Memorial Day 2019:
The Bands and the Beeb
It was during my research into the voluminous materials that would transform my ideas for a war novel called NOTTINGHAM into THE DAWN, that I came across some very interesting radio broadcast information. I learned about the displeasure from the BBC regarding U.S. Armed Forces Radio during World War II, especially during the build-up to the D-Day of June 1944.
THE DAWN is filled with music, good music, uplifting music, melodic music, memorable music from the times of the lives of the people who saved the world from Hitler and, later, from Stalin. As a lover of fine music, I spent many of my childhood years listening to a very old Bakelite brown-box radio in the attic of my home in northern northern New Jersey. I tuned the dial into WOR-AM in New York City. After waiting a few minutes for the tubes to warm up, I was treated to the mellow modulations of pop music.
The ionosphere in New Jersey at night permitted me to listen to music, and to sportscasting, far beyond the confines of my attic. I yearned for the liberty beyond those confines, liberty that would grant me the space and the time to become a writer. That old brown box radio, along with my spanking brand-new pocket transistor radio, formed a bulwark against petty encroachments of my liberty. The wireless was my window into the world, a world of sounds that later became incorporated into a world of fiction called THE DAWN.
It wasn’t until I researched the vital use of the air waves during World War II in England and in France that I realized how much the air waves are the messengers of freedom. The wireless opens for anyone the window to freedom from the oppression that is rife in the stifling atmosphere of snooty tyranny. That fetid air most assuredly wafts from the rough-tough-cream-puffs of modern life, the busy-bodies who always know how to tell everyone else how to live, but whose private lives are morasses of squalor.
Today, the air waves are battling to transmit the voices of liberty from not only America, but from nations everywhere, around the world. The Voice of America began in 1942 as a public broadcasting weapon in the war for freedom on the face of the earth. The voices of America currently carry on the fight in that same war.
My research into WWII Armed Forces Radio revealed to me that the BBC did not like one little bit the fact the Brits were tuning into American music at a higher rate than they were to the BBC broadcasts. There were, of course, the BBC speeches, thrilling and monumental, of Winston Churchill, and those of General de Gaulle, less fiery but powerful and, oftentimes, cryptic.
There were undercurrents of meaning in the French speaking to the French; and I suppose that tradition continues to this very day, as the French take to the electronic airwaves to speak not only to each other, but to the Brits and to other peoples who yearn for freedom of speech beyond the BBC.
Not only do those citizens yearn for freedom of speech — they yearn for freedom!
I decided, as a novelist, not to include any commentary from U.S. Army Colonel Arthur Carmichael about the small-mindedness of the BBC regarding Armed Forces Radio. This heroic man was diligently trying to hear the sounds of liberty wherever he could, along with a song or two or three or four on the BBC. My recent realizations about the closed-circuit nature of the current BBC, an elitist Pravda in London, told me that the time has come for my own commentary on music and liberty.
The diffusion of American music worldwide began in England during World War II. BBC broadcasts of the Big Bands of the 1930s and 1940s were phenomenal wireless fodder for the troops and the officers in England to hear and to therefore feel a bit more “at home”. As for singers, Bing Crosby reigns supreme as the sublime voice that did the most for the morale of overseas servicemen. It was during the immediate post-war years, and into the 1950s, however, that the BBC began its decades-long slide into moronic oblivion in terms of music and meaningful (i.e. accurate) information.
In historical fact, General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, had to do battle with the Beeb to provide American radio entertainment for all of those millions of U.S. troops about to invade the beaches of Normandy. Ike won that battle, but the BBC heads had said that it wasn’t cricket for each Allied force to have its own radio station. Let’s centralize it here — in London! (The Brits just might take to the American airwaves more than ours — a fear that was realized.)
Much to the consternation of the BBC, after the war, the enterprising Brits, with their radios, found a way to continue their covert love affair with American melodies.
The music of those years, from 1946 to the late 1950s, was almost literally gobbled up by the residents living in the Midlands. They were able to pick up unusually strong signals from Armed Forces Radio stations in post-war Europe. The radio waves coming into this region of England from the northern UK provided entertainment of a very American nature.
The unintended consequence of so much American music during those war and post-war years was an auditory American Invasion of the early medieval Kingdom of Mercia that had become the industrialized England of the West Midlands and the East Midlands.
That region, perhaps because of a lack of interference from radio stations in southern England, easily picked up the broadcast signals from U.S. Armed Forces Radio. Many a tyke, with his first radio, growing up in that idyllically picturesque swath of land, listened to American music that, over time, morphed into rock’n’roll.
To a large extent, the British Invasion of music in America of the 1960’s was the turn of turntable, bringing back to the States the tonalities that were initially broadcast and picked up by the working-class teens in the households of that middle portion of England, a nation that presently fights for freedom within its own borders.
Many a future English rock-and-roller from Manchester had a musician father with a post-war band. The older bloke played trombone or trumpet or drums, after having listened to American music on Armed Forces Radio during the war. That station was the only place to find such music. European stations and the BBC refused to play songs from the U.S.A.
By the 1950s, the influence of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison Little Richard, Chubby Checker, and Buddy Holly was spectacularly pervasive in this region of working-class England. The bands of youngsters of the labourers of Liverpool, Manchester, and Yorkshire headed to the States with the songs they’d created from the music that many Americans had heard, but somehow these new tunes gave a modern swing to history.
Armed Forces Radio functioned as a harbinger of the sound of liberty, the Voice of America, that remains strong and powerful to this day. The peoples of the United Kingdom, and the peoples of France, as well as the peoples around the globe can consider this Memorial Day as a time to remember when freedom was more than a word.
Freedom is the will to survive in a glorious and gallant way. Freedom is the fight to make of your history — the lesson that freedom does not die if people are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to secure that liberty, each and every day. Memorial Day, in the truest sense of liberty, is remembered and celebrated every day — with a song in your heart.