Day of Infamy – Pacific Coast Stations Blackout

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    Craig_Adams
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    Today December 8, 1941 KGW, KOIN, KEX & KALE broadcast President Roosevelt’s “Date In Infamy” speech at 9:30 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, to Congress, officially launching the United States into World War II. The U.S. Government was down playing the threat to the West Coast, most likely not wanting to see another “War of The Worlds” 1938 Radio hysteria result. Yet, the U.S. mainland had already experienced a rebuffed enemy air attack. More on that coming up.

    It was leaked through a source that Canadian Western Air Commander, Albert E. Godfrey had said: “There is every reason to believe there will be an attack in the Pacific Northwest. The Japanese are off the Aleutian Islands, we expect them here any time. The situation is very serious.” Blackout windows were the order of the night from Alaska to the Mexican border. No lights were to be used on automobiles.

    Radio station’s in Oregon, Washington, California & Idaho were ordered silent at 7:00pm from December 8th through Dec 12th, in compliance with an Army order from Major General, Millard F. Harmon, commanding General of Fort Wright, near Spokane. Although there was no official explanation, it was feared that transmitters would serve as homing beacons for enemy planes. KIRO Seattle was the only station on the Pacific Coast remaining in operation for Army & Navy instruction only.

    All San Francisco stations had gone silent an hour earlier at 6:00pm after December 7th’s Bay Area rebuffed enemy air attack. Air raid sirens screamed and the blackouts began. Brigadier General, William Ord Ryan of the 4th Intercepter Command said a large number of unidentified planes, not U.S. aircraft, had approached the Golden Gate Bridge and possibly flew over Mare Island, Fort Barry and parts of the Bay Area. U.S. Intercepters drove them back to the sea and their probable aircraft carrier. Not one but several groups of enemy planes caused the air raid alarm.

    Continuing with the Radio scheduled blackouts, the exception was from 7:00pm to Midnight, Pacific Coast stations were allowed to carry one-minute news flashes every quarter hour up to midnight. The blackout was relieved at 9:30am, Dec 9th, when five-minute newscasts every half-hour were permitted, continuing on this basis until 12:34pm when networks and independent stations resumed normal operation after 19 1/2 hours of complete or partial silence. On December 10th stations were off the air from 3:00am to 7:29am and a second time from 12:20pm to 1:05pm. Staggered schedules of Radio silence were ordered Dec 11th & Dec 12th.

    Additional Radio blackouts were predicted, not only to prevent enemy planes from locating objectives, but also to help local monitoring stations locate the enemy, it was stated. When stations are silent except at infrequent brief intervals, enemy aircraft attempting to fix the source of signals have “plenty of time to drift about and lose the direction again”, experts declared.

    Under the operating plan developed for West Coast stations, the highest-powered station on the lowest frequency was designated in each territory as a “Beacon Station.” All other facilities monitored that station when the Beacon Station announced that all stations were to leave the air, they would do so immediately. Similar instructions from the “Key Station” controlling and coordinating the return to the air.

    References: Broadcasting magazine, The Oregonian.

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