Native North Carolinian Robert Trout was known as "The Iron Man of Radio" because of his ability to improvise during hours-long reports of significant breaking news. Image courtesy of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, Chicago, IL.
Robert Trout was an American broadcast journalist who is often considered to have been the first news anchor. In a career spanning nearly seventy years, he is especially noted for his coverage of the D-Day invasion and his announcement of the end of World War II.
Robert Albert Blondheim was born in Wake County, but by the time he was three, his family had moved to Washington, D. C. He had hoped after high school graduation to pursue a career as a globetrotting writer as did his idol, Jack London. But while recovering from a bout of pneumonia in 1932, he visited a Washington radio station, WJSV (now WTOP), and was hired as a handy man. One day, when one of the regular newscasters failed to show, Blondheim was pressed into service and he began using the last name of a family friend, Trout. When CBS purchased WJSV the next year, he became part of the network “family.”
Trout started gaining popularity in the 1930s. He covered the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and is credited with inventing the term “fireside chat” for FDR’s radio addresses. He was also assigned to foreign stories. He was the only American to broadcast the coronation of King George VI of England in 1937; earlier, he covered the marriage of King Edward VIII to the American Wallis Warfield Simpson.
But it was World War II that cemented Trout’s reputation. On the day after Adolf Hitler annexed Austria in March 1938, Trout conducted the first CBS "World News Roundup," presenting on-the-spot reporting and commentary via shortwave from reporters all over Europe, including fellow North Carolinian Edward R. Murrow in Vienna. When Hitler threatened to annex the heavily German populated Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia in September, Trout conducted a second “roundup” with Murrow in London, where he remained for the war’s duration. Trout was noted especially for two epic events in World War II. On the evening of June 5, 1944, the German news agency broadcast an unconfirmed report that the invasion of Europe had begun. Trout remained on the air for some seven hours, starting at 3 AM (Eastern War Time), and transmitted the official news as well as reports from Murrow and his team of correspondents. On August 14, 1945, Trout reported that the Truman administration had just announced the surrender of Japan. “The Japanese have accepted FULLY the surrender terms of the United Nations,” he said. “THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the Second World War.”
After the war, Trout continued covering important news and dabbled into the entertainment industry. He covered Harry Truman’s unexpected defeat of Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 presidential election, General Douglas MacArthur’s removal as commander of American forces in Korea, and such events as the Kentucky Derby and the running of the bulls in Pamplona. From 1947 to 1952 he worked at NBC; his duties included hosting the news-related game show Who Said That?, on which a celebrity panel tried to identify the authors of quotations from the previous week’s news. He hosted the program from 1948 to 1951, before returning to CBS.
Trout had a difficult time making the transition to television; his swarthy complexion and mustache reminded one CBS executive “of an Armenian rug dealer,” so he was seen less and less as the 1950s wore on. By the 1960s Trout was anchoring local news in New York and five-minute daytime newscasts on the CBS television network. In 1964 CBS teamed him with a relative newcomer, Roger Mudd, to anchor the Democratic Convention, after Walter Cronkite was badly beaten in the ratings by NBC’s Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. The Mudd-Trout pairing fared even worse, and Cronkite was back in the anchor chair on election night. In the 1970s and 1980s Trout made infrequent reports from Europe for ABC. His last major assignment was as a contributor to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.
After his death in 2000, NPR’s Linda Wertheimer delivered the best eulogy: “It was sometimes sobering for us here at NPR to think that the voice that became familiar to listeners of All Things Considered was the same one that had once introduced Franklin Roosevelt’s first fireside chat to another radio audience in 1933.”
Ray Fisher, “Robert Trout: A Tip of the Mike,” The New York Times, February 26, 2007; Gary Paul Gates, Air Time (New York, 1978); Barbara Matusow, The Evening Stars (New York, 1984); National Public Radio, “NPR Celebrates Legendary Journalist Robert Trout” http://www.npr.org/about/press/020513.trout.html (accessed April 23, 2007); David Schwartz, Steve Ryan & Fred Wostbrock, The Encyclopedia Of TV Game Shows, Third Edition (New York, 1999); Scott Westerman, “The First Anchor: CBS Iron Man Robert Trout” http://www.keener13.com/trout.htm (accessed April 23, 2007).
By Robert Patrick, Randolph Community College (Asheboro, NC)
See Also:Related Categories: Sports and Entertainment, Political History