Society & Culture

Peabody Awards pay respects to radio giant Norman Corwin

Athens, Ga. – On Oct. 19, board members and staff of the University of Georgia George Foster Peabody Awards joined the electronic media industry and millions of admiring listeners in mourning the passing of Norman Corwin the “poet laureate of radio,” a towering figure of its golden age. His 1941 program, We Hold These Truths, was the first drama to win a Peabody.

Corwin was asked to write and produce the drama as a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was broadcast just a week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, airing on all four of America’s radio networks: CBS, NBC Red, NBC Blue and Mutual. Its voice cast included Jimmy Stewart, Edward G. Robinson, Marjorie Main, Walter Brennan and Orson Welles. Roosevelt provided epilogue remarks.

In conferring a Peabody on Corwin in early 1942, the board said that We Hold These Truths “demonstrated what patriotism and a fine dramatic sense could do seven days after Pearl Harbor. Here is a program which ought to be rebroadcast until it is familiar.”

We Hold These Truths was added in 2005 to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, formed to honor sound recordings of unusual historical merit.

Corwin died of natural causes Tuesday at his Los Angeles home, according to the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where Corwin remained a writer in residence until his death. He was 101.

“Norman Corwin helped define the Peabody Award,” said Horace Newcomb, director of the George Foster Peabody Awards at UGA. “The Peabody sets the highest standards for electronic communication. Recognition of Corwin’s great dramatic program We Hold These Truths in the very first group of awards helped define our standards for the Peabody Award itself. His legacy is part of our own, just as it is part of all the electronic media industries.”

Corwin began his career as a newspaper reporter and joined CBS in 1938, working with such broadcasting legends as Edward R. Murrow and Howard K. Smith. Though he initially worked behind the microphone, he soon gravitated toward writing, producing and directing.

Throughout the 1940s, Corwin’s name was as familiar to millions of Americans as those of actors, comedians and newscasters. Such was radio’s ubiquity and reach, noted Newcomb. And while many of his most acclaimed programs dealt with World War II, Corwin’s work ran the gamut of program genres from variety shows and dramas to comedies and documentaries.

Corwin’s writing was introduced to a new generation in the mid-1990s on National Public Radio. A series titled 13 by Corwin, a selection of his programs from the 1940s, was digitally remastered and distributed in 1996 as part of the NPR Playhouse series.

The Peabody Awards, administered by the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, are considered the electronic broadcasting industry’s most prestigious prize, recognizing distinguished achievement and meritorious public service by stations, networks, producing organizations and individuals. For more information, see

Various wire service reports contributed to the reporting.