American Culture

"This just in…" Review: We Interrupt This Broadcast Tenth Anniversary Edition by Joe Garner

Ask Baby Boomers where they were when they heard President Kennedy had been assassinated. Ask Gen-Xers where they were when they heard about the Challenger explosion. Ask Americans where they were when they heard about 9/11.

Every generation has one: an event so monumental that it, in part, defines that generation—an event so big everyone stops to watch and listen and sometimes cry. Pearl Harbor…Hiroshima…the moon landing….

Joe Garner’s modern classic We Interrupt This Broadcast captures these moments and more—and now, reissued in a Tenth Anniversary Edition, there’s literally an entire CD more.

The book recounts 46 pivotal moments in American history. Each chapter includes a brief synopsis of an event, written by Garner, and a collection of photos—many of which have become iconic since they first appeared.

What originally made the book such a gem, though, were the companion CDs that featured recaps of each event along with clips of the original news coverage. Veteran newsman Bill Kurtis provided the narration.

The original edition of the book left off with the death of Princess Diana on August 31, 1997. The new edition of the book now includes such events as Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, the Columbine High School shootings, the 2000 presidential election, the attacks of 9/11, and the Virginia Tech massacre.

Garner’s histories are interesting if necessarily brief, but it’s the audio program that makes the book a must-have. While the iron-voiced Kurtis reads the scripts with arched-eyebrow authority and a flair for melodrama, the overall production values are outstanding. Kurtis’s narration is augmented by original news reports and sound clips to help tell the story. When Kurtis recounts the Hindenburg disaster, for instance, listeners get to hear reporter Herb Morrison’s heartbroken cry, “Oh, the humanity!” as the flaming dirigible crashes down in flames.

Other highlights include Neil Armstrong’s famous line “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” poignantly juxtaposed against a Walter Cronkite so overwhelmed that he was left speechless on national television. The CDs also capture an emotional Cronkite a few years earlier when, teary-eyed, he announced the death of President Kennedy.

“Some of the bulletins…represent an era now past,” writes NBC anchor Brian Williams in the afterword, new to the anniversary edition: “the age of collective radio listening and television viewing. A time when it was possible to get the attention of the American people as a collective body.” By contrast, he says today’s media operated in a “distracted, overwhelmed-with-choice era.”

In that vein, Garner’s book not only captures history, it also proves to be a fascinating look at the evolution of electronic news coverage over the past 70 years: from radio to television to cable to the internet.

Regardless of the medium, the reporters were writing the first draft of history as it happened. Those drafts were vitally important in their times, and some of them have become historical in and of themselves.

That alone makes Garner’s book important today. Garner does us all a service by remembering the triumphs and tragedies of the Electronic Age that defined America as a nation and made indelible marks on our lives. He has collected soundbites and snapshots of those monumental events to help us remember not only where we were but from where we’ve come.