The very first Today program aired on January 14, 1952. The complete program is lost to history, since in the run-up to “T-Day” nobody thought to order a kinescope. All that remains on film are the 7:00-7:29 segment and the segment from roughly 8:44 to 8:58. Many years ago the Today website had a rundown transcribed from the NBC archives, but some segments in the original document were out of sequence, and some other information was missing, incorrect, or didn’t seem to square up somehow.
What is presented below is the result of a years-long effort to reconstruct that first program. The detailed portions are from my notes from the kinescope (which you can watch here), while the rest is reconstructed from the rundown document, from the photographs Peter Stackpole took for Life that morning (many of which are linked below), from contemporary articles, and other sources. I have also embedded a few screen captures (credit: NBC) to illustrate from time to time. This is a living document, and as more information is found this post will be updated. If you have information that will help make this more complete, please share (gently) in the comments or drop us an e-mail.
TODAY – January 14, 1952
7:00 am – 10:00 am Eastern Standard Time
6:59:30: NBC ID
6:59:35: Telop and v/o promo for Richard Harkness and the News
6:59:50: WNBT ID telop/spoken ID
7:00:00: Program begins. Jack Lescoulie spoken intro.
7:00:15: Garroway’s “preamble” begins.
7:02: Time stamp and headline crawl begin. Garroway walks to headline board for “Today in Two Minutes.”
7:04: News film of Capt. Carlsen of Flying Enterprise.
7:05: Return to studio; sports stories. Garroway explains when news summaries will be presented during the program. Begins tour of communications center.
7:06: Introduces Jack Lescoulie. Visits with Mary Kelly, who tells him the weather bureau is on the line for him. Garroway shows off Kelly’s electric typewriter.
7:07: Garroway shows off tape recorder and telephoto machine. Visits with Buck Prince, who has Romney Wheeler from London on the line. Also talks to Ed Haaker in Frankfurt. The big story there is the first big snowstorm of the year. “It’s really chilly here today.” Garroway: “You’re not alone. Thank you very much, Ed.”
7:09: Garroway introduces news editor Jim Fleming.
7:10: Garroway shows off wire service machines and wall of newspapers flown in for the program.
7:11: Garroway walks back to telephoto machine and looks at photo – “still wet.” Walks back to his desk.
7:12: First remote – view from top of RCA building.
7:13: Remote from outside Pentagon. Frank Bourgholtzer v/o. Says things aren’t too visible from the Wardman Park Hotel location. Pans right from Pentagon to view of Washington skyline. Cut back to monitor view in New York.
7:13: Remote from Chicago. Jim Hurlbut interviews two Chicago police officers who are sitting in their patrol car.
7:14: In the middle of Hurlbut’s interview, we cut back to the studio. Call over studio PA from control room: “Station break, Dave.” “Oh…recess time, right back!”
7:15: Telop and v/o promo for The Mel Martin Show and WNBT ID.
7:15: Garroway at desk attempts to resume remote to Chicago but cannot get through to Hurlbut (although Hurlbut is visible on monitors with police officers).
7:16: Jim Fleming gives a news update (Mark Clark nomination as Vatican ambassador withdrawn; China accuses US of flights over Indochina; investigation into inflammable sweaters).
7:18: Garroway on phone with Jim Fidler for weather report, but Fidler not heard on the circuit. Control room (via studio PA) tells Garroway as much and asks him to continue. Garroway relays Fidler’s forecast while drawing it on map (which Garroway has to erase first).
7:20: Garroway finishes weather report, informs viewers they will play records from time to time.
7:21: First record: “Slow Poke” by Ralph Flanagan and His Orchestra (backtimed with no instrumental lead-in; music about 90 seconds in duration). Slow pan over newsroom; clock dissolves in.
7:23: Garroway walks over and cues Jim Fleming at the newspaper board on far end of communications center. Fleming compares Minneapolis headlines vs. San Francisco headlines. Lescoulie (next to Fleming) marvels that the late headlines from San Francisco would come in via wirephoto so quickly. Garroway comes over and announces “recess time.”
7:24:30: NBC tones. Telop promo for Dave and Charlie. Telop and v/o promo for Lights Out with Frank Gallop. Telop ID for WNBT; v/o promo for Tex and Jinx. V/O ID for WNBT.
7:25: Jack Lescoulie explains what viewers can expect on the program and over the next half-hour. Previews records, upcoming interview with family with son in Korea. Introduces Garroway, who interviews Lescoulie about his background and experiences.
7:27: “Sentimental Journey” fades up. “Recess; right back.” Garroway walks back to desk.
7:27: Film PSA for Treasury Dept./US Savings Bonds. No sound from film; instead, sounds from inside communications center (teletypes, phones, bells, etc).
7:28: Garroway at desk: “I didn’t know there was any sound with that film or I’d have whistled ‘Dixie.’” Remarks that he didn’t hear it over his speaker. Also notes they lost the time at the bottom of the screen and “we’re having some new times made.”
7:29: Garroway does time check, explains program for those just tuning in. Notes people looking in through windows. “Recess time right now for a minute.”
7:29: Telop promo for Richard Harkness and the News.
(end of kinescope segment; until further notice, this is reconstructed from program log sheet and other sources)
7:30: Garroway provides a briefing on what the program is about and talks with one of the remotes.
Garroway talks to the families of two soldiers stationed in Korea, Sgt. Mickey Sinnot and Sgt. Bill Cassidy. They are then shown films taken in Korea of the soldiers when they had talked to their families in days previous.
7:41: Record: “I Wanna Love You” by the Ames Brothers.
7:45: Jim Fleming gives a news update.
7:48: A live shot from a busy Grand Central Terminal as commuters hurry to work. Record: “It’s a Lonesome Town” by Mary Ford and Les Paul.
7:51: A similar live shot from Washington, D.C.
Garroway at newspaper rack takes a look at the headlines, and Jack Lescoulie gives sports update. Curious passersby watch.
Record: “Weaver of Dreams” by Nat King Cole.
8:00: Central time zone joins the program. Garroway introduces program; gives rundown of “Today in Two Minutes.” Newsreel of Capt. Carlsen of Flying Enterprise shown.
8:07: Garroway goes to newspaper board, then checks in with the overseas correspondents via shortwave radio. Robert McCormick in Paris says the big story of 1952 will be about SHAPE and NATO. In a moment widely criticized, Garroway asks a favor of Romney Wheeler in London: “All we want you to do is start our next record.” Wheeler obliges. “I hope it’s ‘Domino.’ It’s very popular over here.” You can guess what happens next. On the way back to his desk, Garroway visits with Mary Kelly.
8:12: Views of Grand Central Terminal.
8:13: Views of Washington from the Wardman Park Hotel and the Pentagon. At the Pentagon, Ray Scherer flags down Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Fechteler on his way to work. “Can you give us a pronouncement on the state of the Navy?” Fechteler: “Well, I don’t know. When I left it yesterday, it was in great shape.”
8:15: Views of the rush hour in Chicago.
8:20: Jim Fleming with news update.
8:22: Garroway interviews Fleur Cowles about her book Bloody Precedent, published today.
8:31: Garroway does “Today in Two Minutes” briefing. Bill Stern, just arrived from California, walks into the studio and greets Fleur Cowles.
Record: “October 32nd, 1992” by the Modernaires.
8:40: Jim Fleming gives news briefing. Talks with Garroway, Bill Stern and Fleur Cowles.
(kinescoped segment resumes)
8:44: Garroway does live spot for Changing Times while leaning on desk. Notes that a lady from Brooklyn called in reference to a spot earlier in the program: “Tell Garroway that the penny postcards he’s talking about now cost two cents.” Remarks that’s a sign of changing times.
8:45: NBC chimes/telop promo for Howdy Doody. Film promo for Boston Blackie. V/O promo by Don Pardo. Film ID for WNBT with V/O promo for Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
8:45: Back to studio. Garroway sees he’s on camera – “Oh, I’m talking to a friend! Is that all right?…Mort [Werner, producer], will you tell our cue people that they’re running about three inches high?” Gives time check; throws to Jim Fleming. Fleming gives story just in from Tokyo: US Navy patrol bomber crashed this morning near Yokohama. Recaps Mark Clark story, Douglas will not run for president or VP, attacks in Suez zone, Chinese charges that US planes overflew Manchuria, AEC chairman says we’re still working on H-bomb, new US proposal in Paris about control of A-bomb, Secretary of State Dean Acheson to testify before Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh refuses to rescind order to close British embassies in Iran next week, economic adviser Leon Keyserling predicts $85 billion US budget for the year, recap of inflammable sweater story, bad weather in Pacific prevents search for survivors of missing freighter. Late bulletin comes in: Capt. Carlsen received a decoration today from the king of Denmark; Fleming notes that he will be honored in NYC Wednesday. Throws back to Garroway: “Brother Garroway, are you there?”
8:46: Garroway is on phone; grins at Fleming. Goes back to phone; asks control room if the mobile units are coming up after “Frenesi.” Asks them to hold “Frenesi” and to go to mobile units first. Cues Frank Blair in Washington. There’s a pause, cue channel chatter audible; picture from Wardman Park comes up, cough over audio. Garroway says he sees Jim Hurlbut in Chicago. Frank Bourgholtzer comes on, identifies himself. Picture shows morning traffic on Connecticut Avenue bridge and Rock Creek Parkway. Bourgholtzer says he’s at the Pentagon. Picture cuts to Pentagon and crowded parking lots there. Bourgholtzer says Ray Scherer is standing in front of the Pentagon, doesn’t know if they can cut to him or if they’ll show the yacht basin. “Sherm, can we have that shot? There we are!” Bourgholtzer notes that some come to work by boat, including Air Force brass from Bolling Field. Pan over parking lots; Bourgholtzer notes some can contain 6-7,000 cars. Bourgholtzer then throws to Ray Scherer, who notes parking lots on Mall side of Pentagon and how quickly they filled up. Notes Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial in distance. Says he expects Secretary of the Army Frank Pace at any moment. Gloomy, overcast morning in Washington.
8:50: Quick view of Pentagon exterior before cuts back to Garroway: “There! We got it that time!” Garroway, smiling, gives quick explanation of how these are some of the tools that will be used on the program to take you to various places, how they can get into just about any place. Cues Jim Hurlbut in Chicago.
8:51: Hurlbut in Chicago, outside the Loop Terminal of the Illinois Central suburban railroad. Shows people coming out of terminal to go to work. Cuts to corner of North Michigan and East Randolph, showing pedestrians and traffic. Hurlbut notes how busy that corner gets during rush hour. Cuts back to Hurlbut outside terminal with people coming out of terminal. Hurlbut notes the fog will be with them all morning long. Cut to view of bridge tower in fog and NBC mobile unit on bridge, panning left. Cut to view of buses waiting for passengers. Cut back to Hurlbut, who wraps with “so, take it away, Dave Garroway.”
8:53: “Thank you, Jim, old friend…and he is that.” Garroway notes Chicago is his old hometown and it looks familiar to him, but NYC is his new hometown and how busy and populated it is. Time check as he cues camera at Grand Central Terminal and Peter Roberts. Shots of commuters arriving as Roberts explains what’s going on.
8:54: Back to Exhibition Hall and Garroway. “We’re going to take a time-out for a short recess at this minute. Be right back, folks.”
8:54: NBC chimes. Telop promo for Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Telop card for Mothers’ March on Polio with Eddie Cantor v/o. Don Pardo v/o repeats phone number. Telop ID for WNBT with Pardo v/o for Ben Grauer’s Seeing is Believing. WNBT verbal ID.
8:55: Lescoulie at desk recaps what program has done thus far and what it intends to do, bringing you top stories “as regularly as coffee is served.” Wire service photos will also be shown. “And, of course, we’ll always have…Dave Garroway!” Garroway standing near desk realizes he’s on, gives time check. Time and headline crawl return to screen. Garroway notes a lady has called and said it’s an interesting program but they haven’t once mentioned Brooklyn. Garroway walks over to Lescoulie, says Jack was telling him something about “a rhubarb between [Roy] Campanella and the Dodgers.” Lescoulie notes the lady calling about the lack of a Brooklyn mention; Garroway taps Lescoulie’s shoulder and says “I just said that.” They laugh about it.
8:56: Lescoulie begins telling story about Campanella’s refusal to have bone chips removed. “Sentimental Journey” comes up and Lescoulie is faded out in middle of story.
8:56: Filmed PSA for Big Brothers of America with Gene Lockhart. “Sentimental Journey” still plays over first few seconds.
8:57: Back to Lescoulie in studio; no audio for first few seconds. Lescoulie recaps his conversation with Campanella about a story that he was holding out on re-signing with the Dodgers for the 1952 season. Campanella debunks story, saying he would return to the Dodgers.
8:58: Garroway at desk notes they have a box of gadgets. Shows off needle-threading device.
8:59: Garroway notes it’s time to say goodbye to east coast viewers. Notes he wants to stand because he means it sincerely, and notes that the show has a lot of bugs but they will work them out. “Today” super comes up. “Peace.”
(end of kinescope)
9:00: Program continues for Central Time Zone. Garroway does “Today in Two Minutes.” News update.
Record: “Frenesi” by Artie Shaw
9:20: A view of commuters at Grand Central Terminal. Music: “Grand Central Station.”
9:22: Weather report from Jim Fidler. Jack Lescoulie marks weather map.
9:23: Jim Fleming has AP report on Northeast Airlines Flight 801, which crashed on approach to LaGuardia 20 minutes ago. The bulletin is broadcast one minute after it was received via teletype.
9:27: Fleming illustrates story with viewgraphic map showing location of crash.
9:40: Jim Fleming gives news update. Garroway at newspaper board shows the headlines in different parts of the country.
Record: “I’ll See You in My Dreams” by Hugo Winterhalter.
9:48: Visit with families of soldiers in Korea.
9:55: Garroway shows wire service photo just received.
9:59: We’re clear.