A career begins

One night during that stay in New York, Dave was invited by an old acquaintance to a bridge game. About 1:30 the next morning, after several rounds of bridge and “excellent whiskey,” the hostess said they needed to wrap up. “In the morning, I have to fire 20 page boys at NBC and hire 20 more.” Dave’s ears perked up. “NBC?” The hostess nodded. “Yes, I’m assistant manager of guest relations down there.” Dave replied, “You have 19 to hire. You just hired me.”

By eight the next morning, newly-hired NBC page Dave Garroway had been fitted with a uniform, inspected by a supervisor, and assigned as the assistant to the eighth floor page at NBC’s studios in Radio City. Half an hour later his eyes bulged as Lowell Thomas stepped out of an elevator and asked Dave which studio he’d be working in that morning.

During his first few months at NBC, Dave assisted performers, assisted audiences attending live broadcasts, helped guide tours of the studios, worked his way up to guide trainer, and performed other tasks. But Dave yearned to be a radio announcer, and signed up for an announcers’ class offered by NBC. Early on, in an audition for a 100-watt station in West Virginia, Dave found himself ranked 24th of the 25 aspirants. Dejected, he set to work improving his form. Late at night, for months on end, Dave would find a vacant studio, connect it to a recording system on another floor, practice reading copy from his announcing classes, and then listen to the recordings. It paid off. At the next audition, for an announcing position at 50,000-watt KDKA in Pittsburgh, Garroway got the offer.

KDKA’s new hire

Dave reported to KDKA in April 1938, where, thanks to his ability to ad-lib, he was soon made Director of Special Events. Sent out with a mobile unit, Garroway reported from all kinds of interesting places: conducting an interview while paddling along the Allegheny River, broadcasting from a Navy submarine submerged in the river just off Pittsburgh, and even riding down on the first section of the 714-foot KDKA antenna when it was moved.

Soon Dave won an announcer’s position with WMAQ, the NBC affiliate in Chicago. Garroway’s work so impressed the NBC brass that they assigned him to cover the 1941 Louisiana War Maneuvers, where he scored a news beat over distinguished correspondents from other organizations. One night, while standing in a marshy area describing to his audience the unpleasantness of war, Garroway happened to hear a group of soldiers approaching. As they marched closer, he could hear them softly singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Garroway went silent, letting the microphone pick up a scene that spoke for itself.

It was also during this first Chicago stint that Dave married his friend from St. Louis, Adele Dwyer, in February 1941. They settled down in Chicago. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dave received notice to report for Navy training in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Adele joined him there. Soon after, the Garroways were expecting a child.

Next: A change of plans in Hawaii