History Book – The Candy Bomber, and Instagram

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, October 5th. This is WORLD Radio. Thanks for coming along with us today. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.

Today, anniversaries of two media giants: one often revered, the other occasionally reviled.

EICHER: But first, the life of an American patriot. Taking the History Book reins for the week, here’s Katie Gaultney.

KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: We open with a sweet story, if you’ll forgive the pun. 100 years ago this week, the birth of American air force pilot Colonel Gail “Hal” Halvorsen, also known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber.” 

HALVORSEN: No wonder these Berlin children greet these U.S. planes so joyously. That’s candy from the men who fly the planes, floating down on handkerchief parachutes…

After World War II, the Allies split Berlin into occupation zones. The Soviet Union controlled the East portion of the city, and the other Allied forces controlled the West. Differences quickly emerged. In June, 1948, diplomatic discussions broke down between the two sides, and the Soviet Union erected road and rail blockades—shutting off access to needed relief for the people of Berlin. 

Colonel Halvorsen describes the situation: 

HALVORSEN: We didn’t have any written agreement to access Berlin on the ground, so Stalin says, “I don’t have to let your supplies go to 2 million people.”  

West Berliners faced shortages of food, water, and medicine. Within 48 hours of the Soviet blockade, the United States initiated the Berlin Airlift, an operation to deliver supplies. Halvorsen piloted C-47s and C-54s.

HALVORSEN: This is operation “Little Vittles”—an unofficial off-shoot of the airlift of Berlin. 

Halverson started pooling his fellow airmen’s ration cards, collecting and delivering chocolate, candy, and gum from overhead…

HALVORSEN: The kids rush to the airport for second helpings… 

Halvorsen would wiggle the wings of his plane as he flew overhead to signal it was time for sweets. Over eight months, he delivered an estimated 23 tons of Hershey chocolate bars and other candy to West Berliners—earning him a slew of delightful nicknames: “Uncle Wiggly Wings,” “The Chocolate Flier,” and of course, “The Candy Bomber.” 

HALVORSEN: An act of kindness pays unforeseen dividends in the battle for Berlin…

As news of his escapades spread, confectioners and children around the world began sending loads of candy and handkerchiefs overseas to assist in the operation. 

In the years since, those German children frequently write to Halvorsen. One boy contacted him 50 years later to tell him how much those missions meant to him.  

HALVORSEN: But he said, “It wasn’t the candy bar that was important. What was important was that somebody—an American—knew that I was in trouble. And somebody cared.”

Halvorsen now lives in an assisted living facility in Provo, Utah, and will celebrate his centennial birthday on Saturday. 

Switching gears now, or should I say, changing channels? 


Fifty years ago today the Public Broadcasting Service—or PBS—began operations. The government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting charged PBS with bringing quality children’s programming and performing arts to viewers across the country. Member stations produced content for broadcast, including old favorites like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. 


PBS might have stalled out before it even launched if not for Fred Rogers. In 1969, a year before PBS’ debut, President Nixon aimed to cut the proposed funding from the initial $20 million to $10 million. Rogers testified before the Senate subcommittee on communications in defense of public broadcasting, describing his show as a haven from the bombardment of cartoons and television violence. His comments won over prickly Senator John Pastore, who chaired that subcommittee. 

ROGERS: …and I do all the puppets and I write all the music and I write all the scripts.
PASTORE: Well I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goosebumps for the last two days. Looks like you just earned the $20 million. [Laughter, applause]

Rogers not only succeeded in preventing funding cuts; Pastore’s committee increased the next year’s funding to $22 million. Today, more than 100 million viewers tune in each month through 300 plus member stations. 

MUSIC: [Sesame Street]

From old media to new media, from Sesame Street to selfies. 

AUDIO: [iPhone camera sound]

Ten years ago, a 26-year old computer programmer takes a picture of a dog and creates a social media giant…Instagram. Here’s founder Kevin Systrom:

SYSTROM: We worked really hard on making it really easy for people to share their lives in a beautiful way. 

Within two months, the photo-sharing platform racks up a million users. Its explosive growth catches Facebook’s attention; the social media giant acquires the company for a billion dollars in 2012. Today, Instagram boasts over a billion active monthly users. 

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Mental health advocates routinely criticize Instagram for the toll its curated images take on young people.

Plus, it faces allegations of being a little bit like “big brother.” Here’s tech entrepreneur Jeff Seibert addressing just that on the Netflix documentary: “The Social Dilemma.”

SEIBERT: What I want people to know is everything they’re doing online is being watched, is being tracked, is being measured. Every single action you take is carefully monitored and recorded.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.

Retired Col. Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the Berlin “Candy Bomber,” stands in front of a C-54 Skymaster like the one he flew during WWII at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Arizona.  (Photo/U.S. Air Force, Bennie J. Davis III)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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