War of the Words: 5 of Radio’s Most Iconic Broadcasts


Image by: Marcin Wichary

Now, call me an old cynic or even a belligerent curmudgeon, but there was a time when radio a technological force for good; a time when, every so often, it had something important to say and a message to impart.

Tune in to your local radio waves nowadays and all you get is an ear-invading melange of waffling DJs, vacuous jingles, and some twelve-year-old pop star wannabeâ??s â??next big hitâ?.

Well, excuse me, but radio reaches millions and millions of people and so surely is stands to reason it should be used as a more educational, uplifting, and spirited force of good. It should occasionally make bold statements, rousing speeches and galvanize an often dispirited population. Now all you get over your early morning soggy bowl of All Bran is some limp-wristed pop ballad by some acne faced, floppy haired infant.

In short, it has the potential to change the world. And it has done â?? several times.  Here are five of the most important, influential and groundbreaking radio broadcasts to ever hit the airwaves.


War Of The Worlds

Probably the most famous of all radio broadcasts, Orson Wellesâ?? adaption of HG Wells classic novel was performed and aired on Halloween 1938. Told in a series of episodic fragments and bulletins as a supposed martian invasion took place, it duped a somewhat naive and gullible American public in to thinking it was a real attack, causing mass panic and disruption as they tried to evacuate their homes and cities.

We Shall Fight On The Beaches

Along with his â??Never was so much owed by so many to so fewâ? speech, this â?? made by Winston Churchill on 4th June 1940 – is a masterclass (and masterpiece) of public oratory. Defiant, resolute, stoic, and impassioned, this is still the bench mark by which all other speeches are judged. Forget your New Labour â??Things can only get betterâ?, this is the kind of heartfelt, ennobled, heroic rhetoric that still gives you goosebumps.

The Hindenburg Disaster

Built in 1935 to carry passengers from Europe to America , The Hindenburg (named after the German president who appointed Hitler) burst in to flames when Germans used flammable hydrogen instead of helium. As he blazing zeppelin crashes to the ground, reporter Herbert Morrisonâ??s narration of the event (â??Oh, the humanity!â?) is distressing, moving and palpable, making for one of the most immediate, gut-wrenching and tragic reports of a disaster in history.

â??I Have A Dreamâ?

No, not the mawkish warblings of Westlife, but Martin Luther Kingâ??s most famous rallying cry for integration and harmony between blacks and whites. It was a milestone for the Civil Rights movement when he gave it in front of the Lincoln Memorial for the Washington For Jobs And Freedom March, and became the defining speech for not only King but also for the impact it had on the rest of the world.

Charlie Sheen

His family is Hollywood royalty, heâ??s been in Wall Street and, erm, Hot Shots, and commanded $1.8 million an episode for Two and a Half Men, but his best role has arguably been that of his real life, drug-taking, alcohol-swigging, erratically-behaved, prostitute-cavorting self. His rant on American radio station KLAC, in which he attacks colleagues as â??fools and trollsâ? with â??ugly wivesâ? and â??loser livesâ?, is a blistering, bitter, outrageous verbal screed. It certainly doesnâ??t match Churchill for eloquence, but itâ??s undeniable Sheen gets his point across (and a few things off his chest).

Martin Luther King had a dream, and so do I â?? that one day the airwaves will be filled another important, groundbreaking transmission like one of these; one that any radio station or TV commercial production company would chew its own arm off to broadcast.

Can you think of any other iconic radio broadcasts?

Gavin Harvey is a dedicated personal trainer who used to suffer from serious wanderlust but whose feet have now firmly landed in his favourite city of Bristol. He loves watching classic movies and, though he loves listening to his local radio station, often pines for something more thrilling to fill the airwaves. He often blogs for Space City.

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