This is an online encyclopedia of personalities of Old Time Radio. It is designed for educational and entertainment purposes.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Herbert Morrison (1905-89)

"It's crashing. It's crashing terrible. Oh, my...get out of the way, please. It's bursting into flames! And it's falling on the mooring mast. All the folks agree this is terrible, one of the worst catastrophes on the world. Oh, the flames, four or five hundred feet in the sky! It's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. The smoke and the flames now and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity and all the passengers..."

Herbert Morrison was born May 14, 1905, in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, 49 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. He was a career broadcaster.

At WLS in Chicago, Herb was a music announcer, a job that was later called a disc jockey. He was also the man who announced yacht races on Lake Michigan (once or twice), dished out the celebrity gossip (unwillingly), and did all the mundane duties that no one else wanted to do. And they were going to resume airship traffic between Germany and the United States the first week in May. Guess who was chosen to cover it?

This job in New Jersey given to Herb was a dream assignment. All he would have to do is describe what he saw. The German Consulate-General of Chicago gave him a brochure that had explained everything. And he carefully memorized the parts of the airship. He learned the difference between a blimp and a dirigible. A blimp does not have a frame. A dirigible has one. This was Herb's first air flight--he flew from Chicago (Midway) directly to Lakehurst on American Airlines special flights for Hindenburg passengers), then stayed at a hotel in Toms River, New Jersey.

His companion for the trip was sound engineer Charles Nehlson. Their luggage was one simple overnight bag for each of the men, who didn't share a room, and a complicated transcription disc recorder. This rather complicated contraption made almost instantaneous 16-2/3 RPM records. These could be played over the air immediately. The plan was to record the landing and give the record to a man from the NBC network in New York, who would be waiting after the pomp and ceremony were all over.

Although Herb was away from his beloved wife Mary Jane, he was happy to have an easy job for a change. He didn't like the takeoff from Midway Field and had told Nehlson he was thinking about taking the train back to Chicago. After all, it was Thursday and they didn't have to be back work until Saturday (it was a two day trip, and the train would get in Friday afternoon). Nehlson, whom Herb always called Charley, was a friendly professional who understood what Herb felt. Neither one of them really wanted to go up in the sky again after they saw what happened to the Hindenburg.

At the time of the explosion, the word about it did not go out immediately. It was actually a phone call from the man that Herb and Charley met from NBC who called station WEAF that let the folks know in New York that something was wrong. News crews from New York did their best to get to the Lakehurst Naval Air Station (an interesting fact is that both the German and U.S. terminals of the route of the Hindenburg were naval bases). The word went out to WOR, WJZ (which, even though located in the same building, had a different news crew), WABC, WINS, WNEW, WHN, and WMCA (maybe others). They used their own personal vehicles to get to the base. Troopers from the New Jersey State Police had a 10 mile perimeter around Lakehurst sealed off limits from the public. Sabotage was suspected.

As soon as Morrison and Nehlson had what they needed for the report, they tried to look for the man from WEAF to give him the record. They called a taxi to take them back to Philadelphia, put their bags into the trunk, then realized they were being followed by two SS agents. This thwarted their plans of taking the train back to Chicago. They took the first airplane out and arrived home that evening.

They had made two recordings, one for NBC and a second which would air on Saturday afternoon. The SS agents were after whatever they had. They would take great pleasure in destroying their transcription disc recorder!

Anyway, they arrived home safe and sound. Even after they took the disc to the station the next day, the paranoia didn't leave them for weeks.

Herbert Morrison left WLS in 1939 to take a news position with the Mutual network at radio station WOR in New York. During World War II he served in the Army Air Forces. He was the first news director at WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh after having a similar position at radio station KQV in the same city.

Charley Nehlson retired from WLS in the early 1960s. Both he and Herb received gold watches for their work they did with the Hindenburg report shortly after it aired.

Retiring near Morgantown, West Virginia, Herb often gave lectures and speeches to school and news organizations. Herbert Morrison died at a convalescent home in Morgantown at the age of 83. He was survived by his wife Mary Jane. Herb is buried in the Scottdale Cemetery.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Axel Stordahl (1913-63)

Odd Axel Stordahl was born August 8, 1913, in Staten Island, New York, to immigrants from Norway. He learned to play the trumpet in public school and became an ace arranger. Most people in school and professional life called him by his middle name, Axel. However, as an arranger, Odd became more than a name; it became his trademark.

He played trumpet for many name bands in New York in the 1920s and '30s. Tommy Dorsey hired him away from his main job in the 1930s of arranging music for Bert Block. At the same time Dorsey hired another trumpeter, Joe Bauer, and vocalist Jack Leonard. The trio became the Three Esquires. While with Dorsey, he worked with Paul Weston as co-arrangers. They hired singer Jo Stafford who later became Mrs. Paul Weston.

Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra had a short working relationship which was passed on to Axel Stordahl in the early 1940s. Stordahl was the bandleader on the radio series Your Hit Parade, which also often featured Sinatra. Because this show was sponsored by a tobacco program, it's interesting to point out that Stordahl was often photographed leading his groups while smoking a pipe. In the 1945 movie musical Anchors Aweigh (which starred Sinatra and Gene Kelly), Stordahl wrote the orchestrations. He worked with Sinatra (at Columbia Records) from 1942 to 1951, when Sinatra signed up with Capitol Records.

Stordahl married June Hutton, who was a singer with the Pied Pipers in 1951. During the 1950s, he worked with many of the popular singers of the time (Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Dinah Shore, Doris Day, Eddie Fisher, and Bing Crosby). He did some work on television on the show, Startime.

In the early 1960s, he worked on Sinatra's two last albums for Capitol Records. Diagnosed with cancer, he stayed at home for his remaining months of life and composed the theme music for the situation comedy, McHale's Navy. He died on August 30, 1963, at age 50, in his home in the Encino district of Los Angeles, California. He was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. His wife died in 1973 at the age of 52. She is buried next to him.

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