Arthur Godfrey : biography
Godfrey served in the United States Navy from 1920 to 1924 as a radio operator on naval destroyers, but returned home to care for the family after his father’s death. Additional radio training came during Godfrey’s service in the Coast Guard from 1927 to 1930. He passed a very stringent qualifying examination and was admitted to the prestigious Radio Materiel School at the Naval Research Laboratory, graduating in 1929. It was during a Coast Guard stint in Baltimore that he appeared on a local talent show and became popular enough to land his own brief weekly program.
- NBAA Meritorious Service to Aviation Award (1950)
- National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame (radio)
- National Aviation Hall of Fame (1987)
- Radio Hall of Fame (1988)
- Peabody Award (1971)
- Hollywood Walk of Fame (at 1551 Vine St.)
- In 2002 Godfrey was one of only three people named on both of industry publication Talkers Magazine’s 25 greatest radio, and 25 greatest television, talk show hosts of all time lists.
On leaving the Coast Guard, Godfrey became a radio announcer for the Baltimore station WFBR (now WJZ (AM)) and moved the short distance to Washington, D.C. to become a staff announcer for NBC-owned station WRC the same year and remained there until 1934.
Recovering from a near-fatal automobile accident en route to a flying lesson in 1931 (by which time he was already an avid flyer), he decided to listen closely to the radio and realized that the stiff, formal style then used by announcers could not connect with the average radio listener; the announcers spoke in stentorian tones, as if giving a formal speech to a crowd and not communicating on a personal level. Godfrey vowed that when he returned to the airwaves, he would affect a relaxed, informal style as if he were talking to just one person. He also used that style to do his own commercials and became a regional star. In addition to announcing, Godfrey sang and played the ukulele. In 1934 he became a freelance entertainer, but eventually based himself on a daily show titled Sundial on CBS-owned station WJSV (now WFED) in Washington. Godfrey was the station’s morning disc jockey, playing records, delivering commercials (often with tongue in cheek; a classic example had him referring to Bayer Aspirin as "bare ass prin"), interviewing guests, and even reading news reports during his three-hour shift. Godfrey loved to sing, and would frequently sing random verses during the "talk" portions of his program. In 1937, he was a host on Professor Quiz, radio’s first successful quiz program. One surviving broadcast from 1939 has Godfrey unexpectedly turning on his microphone to harmonize with The Foursome’s recording of "There’ll Be Some Changes Made."
He knew President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who listened to his Washington program, and through Roosevelt’s intercession, he received a commission in the U.S. Naval Reserve before World War II. Godfrey eventually moved his base to the CBS station in New York City, then known as WABC (now WCBS), and was heard on both WJSV and WABC for a time. In the autumn of 1942, he also became the announcer for Fred Allen’s Texaco Star Theater show on the CBS network, but a personality conflict between Allen and Godfrey led to his early release from the show after only six weeks.
Godfrey became nationally known in April 1945 when, as CBS’s morning-radio man in Washington, he took the microphone for a live, firsthand account of President Roosevelt’s funeral procession. The entire CBS network picked up the broadcast, later preserved in the Edward R. Murrow and Fred W. Friendly record series, I Can Hear it Now. Unlike the tight-lipped news reporters and commentators of the day, who delivered breaking stories in an earnest, businesslike manner, Arthur Godfrey’s tone was sympathetic and neighborly, lending immediacy and intimacy to his words. When describing new President Harry S. Truman’s car in the procession, Godfrey fervently said, in a choked voice, "God bless him, President Truman." Godfrey broke down in tears and cued the listeners back to the studio. The entire nation was moved by his emotional outburst.