Radio News: Hindenburg disaster May 6, 1937 lives in radio history

May 05, 2022 11:33 pm

On May 6, 1937 one of radio's most famous broadcasts was recorded. The hydrogen in the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg burst into flames as the new airship attempted to land in Manchester Township, New Jersey, killing 36 people. Herbert Morrison's eyewitness report for radio station WLS in Chicago of the Hindenburg disaster was not broadcast live, but recorded for a report that was broadcast the next day, and has lived through the ages. It aired on other radio stations, and the audio was dubbed onto newsreel footage and shown in theaters. While the scale of the sinking of the Titanic was slightly larger, this was the first major disaster with a narrator calling the play-by-play, with a visual recording synched. Few people at the time had ever witnessed or listened to 36 people die at once in a terrifying scene that rivals today's Hollywood special effects. And Morrison's radio narration was the first time listeners heard someone in real time explaining what was happening during a deadly disaster, not explaining it afterwards. Watching the Challenger space shuttle disaster, or the World Trade Center fall, are modern day broadcast comparisons. While today's anchors and correspondents can keep calm in most any circumstance, Morrison's call of the accident is more human, as he is clearly overwhelmed by what he is seeing, making the "oh the humanity" phrase ring through the years.

Here is the transcript from Wikipedia:
"It's practically standing still now they've dropped ropes out of the nose of the ship; and (uh) they've been taken ahold of down on the field by a number of men. It's starting to rain again; it's... the rain had (uh) slacked up a little bit. The back motors of the ship are just holding it (uh) just enough to keep it from...It's burst into flames! Get this, Charlie; get this, Charlie! It's fire... and it's crashing! It's crashing terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! It's burning and bursting into flames and the... and it's falling on the mooring mast and all the folks between it. This is terrible; this is one of the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world. Oh it's... [unintelligible] its flames... Crashing, oh! oh, four or five hundred feet into the sky, and it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. There's smoke, and there's flames, now, and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity, and all the passengers screaming around here! I told you; it – I can't even talk to people, their friends are on there! Ah! It's... it... it's a... ah! I... I can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest: it's just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk and the screaming. I... I... I'm sorry. Honest: I... I can hardly breathe. I... I'm going to step inside, where I cannot see it. Charlie, that's terrible. Ah, ah... I can't. Listen, folks; I... I'm gonna have to stop for a minute because I've lost my voice. This is the worst thing I've ever witnessed."
— Herbert Morrison, Transcription of WLS radio broadcast describing the Hindenburg disaster.