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Morrison and technical engineer Charlie Nehlsen had been assigned by the WLS chain in Chicago to narrate the arrival of the ship to New Jersey, as a test in the news recording for a later broadcast.
Morrison’s narrative started normally, but changed drastically when the airship started to burn:
It’s burst into flames! It’s burst into flames and it’s falling, it’s crashing. … Get out of the way, get out of the way! Get this, Charlie, get this, Charlie! It’s burning and it’s crashing! It’s crashing, terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! It’s burning, bursting into flames and it’s falling on the mooring mast, and all the folks between. Oh, this is terrible. This is the one of the worst catastrophes in the world! Oh, my Jesus! … Oh, four to five hundred feet into the sky. It’s a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen, it’s smoke and it’s flames, now, and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity, and all the passengers screaming around here! I told you, I can not talk to people … I can not talk, ladies and gentlemen. Listen, folks, I’m gonna have a stop for a minute because this was the … the worst thing I’ve ever witnessed.
It explodes in flames! It explodes in flames and is falling, it is crashing … Get out of the way, get out of the way! … It was this, Charlie [Charlie Nehlsen, the engineer who was with him], record this, Charlie! It’s burning and it’s crashing! It’s crashing, terrible! Oh, my …! Get out of the way, please! It is burning, exploding in flames and falling on the mooring mast, and the people around! Oh, this is terrible. This is the, one of the worst catastrophes in the world! Oh, my Jesus! … Oh, between 400 and 500 feet high [between 120 and 150 meters]. It is a terrible fall, ladies and gentlemen, there is smoke and it is on fire, now, and the structure is falling to the ground, not far from the mooring mast. Oh, humanity, and all the passengers shouting around! I can not talk to people … I can not, ladies and gentlemen. Listen to me, I’m going to have to stop for a minute because this was the … the worst I’ve ever seen.
Morrison and Nehlsen continued their work, describing the rescue efforts and interviewing survivors, with breaks in which Morrison himself had to take a break. The recording discs were taken to Chicago and broadcast that same night. Part of the recording was broadcast by NBC for the whole country the day after. It was the first time that a production of a current event was broadcast, and also the first broadcast from coast to coast. The detailed description of the accident together with the emotional reaction made this story a classic of sound history.
It should be noted that Morrison’s usual job was that of advertiser in musical programs, but after a successful report about floods, the chain decided to send him to Lakehurst that day.
In 1999, during the 75th anniversary of the chain, the narration was heard for the first time at the original speed (Nehlsen’s recorder was a bit slow). Unlike the famous narration, in this audio the blast wave of the explosion was perfectly audible.
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