Technology - Circuits
September 23, 1999

Eerie, Creepy Look at Cold War Culture


L adies and gentlemen, America is under attack."

That, or something like it, was supposed to have been spoken by Arthur Godfrey in a public service announcement in the 1950's, made in secret but intended to be broadcast nationwide in the event of the real thing. You know, kaboom. No copy of the broadcast, whose history was reported in Time magazine in 1992, has turned up. If you should find a copy, close the curtains, stay away from the windows and do not look toward the flash of light. Instead, get in touch with Conelrad (www.conelrad .com).

The Arthur Godfrey public service announcement is No. 1 on the hit parade of requests by Conelrad's creators for submissions to their fledgling site, which promises an overview and a thrillingly creepy look at America's postwar atomic culture. "It will be a permanent and definitive reminder of how pop culture and the cold war intersected," Bill Geerhart, Conelrad's editor, wrote by e-mail.

Conelrad, as a baby boomer will be happy to tell you, was the Government's acronym for what became the Emergency Broadcast System, at 640 and 1240 AM on the radio. Short for Control of Electromagnetic Radiation, it existed from 1951 to 1963 as a way of shifting the broadcast frequencies of AM stations to prevent enemy aircraft from homing in on radio signals for navigation. In the event of a nuclear attack, those frequencies were where Arthur Godfrey's message and all other Government emergency instructions were to have been broadcast.

Recalling America's postwar mentality.

This Conelrad Web site -- and remember, this is only a test -- pledges to be short on polemics (there are no discussions of Communists in the State Department) and long on films, records, television and literature.

Polemics are hardly needed. The official Government advice speaks for itself, thunderingly obvious and laughably useless. ("Any shadow will offer protection from searing flash.") Equally interesting are the 45-r.p.m. singles titles, like "Uranium Fever" (mid-50's) by Elton Britt, who called himself the world's highest yodeler, and "Atomic Cocktail" (1945) by Slim Gaillard.

For a much more sobering look at the cold war's real atomic victims, the site has a link to the National Association of Atomic Veterans (, which puts out a quarterly newsletter about the soldiers who took part in radioactive-weapons tests and their efforts to get Government assistance. (And for more on Communist espionage, try the National Security Agency's files on the Venona project, which decoded Soviet messages to their American spymasters: /docs/venona/index.html.

Conelrad's television section has summaries of Rod Serling's still powerful atomic-nightmare episodes from "Twilight Zone," which might be expected. But it also has an offbeat twist on "I Dream of Jeannie," "Bewitched" and "Ed" as responses to nuclear brinkmanship (the genie is out of the bottle, we have unleashed special powers, and don't get us started about mutants).

"The Munsters and the Addamses were the post-nuclear monsters who literally moved in next door to the Cleavers," Geerhart wrote in an introduction to the television section.

The movie section offers a close look at American International's "Panic in Year Zero" (1962), directed by Ray Milland. He also stars as a father who responsibly turns the car radio to Conelrad (the real one) as soon as he sees a mushroom cloud over Los Angeles. Viewers with Real Video can listen to Les Baxter's crashing jazz score.

Geerhart said the Conelrad site was founded this year by three Los Angeles friends in their mid-30's and 40's: Geerhart, who works for Citigroup; Curtis Samson, a retired Air Force captain, and Ken Sitz, who works for Buena Vista's Internet division.

"We are people who were born into the cold war and continue to be intrigued by the emerging details of this intense 'cool' conflict," Geerhart wrote.

"There isn't a particular political agenda to the site. Our main goal is to present an entertaining nonfiction site and generate discussion on our message boards."

Geerhart promises that Conelrad will soon feature Five-Star Fallout Shelter, his first-person account of a tour through the former Congressional relocation center that was secretly located under the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., for 30 years.

Related Sites
These sites are not part of The New York Times on the Web, and The Times has no control over their content or availability.

Home | Site Index | Site Search | Forums | Archives | Marketplace

Quick News | Page One Plus | International | National/N.Y. | Business | Technology | Science | Sports | Weather | Editorial | Op-Ed | Arts | Automobiles | Books | Diversions | Job Market | Real Estate | Travel

Help/Feedback | Classifieds | Services | New York Today

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company