Tuesday, December 07, 2010

There's Good News Tonight

Gabriel Heatter was a news commentator for Mutual Broadcasting.  at his peak his 15-minute news program was carried on over 200 stations five days a week. You will find his name frequently in Billboard in the 1940s usually for his Hooper Ratings. Like many popular programs, his had a certain lowest common denominator quality to his program. It is usually described as earnest and not analytical, while that's a minus for a hardcore news-hound, it's oddly representative of modern opinion-driven commentary programs. The primary difference being that Heatter was upbeat. His program was optimistic, a quality completely absent from all modern news programming. More here.

He started out as a reporter for The East New York Record,  and went on to write for the Brooklyn Times.  He then in a politically fortuitous moment was offered a job with William Randolph Hearst's New York Evening Journal. the hire made sense, when Hearst had run for mayor Heatter had campaigned for him. At 16 years old he introduced Hearst at the podium, the crowd was not friendly as was recorded in a 1941 article in Time Magazine:
"The assignment fell to the juvenile Heatter, then 16. All over New York the youthful Gabriel trumpeted the virtues of candidate Hearst. Frequently he was bespattered with eggs and tomatoes, occasionally bashed on the nose."
Hearst lost. Heatter continued to write.  He went on to write for the the New York Tribune, trade magazines, and several magazines. Then at the age of 42 he made the leap to radio quite unexpectedly. In 1931, he wrote an article for The Nation debating Socialist pundit Norman Thomas. Inspired by the article, Donald Flamm, the owner WMCA-AM invited Heatter  to debate a Socialist on air. His opponent did not make it to the program in time and Heatter instead had the program to himself.  It went so well that Flamm hired him as $35 a week. Heatter got lucky and within a year, WOR became the flagship station of the Mutual Broadcasting Network. He now had syndication. His big break supposedly came in 1936:
"Heatter's advent on the big time dates from April 3, 1936. That night he was stationed at Trenton to cover the execution of Bruno Hauptmann. Although Heatter had been tipped off that Bruno was scheduled to be electrocuted at 8:05, he did not die until close to nine. Meanwhile, Heatter ad libbed triumphantly for 53 minutes for MBS, setting a record for extemporaneous chatter."
What he's remembered for is his sign on catch phrase. He always said "There's good news tonight!" At his peak he hosted two news programs We, The People and A Brighter Tomorrow. He was big enough to do celebrity endorsements and publish books. He appeared in a couple films including the Cary Grant movie “Once Upon a Time”and the 1951 flick“The Day the Earth Stood Still”. More here. After WWII his popularity waned though he remained with Mutual. Though in all fairness, in 1952 MBS was bought by National Tire Co. and pretty much everything MBS was on the wane.

Most biographies date his move to Miami to 1951. This is incorrect, the more likely date is 1948. His own daughter Maida dated the move similarly in an article for Miami Beach Memories and described his broadcasting from home:
"My dad started doing his show here in the late 1940s when Frank Katzentine invited him the radio station he owned. [WKAT-AM] Most of the time dad had the engineers come to the house, and he would broadcast his live 9:00 PM show from there. We hung bathmats and blankets on the walls to insulate for sound."
He never left Miami. He died there on 30th March 1972.

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