Robert Trout, one of the last of the great radio-era newsmen, who was considered the first radio news “anchor,” died Nov. 14 in New York City of congestive heart failure. He was 91.
Trout spent most of his seven-decade career as a CBS News correspondent in radio and later in television. At CBS, he became known as one of “Murrow’s Boys,” an elite group of reporters hired by Edward R. Murrow in the 1930s.
Though Trout was never as well-known as some of Murrow’s other hires — who included William L. Shirer, Don Hollenbeck, David Schoenbrun, Alexander Kendrick, Richard C. Hottelet, Douglas Edwards and Winston Burdette — his dedication earned him the nickname “Iron Man.” He gained the sobriquet on D-Day by broadcasting 35 times in a 24-hour period, including one uninterrupted stretch of more than 7 hours.
Self-deprecating and shy in person, on the air Trout was the master of the ad-lib. He reported live from events like political conventions and elections for up to 15 hours straight without a script. “He was the father of us all in live broadcasting over an extensive period,” Walter Cronkite said. “In the unscripted event, he was adept at ad-libbing, and his use of the language was faultless, as was his grasp of the situation and what it portended. He was extraordinary.”
In 1938, from a New York studio, Trout introduced live radio reports from the capitals of Europe for CBS Radio on the very first “World News Roundup,” the forerunner of modern televised evening news broadcasts.
Trout began his career as a scriptwriter for WJSV Radio, shortly before it became CBS’ WTOP in Washington, D.C. There, in 1931, he was asked to fill in for a missing announcer. His performance landed the 21-year-old Trout the post of special events announcer.
The reporter was on his way to becoming the voice millions of listeners would associate with some of the biggest news events of the century, as well as countless smaller stories of every variety. Working in the nation’s capital, Trout broadcast everything from President Herbert Hoover’s Christmas tree lighting to man-in-the-street interviews, to the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Like his contemporaries, Trout considered himself a general assignment reporter, capable of covering all manner of events with equal detail and accuracy. During his career, he reported on sporting events including several Kentucky Derbys, national news like the opening of Boulder Dam and the flooding of the Mississippi, and even “lighter” events including the annual egg-rolling on the White House lawn and at least two dozen New Year’s Eves in Times Square. Trout also introduced FDR’s famous, informal radio talks and gave them the name “fireside chats.”
Trout was transferred by CBS in 1935 to New York, where he worked with Murrow and radio news innovator Paul White, who created “World News Roundup.” Soon he was reporting on all the world’s major events and, in 1941, even took over for Murrow as CBS European news chief in London while Murrow was on an extended vacation.
He reported on the London Blitz and, in 1945, the end of the war, broadcast the memorable words, “The Japanese have accepted our terms fully … This is the end of the Second World War.”
For many of his years at CBS, he was also known as the voice of presidential elections. He made a point of not making predictions of election outcomes, and the famous election-calling gaffe of 1948 was no exception.
Trout left CBS for a five-year period, moving to NBC, before returning in 1952 in time to cover the political conventions for CBS Radio. A model of impartial reporting, Trout covered both the Democratic and Republican conventions. He spent most of the next decade reporting for radio, but also appeared on television daily as the anchor of the local news for WCBS, the CBS owned station in New York City. He also appeared on the CBS quiz show “Who Said That?”
Trout continued his reporting on political conventions and elections on the radio into the 1960s, and began doing more television duty on documentaries, including “CBS Reports.” Perhaps the biggest acknowledgment of his broadcasting prowess — on radio or television — came from then-CBS News President Fred Friendly, who made him co-anchor with Roger Mudd of the network’s television coverage of the 1964 Democratic Convention after NBC’s coverage of the Republican Convention drew more viewers than CBS’.
Trout left CBS News in 1975 and began doing assignments for ABC News. By the 1980s, he began living mostly in Madrid, Spain, where he kept a home. Trout received a George Foster Peabody Award in 1980 for “distinguished and meritorious service.”
Trout was born on a farm in Wake County, N.C. He attended schools in North Carolina, Washington, D.C. and New York City. His wife, Catherine, died in 1994. They were married for 56 years and had no children.