Chicago, Germany," aired on the syndicated U.S. government series
Treasury Star Parade, Oboler projected a brutal vision of the consequences to average Americans of a Nazi conquest of the United States. His fictionalization of Chicago under the jackboots of victorious Hitlerian Germany ended with a powerful cautionary statement: "This has been a play about an America that must never happen—that will never happen—NEVER!"
Most directly, however, in a personal commentary Oboler explained his commitment to the war effort on the broadcast of
Lights Out on December 18, 1942.
A few weeks ago ... I started a game. Perhaps you heard about it. It's called "They're Here for Me." It's a very simple game. You sit where you are and you think: "The Japs, the Nazis—they're here for me. Not for someone in the newspaper, or someone in the town half-way across the world, someone I don't even know in this neighborhood, or even for my neighbor next door. But for me." Yeah, a smirky little Jap is standing at the door. He's there for you—not in the headlines, not just an idea, but actually there for you. It can happen you know. Three million dead in Europe attest to that fact.... Think about that Jap or that Nazi waiting for you, and then remember that every War Savings Stamp and every War Bond that you buy is a bullet, or a bomb, or a tank, or an airplane between you personally and the horror of a Jap-Nazi world. Every Bond that you buy—another bullet, or another bomb, or another tank, or another airplane between you, personally, and the horror of a Jap-Nazi world.
Although the intensity of wartime patriotism tended to diminish as the war dragged on, the national military effort was strongly a part of radio entertainment from 1942 until late 1945. As a programming trend it was recognizable in the number of military men and women who appeared as contestants on quiz shows, and in the appearance of series fully oriented toward the war effort—series like the award-winning
The Man Behind the Gun, which dramatized the battles of war; The Army Hour, a military variety series; and
Stage Door Canteen, an all-star revue for servicemen hosted by Bette Davis and other personalities.
Preoccupation with the war was noticeable in such disparate expressions as Fibber McGee and Molly singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the end of one of their shows; Eddie Cantor, Kate Smith, and Ralph Edwards (host of the popular quiz show,
Truth or Consequences) conducting extremely successful War Bond drives; and the appearance of programs like
Viva America, which stressed the warmth of political relations between the United States and her Latin American allies. Yet, nowhere was the propagandizing more obvious than in children's programs. The impressionable minds that had been spared violence by the network codes in 1939 now became targets of plots that were as brutalizing as anything intended for adult listeners.
American children fought World War II in front of their radio sets. To take them into the thick of the battle, there were the likes of
Don Winslow of the Navy, the story of a naval aviator who bombed ships, attacked Nazis, and hated Japanese.
Hop Harrigan was about "America's ace of the airways." Harrigan was an eighteen-year-old free-lance aviator who presented a "big brother" image to youngsters. But he was an American warrior to the core. Harrigan flew bombing runs, had dog-fights with enemy planes, escaped concentration camps and rescued his wounded pal while dodging German machinegun bullets.
The heroes of children's programming fought enemies everywhere. In
Captain Midnight, Terry and the Pirates, The Sea Hound, and
Jungle Jim they championed the Allied cause in the air, on the sea, and on
the land throughout the world. At home, America was protected from spies and saboteurs by the central characters of
Superman, The Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters Show, The Green Hornet,
and Jack Armstrong.
As if the plots were not involvement enough, throughout the war juvenile listeners were implored on these shows to fight the enemy by collecting scrap metal, used fats, tin, rubber, and newspapers; and by buying War Stamps, writing to servicemen once a month, and planting Victory gardens. Never had a war been so directly taken to American youngsters; never had a war been as total as radio made it.
For example, young listeners to
Terry and the Pirates children—“even a first grader”—were encouraged to become good luck mascots for U.S. Army Air Corps and have their “names and messages go to war” in a B-25 bomber. On
Hop Harrigan in 1942 children were urged to join the Junior Salvage Army and begin collecting scrap metal and old rubber—gathered from home attics, basement, garages, and even neighborhood vacant lots—that could be turned into valuable material with which to build military supplies. One of the most compelling examples of this youthful militarization is found in the five-point pledge to fight waste that juvenile listeners to
Dick Tracy swore in 1943:
1. to save water, gas, and electricity
2. to save fuel oil and coal
3. to save my clothes
4. to save Mom's furniture
5. to save my playthings
Compliance not only gave a child inner satisfaction, but by notifying the network of his pledge, a child had his or her name placed on a Victory Honor Roll which, the program announcer assured listeners, was sure to be read by General Dwight D. Eisenhower when he received it at Allied Headquarters in North Africa.
The direction taken in children's serials fostered debate among critics. One representative from the Office of Civil Defense assailed their "blood-and-thunder" quality. According to her, such programming "will make American children more of a problem in the postwar world than the worst propaganda-corrupted youngsters in the Axis nations." Others contended that alarm was unnecessary, that this programming had democratic lessons to relate, and that it was principally through war-related action that children would be persuaded to sit and listen.
This was underscored by one critic who noted of children's serials: "In a subtle way, they preach love of country in a way that every youngster understands—more effective than anything which could be prepared to teach democratic ideals by a more direct method." In a similar vein, Robert J. Landry of
Variety alleged that these shows were effective in teaching children the ethical stakes of World War II. He maintained that there was a positive value to be found in those juvenile programs where “the modern hero ... swoops out of the clouds in a streamlined bomber at 400 miles an hour.... He dive-bombs a huge Japanese battleship off the face of the ocean. Where does this leave
The Lone Ranger?”
The domestic stresses of World War II raised in the minds of all people connected with broadcasting the fear of censorship. The fear was chronic in the history of radio, but in the war years it appeared more imminent than ever. In practical terms, there were two types of censorship in broadcasting. First, there was direct interference by the federal government to prevent certain types of programming. Second, there was localized, editorial selection by station managers or network officials. Historically, radio had been much more affected by the latter. By statute and constitution governmental agencies were generally prohibited from interfering in program content. Even the FCC, which controlled the issuance and renewal of licenses, was prohibited from directly telling stations what they should or should not broadcast. Editorial selection, on the other hand, frequently occurred. The motives in such instances were usually clear: the fear of antagonizing listeners by airing controversial opinions, the desire to observe the boundaries of good taste, concern with offending commercial sponsors.
On the subject of broadcast censorship, Variety in early 1939 printed a broad spectrum of opinions from experts in radio programming. Most agreed that although there had been little government interference in the past, there had been many instances of station and network editorial selection. Most confidently hoped, moreover, that should a war crisis arrive, radio would be able to regulate itself without governmental controls. This was ably argued by Edward Klauber, executive vice-president of CBS, who cited three historical reasons for self-censorship:
- that every mention of censorship is met with increasing opposition;
- that when the truth is known, broadcasters have been making earnest efforts to handle all points of contention; and
- that the public knows that broadcasters act swiftly to correct their faults, and the public had come to rely on this type of self-regulation.
When America did enter the war, the hopes of most broadcasters were realized. The federal government decided upon a course of voluntary self-censorship for radio rather than confiscation or stringent regulation of the industry. Nevertheless, the government made its desires for program content known to the stations and networks.
As early as January 1942, the Office of Censorship stated the official position on programs that might provide information helpful to internal spies and saboteurs, or external military and naval commanders. In its Code of Wartime Practices for American Broadcasters, the government asked for voluntary censorship of news, ad-lib talk and game shows, and foreign language programs. Proscribed from such programs were references to the weather, fortifications, war-related experiments, troop or materiel movements, casualty lists, and the like.
Stations were urged to watch carefully those quiz and discussion programs where comments from the audience might be heard. Fearing secret coded messages, the government also requested the elimination of programs that accepted telephoned or telegraphed requests for specific songs, aired "lost and found" segments, or announced upcoming of mass meetings. Such features should only be handled, it was suggested, when requests were received in writing—and then only after station continuity departments had rewritten the requests in their own words.
As for foreign language radio stations, the code required all such stations to keep full transcripts, either written or recorded, of their programs. It further requested strict adherence to scripts by announcers and performers. To underline its hands-off policy toward radio, however, the government further declared in the code that “Free speech will not suffer during this emergency period beyond the absolute precautions which are necessary to the protection of a culture which makes our radio the freest in the world.”
While federal officials declined to confiscate equipment or assign military censors to each station and network, they lost little time in informing the broadcasting industry that there were certain materials they wanted aired. Through the Office of Facts and Figures, headed by Archibald MacLeish, and the Office of War Information (OWI), under former CBS newsman Elmer Davis, the government regularly issued a slate of propaganda items it hoped would be interjected into regular programs. It set up a Special Features Plan which would utilize network programs and local stations for airing war messages. It also urged programming that touched wartime topics: the issues involved in the war, the nature of the enemy, the nature of the Allied nations, war aims, and the condition of the fighting, working, and home forces.
The coordination of government requirements and radio's responsibilities was enhanced by the fact that many radio personalities and network officials entered governmental service during the war. As well as Davis, CBS Vice-President William B. Lewis joined the staff of the OWI. Jack Benny, Kay Kyser, Jean Hersholt, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Nelson Eddy, and other radio celebrities were recruited in 1942 into a "Committee of 25," a government-sponsored group coordinating fund-raising and morale-building activities.
Arrangements such as this benefited both the networks and the government. Network radio now encountered government officials who understood the problems of commercial broadcasting—men and women who would not burden the networks with disorderly programming or ponderous uninteresting propaganda. The federal government in turn received knowledgeable workers skilled in the management of national radio systems, and top-flight entertainers whose reputations lent credibility to an appeal for funds or to a patriotic statement.
There were instances where radio transgressed the federal regulations. Early in the war, Chicago sports announcer Bob Elson had a difficult time breaking his habit of announcing "it's a beautiful day at the ball park," and thus found himself cut off for several seconds during these unintentional "weather reports." Some discussion programs stopped taking live comments from the audience and demanded that all questions be submitted in writing beforehand. Other shows, unable to adjust their formats, simply left the air. When Mutual newsman Arthur Hale inadvertently spoke of atomic research taking place at a site in Pasco, Washington, several military leaders were so enraged they actually demanded an end to voluntary controls and the establishment of military censorship in the United States. Despite such instances, the record of American broadcasters during the war was impressive. Probably the most positive statement that can be made of a nation's communications system was written in the memoirs of the eminent news reporter, Raymond Gram Swing. Concerning his "experience with censorship throughout my career," Swing remarked:
During World War II, none of my broadcasts was censored, though at the Blue network they were read prior to delivery by someone on the staff. That was, and is, standard procedure in radio and television today; and I find it not only unobjectionable, but proper, since the station is legally responsible for what its broadcasters say.... I am simply reporting that I had remarkably little interference with my freedom to say what I wished throughout my life as a journalist and commercial broadcaster.
It was a significant social achievement for a major combatant to have conducted a war for almost four years without interrupting the flow of entertainment and inquiry that commercial broadcasting had established. It suggested to many that once the battle was ended, radio had a bright and prosperous future before it.
By the end of the war, there were many reasons to expect a thriving future for radio. Because in early 1942 the demands of war production had halted manufacture of radio tubes and receiving sets, manufacturers expected booming postwar sales. Sets could now be repaired, new radios and radio-phonograph combinations could be bought, and, in the spirit of victory and peace, returning Americans could revert to their familiar listening patterns. To entertain this new world, there were more than 900 stations, broadcasting for sixty million radios, owned by thirty-one million "radio families." Further, there were developments within the industry that added sophistication and practicality to broadcasting.
Radio had new prestige. Although the other popular arts had already established awards for distinguished merit, until the 1940s radio had no equivalent of the Academy Award or Pulitzer Prize. Beginning in 1942, however, the renowned School of Journalism at the University of Georgia began granting its annual George Foster Peabody Awards for outstanding achievements in broadcasting. The Peabody Awards rapidly became a most impressive mark of distinction among radio personnel. A perusal of the names of early recipients serves only to confirm this assessment, for among those winning artists were comedians Fred Allen and Bob Hope; broadcast journalists Cecil Brown, Charles Collingwood, Edward R. Murrow, and Raymond Gram Swing; and director-producer William N. Robson.
As well as recognizing its own talented achievements, radio offered an improved future with the introduction of frequency-modulation (FM) programming. FM promised truer transmission with no interference from static, a situation most appreciated by music lovers. Further, because it was locally-oriented and broadcast with limited coverage patterns, it emerged as sponsorless radio with lengthy periods of uninterrupted transmission. FM had been perfected in the early 1930s by its inventor, Edwin Howard Armstrong, a man renowned for his invention a decade earlier of radio technology that made high-quality reception possible.
The marketing of FM radio, however, was thwarted by the political and business maneuverings of RCA and its chairman, David Sarnoff. Protecting his own corporate interests, Sarnoff argued that a new alternative like FM would cause consternation within the established world of AM radio, this at precisely the time when television would be emerging. Sarnoff urged concentration on developing TV and then adjusting radio to its impact.
Despite the moves by RCA, FM radio became a reality at Armstrong's experimental station in Alpine, New Jersey. And by 1945, there were several other FM broadcasters scattered throughout the country. When that year the FCC readjusted to lower frequencies the range in which FM could be transmitted—this over the protests of Armstrong and his followers—RCA dropped its hostility and FM became an unchallenged, operative but stunted reality in broadcasting.
The postwar future also looked promising because during the war radio programming had developed a decidedly egalitarian tone. This was especially true as it related to the African-American citizenry. Until World War II, black characters had been racially stereotyped—whether portrayed by black or white actors—as butlers, maids, loafers, and the like.. While black singers and musicians appeared occasionally on radio, racial prejudice was more clearly evidenced in drama, comedy, and variety programming, as well as in the many types of shows—news, sports, quiz, panel discussion—in which blacks were almost never involved.
The war would begin to change this attitude. Battling a foreign enemy that was steeped in racist ideology, it was difficult for many Americans to decry fascism abroad and tolerate bigotry at home. Beginning in the 1940s, radio and the other popular arts assumed a civil libertarian course. Black talents like Paul Robeson, Juano Hernandez, and Canada Lee appeared in dignified dramatic roles. Radio brought the plight of the black soldier and sailor into American homes in programs as diverse as soap operas and documentaries. Programs explored black culture, probed the meaning of democracy, and envisioned a postwar world of brotherhood. Matters became so affected by wartime cultural liberalism that black actors appeared occasionally in white roles on "color-blind" radio. Importantly, this cultural re-evaluation of the African-American, and by association, all ethnic minorities, would spread to social, economic, and political matters once the battle ended.
The hopeful signs of the mid-1940s were enhanced by a new competition in network broadcasting. The creation of the American Broadcasting Company presented listeners with a fourth wholly-independent network. ABC was born after the FCC and the United States Supreme Court ordered NBC to divest itself of its Blue network. According to the court, NBC-Blue had been used to stifle competition with NBC-Red; and since the two chains controlled a substantial number of the high-wattage stations in the country, this constituted a monopolistic practice.
In 1943 the now-autonomous Blue Network was sold to Edward Noble, the president of the Lifesaver Candy Company. For $8 million Noble acquired three stations that were owned and operated by the network, and almost two hundred network affiliates. Discounting the decentralized Mutual network, the call letters of the network key stations eventually reflected the fact that there were now three streamlined corporations running American broadcasting. By the 1950s, ABC had changed the name of its key station from WJZ to WABC; similarly, CBS switched the call letters of its home station from WABC to WCBS; and NBC-Red, now simply the National Broadcasting Company, instituted several changes before WEAF emerged as WNBC.