Saturday, September 29, 2007

Crosley Censors Labor News

Back in 1935, Norman Corwin was having trouble finding a job in New York City, just like a lot of people. So it was that he answered an ad trolling for radio talent and writers on behalf of WLW in Cincinnati. Amazingly, in the middle of such hard times, Crosley Broadcasting was hiring! This was largely because WLW's 500,000-watt transmitter had sparked a tremendous growth surge. Too, there was always a bit of a turnover, helped along by WLW's low pay scale.

But it was a job, and rail transportation from New York to Cincinnati was free, with return fare guaranteed if things didn’t work out. So Corwin interviewed for a job as a writer and was hired.

The low pay wasn’t enough to deter Corwin, but almost immediately he was finding fault with the working conditions. His office overlooked a factory (Gee, Norm, what did you expect—a wilderness view? Not near the Crosley factory—nor in midtown Manhattan.) It was too hot (put up some curtains and get a fan). And the studios were too cold (put on a coat). This probably motivated him to argue with management over a directive he didn’t like: a memo advising employees that strikes were not to be mentioned on the radio news. The original memo is shown above, the bottom of the two, dated May 20, 1935. You can see a larger, readable image by clicking on it, but it says, "No reference to strikes is to be made on any news bulletin broadcast over our stations" (referring to WLW and WSAI).

Corwin asked for clarification (though he was not in a position where he’d be saying anything into a microphone), and received the reply shown above on May 31. This memo reads, "Our news broadcasts, which you have already been told, and which has been our practice for some time, will not include mention of any strikes. This includes students' strikes and school walk-outs."

Not long after that he was let go. His boss told him that WLW was doing away with the news department. Naive, Corwin believed this. Until, that is, he got back to New York and showed a friend the memos. His friend set him straight, and Corwin eventually took the memo to attorney Mina Kassner at the Civil Liberties Union, who gave them to The Nation magazine. I think he did this in part on the advice of his friend, and in part because he was embarrassed to have been taken in.

The revelation of the memos generated some heat for Crosley Broadcasting, and thereafter news of strikes no longer completely banned from WLW and WSAI. Neither Powel nor Lewis Crosley signed the memos (that was left to a Mr. Ries), but the Crosleys were responsible for the ban; the corporate culture was based on the Crosleys’ beliefs and practices.. The Crosley Corporation had already had its fill of strikes (but would see more), and it’s a cinch that they figured it would be better if the radio didn’t put ideas in workers’ heads.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

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