October 7, 2014

1953. The Life and Times of a Radio Reporter

A Reflection

From CBS Radio 
December 3, 1953
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A RADIO REPORTER

By Bill Downs

(CBS Radio correspondent Bill Downs has been assigned to Rome after a couple of years in Washington, D.C. Before leaving for his new assignment, Downs reminisced on the life of a radio correspondent. His text, broadcast on "News and News Analysis" follows:)

It was during the Thanksgiving season some 13 years ago that an editor called us in and said "Here's your passport. Go over and cover the London Blitz."

In those days, there still was evidence of Kansas straw behind the ears, and the prospect of becoming a foreign correspondent was more frightening than glamorous. However, it wasn't much of a task moving...pack one suitcase with everything you owned, grab a typewriter and go.

That was the way it was for the next seven years...everything you owned you could carry, be it in a suitcase or military duffel-bag.

It was a good and exciting life, with assignments around the world. And then this correspondent got married. Shortly thereafter, another foreign assignment -- this time to cover the Berlin airlift and blockade -- came along. Still, we were in pretty good shape; could still maneuver with two suitcases, a typewriter and small case in which the bride could carry make-up and perfume.

We spent two years in Berlin, during which time a son was born. And when we eventually returned to this country, there were three suitcases, a trunk, bottles and bottle-warmers...and of course, a baby. A foreign correspondent finds it impossible to be glamorous and at the same time juggle a sterilizer.

We settled down here in Washington...and sure enough, along came another addition, a daughter this time.

And a month or so ago arrived another foreign assignment, this time to Rome.

For the past four weeks, in order to become a foreign correspondent again, we have been a real estate man, an automobile salesman, diplomat, handy-man, junk assorter and baggage buster.

Where once a single suitcase did the job, it now takes two wardrobe trunks, four suitcases and various and assorted bags and briefcases to make the move. There has to be a paregoric for queasy stomach, dramamine for seasickness, picture books for the boring moments, favorite dolls to combat loneliness, and castor oil for all emergencies.

There was the getting up at 5:30 in the morning to sneak the dog out to be shipped to grandparents to avoid the crisis of separating him from the kids. And, of course, new passports, air and sea reservations and the million worries of such an expedition.

When the Downs safari sets out, the ghost of Trader Horn will turn from white to green with envy.

We hope you'll pardon our being personal, but this is our last appearance on this news and analysis spot which we have held down for the past two and a half years. Over this period, we have spent our weekends talking with you, and, I suppose, sometimes AT you. And for the most part you have been kind, probably more kind than I deserve.

During this two and a half years, we have been called many things, including a Communist, for calling the shots as we saw them. We have done reports that afterwards we knew were not as good as they should have been. And we've done others that we are still pretty proud of.

But always there was an appreciation of the effort, and no reporter could ask for more.

It should also be said here, that no matter how controversial the subject or how sensitive the material, never, repeat never, has the management of the Columbia Broadcasting System or of CBS Radio News attempted to censor or influence the content of any broadcast. Such confidence has to be lived up to.

Replacing me on the Saturday and Sunday "World Tonight" program is Bill Costello, a lean gentleman from Minnesota who has made the world his beat, is an expert on the Far East, and who most recently has covered the White House. We covered the Korean war together in our most recent foreign assignment together. You'll find, as I did, he is a challenging and intelligent individual. He'll call the shots as he sees them too.

So, thanks for listening...I'll be broadcasting to you from the Mediterranean area for the next couple of years.

This is Bill Downs saying goodbye from Washington.