Raymond Gram Swing was one of the most influential commentators during the rise of Hitler’s Germany. While he was a liberal in philosophy, he was level-headed and felt strongly about the plight of his fellow Americans both during the depression years as well as once this country entered the war.
As a young man out of high school, the Ohio native attended Oberlin College, which was already known to admit white, black, and female students. He once wrote that “being a part of Oberlin gave me an innate sense of the political equality of men and women, all men and all women.” However, he was not destined to complete his studies at the school. Because of his pranks and cutting of classes, he was suspended at the end of his freshman year.
Out on his own, he began working in Lorain, Ohio in a barber shop at age 18. But he soon moved to the Cleveland Press. His newspaper career was meteoric, and he moved quickly to the Richmond (Indiana) Evening News, the Indianapolis Star, the Cincinnati Times Star and finally settling in Indianapolis as Managing Editor of the Indianapolis Sun. He was 23 years old at this time. While there he married, and was given as a wedding gift a year-long stay in Europe, but the marriage did not last.
In Europe on his own he became bureau chief in Berlin for the Chicago Daily News as World War One began. He was allowed to move freely behind German lines where he reported on such battles as the Dardanelles. He got an exclusive when he was able to report on a German cannon known as “Big Bertha.”
In 1921 he married a radical feminist, Betty Gram. She insisted that Gram adopt her name, if she was to adopt his. This was the name he became known for as his radio career later blossomed. After the war, he became London bureau chief for the Philadelphia Daily Ledger. This afforded him an opportunity to speak on foreign affairs for CBS Radio, which regularly used news reporters as analysts. At this time, he was offered the position of director of talks for CBS. In this position he would line up prominent people for discussion programs. But Swing declined the offer. Instead it was offered to a lesser experienced man, Edward R. Murrow.
Instead, Swing went to Mutual station WOR in 1936 to do a weekly broadcast. As Hitler was gaining influence in Europe, Swing’s understanding of the European affairs caused Mutual to increase his broadcasts to five times a week. Sponsorships were everything at that time, and Swing was fully supported by White Owl Cigars. This brought financial reward as well as prestige. He later moved to the Blue Network where he continued to comment on the events of the war.
Text and audio credit: James F. Widner, Old Time Radio, Radio Days, http://www.otr.com
Photo credit: The National Archives