Soldiers of the United Press, that is…
by Bob Stepno
The scrappy second-place wire service United Press competed with the Associated Press, Reuters and Hearst’s International News Service for newspaper-company and broadcast-news subscribers for most of the 20th century. It eventually combined with INS to form United Press International, or U.P.I. As its centennial web page noted in 2007, “Imbued with a ‘we try harder’ attitude, Unipressers took on the better resourced AP with verve and ingenuity.”
During World War II, United Press correspondents were based on all battle fronts, providing third-person and first-person breaking news and feature stories. Someone came up with the idea of dramatizing the reporters’ “how I got the story” adventures in a weekly radio series with full “radio drama” production values. Radio collectors have identified more than 140 episodes and have made digital copies of 40 of them available through Internet discussion lists, CD sales, commercial websites and the free Internet Archive.
All “Soldiers of the Press” episodes opened and closed with promotional messages about U.P. news services. The series was coordinated with newspaper display ads and press releases profiling individual correspondents, announcing honors they received (an Air Medal for one, a Purple Heart for another), and promoting the company’s print and broadcast services. The radio series was offered for free to stations that subscribed to the news service, with room for them to sell advertising around it.
United Press was used as a secondary service by Associated Press subscribers and large papers that fielded their own war correspondents, but it was the primary wire service for many smaller papers. Google’s two-year experiment in creating a digitized archive of newspapers left behind substantial collections for local and regional papers that made more use of U.P. reports than did The New York Times and Washington Post. Stories dramatized by “Soldiers of the Press” have been found in papers including the Spokane Daily Chronicle, Greensburg (Pa.) Daily Tribune, Pittsburgh Press and Berkeley Daily Gazette.
An October 26, 1942, Broadcasting magazine brief identified “Walt Rundle, UP promotion manager” as writer and producer at the start of the series. For the next three years, he or other unnamed script writers based each “Soldiers of the Press” episode’s dialogue on stories filed by the reporters. Professional radio actors — also unnamed, but sometimes identifiable to fans of classic radio — took the roles of reporters, officers, American troops, enemy soldiers and civilians. (Did the reporters ever play themselves or even know about the impersonation? Walter Cronkite years later said he did not.) Airplane engines, bombs, guns and other battle sound-effects were state-of-the-art, especially on early episodes, although later broadcasts relied heavily on soap-opera-style studio organ accompaniment, perhaps a sign of a declining budget.
A double-page advertising spread in the trade magazine Broadcasting promoted the series in 1942. (Full pages in high-resolution PDF format are available in the magazine archives at WorldRadioHistory.com. These are page 4 and page 5 from August 17.)
Elsewhere at “Newspaper Heroes on the Air”
At the blue headline links below, JHeroes.com blog posts feature media-players, newspaper-page images and other background about the people and events dramatized in “Soldiers of the Press” episodes:
From his 1943 trip across the Atlantic to his 1945 trip to a prisoner of war camp to bring back a colleague, Robert Vermillion had perhaps the most fully documented reporting career on Soldiers of the Press. Four episodes featuring him are at the headline link above.
The D-Day Invasion & Walter Cronkite
United Press reporters behind-the-scenes reports on covering the D-Day landing at Normandy… plus some notes on a United Press veteran more famous for his later career in television.
U.P.’s Henry Gorrell flies on a bombing run in the Mediterranean, wins an Air Medal, and becomes the subject of the first Soldiers of the Press profile.
Correspondent Disher, already injured at the start of a battle, survived multiple bullet and shrapnel wounds and filed his story from a hospital bed, later following up with a letter to the widow of one of the officers killed in the battle, which became another “Soldiers of the Press” episode.
Tyree was already based in Honolulu when Japan struck Pearl Harbor; he covered the war in the Pacific to its end.
In Manila when the Japanese invaded, Johnston survived hiding in the mountains, then becoming a prisoner of the Japanese, and lived to write a book about it.
Sources and Resources
- Dennis Nyhagen and Dee Neyhart of golden-age-of-radio website Digital
Deli Online have meticulously researched and organized newspaper program log entries and other sources to create their Soldiers of the Press page (archive copy here), including reporters’ profiled in episodes that are not available in online archives.
- The Old Time Radio Researchers collection at the Internet Archive has spelling and identification errors, but lets you play or download 40 individual programs: OTRR_Soldiers_Of_The_Press_Singles
- Early radio collector J.David Goldin’s RadioGoldIndex log of 94 Soldiers of the Press episodes, some of which may be in library storage and not available online. Goldin also documents a 1941-42 series, featuring interviews with UP staff as well as dramatizations of wartime events including bombings of London, Plymouth and Crete, titled United Press is On the Air.
- The Hoover Archives at Stanford University lists additional episodes of both Soldiers of the Press and United Press is On the Air in its collections, but its audio recordings are not available online.
- Deadline every minute; the story of the United Press, Joe Alex Morris; Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1957.
- “Bravo Amerikanski!” and other stories from World War II, by Ann Stringer (as told to Mark Scott); 1st Books Library, 2000.
- High Tension: The Recollections of Hugh Baillie, by Hugh Baillie. NY, Harper & Brothers, 1959.
- Manipulating the Ether: the Power of Broadcast Radio in Thirties America, by Robert J. Brown. McFarland & Co Inc., 1998.
- United Press International 2007 Centennial website.
Additional resources about war correspondents, beyond United Press.
- Library of Congress online exhibit: Women Come to the Front: Journalists, Broadcasters and Photographers During World War II
- PBS Series Reporting America at War, and its resource link collection; DVD, book, and sample episode transcripts.
- From the U.S. Defense Department, Women Journalists Came of Age Covering World War II, by Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service.
Episode links, by reporter
These are from the OTRR Soldiers of the Press — Singles page, rearranged to more easily follow the portrayals of individual correspondents. Links will download or stream the episode MP3 file. (Episode numbers may have been updated at OTRR. “xx” entries indicate missing dates or episode numbers.)
- 43-09-19 (046) Russell Annabel – Kiska Mission
- 45-06-17 (137) Eddie Beattie – Prisoner Of War (with Robert Vermillion in closing scene)
- 42-12-14 (006) Robert T Bellaire – Japanese Prisoners
- 43-05-23 (029) Clinton B Conger – Night Patrol
- 43-05-09 (027) Walter Cronkite – Dry Martini
- 45-02-18 (120) Walter Cronkite – Symbol Of Caduceus
- 45-03-25 (125) Walter Cronkite – Grease Monkey
- 42-11-30 (004) Joe James Custer – Pacific Fleet
- 42-12-07 (005) Leo Disher – Heroism in Oran
- 43-02-22 (016) Leo Disher – A Letter To Mrs Marshall
- 44-12-03 (109) Leo Disher – Drama In The Air
- xx-xx-xx (xxx) Robert L Frey – The Paratroopers (different from #99, Robert Vermillion paratrooper episode)
- 42-11-09 (001) Henry Gorrell – Bombing of Navarino Bay
- 44-11-19 (107) Henry Gorrell – Hour Of Decision
- 44-12-31 (113) Henry Gorrell – Christmas Greetings
- 42-12-28 (008) Frank Hewlett – Fall of Bataan
- 44-04-30 (078) Frank Hewlett – Merrill’s Raiders
- 44-12-24 (112) Mac Johnson – Target Tokyo
- 43-12-26 (060) Richard Johnson – Leathernecks At Tarawa
- 45-04-15 (128) Doris Johnston – Hide Out
- 44-11-12 (106) Boyd Lewis – The Ghost Goes To War
- 45-06-10 (136) Boyd Lewis – Victory In The West
- 43-01-11 (010) Robert P Martin – Bombers over Haiphong
- xx-xx-xx (xxx) John McDermott – A Face To Remember
- 42-11-23 (003) Richard McMillan – North Africa
- 42-11-16 (002) Robert Miller – The Men At Guadalcanal
- 43-03-01 (017) Robert Miller – A Son Of Bushido
- 43-12-05 (057) Reynolds Packard – Battle Boomerang
- 44-01-02 (061) Reynolds Packard – Phantom Enemy
- 43-11-28 (056) George Palmer – Torpedo
- 44-06-25 (086) Virgil Pinkley – Invasion
- 43-05-16 (028) Robert W. Richards, with Robert Vermillion in Atlantic Convoy
- 43-01-04 (009) Ned Russell – The Seige Of Stuka Acres
- 45-04-22 (129) Ann Stringer – Bravest Men In The Army
- 45-02-04 (118) Ralph Teatsorth – Communique 168
- 42-12-21 (007) William Tyree – The Pacific Theater
- 43-05-16 (028) Robert Vermillion – Atlantic Convoy
(also features UP’s Robert W. Richards)
- 44-05-07 (079) Robert Vermillion – Anzio Diary
- 44-07-02 (087) Robert Vermillion – The Road To Rome
- 44-09-24 (099) Robert Vermillion – The Paratroopers
- 45-06-17 (137) Robert Vermillion is also in closing scene of “Eddie Beattie – Prisoner Of War“
- 44-09-17 (098) Joan Younger – The Return Of The Soldier
March-July 2021 Note: I’ve updated file links that temporarily ceased working because of file-renaming at the OTRR Group and Internet Archive, relocation of the RadioGoldindex archive, and recoding of audio links by WordPress software. This page remains a work in progress.