Network policy in those days forbade the use of recorded material except for sound effects on dramas, and Morrison and Nielsen had no facilities for live broadcast. Still the results became the prototype for news broadcasting in the war years to follow. The fame of this recording had no effect on network policies, however, and it was not until after the end of World War II that recordings were regularly used.
Morrison's description began routinely but changed instantly as the airship burst into flames:
Morrison and Nielsen continued their work, reporting at length on the rescue efforts and interviewing survivors, with several pauses while Morrison composes himself. Morrison mistakenly thought there were 106 people aboard the flight, when in reality there were 97 aboard. Thirty five people died in addition to one fatality on the ground. The sixteen-inch lacquer disk recordings were rushed back to Chicago and broadcast in full later that night. Portions were rebroadcast nationally by the NBC network the next day. It was the first time recordings of a news event were ever broadcast, and also the first coast-to-coast radio broadcast. Morrison's quick professional response and accurate description combined with his own emotional reaction have made the recordings a classic of audio history.
The emotional feeling may be intensified by the fact that Nielsen's recorder ran a bit slow and all subsequent playbacks have been slightly speeded up. Judging by other recordings, Morrison's normal speaking voice was actually quite deep.
Morrison's description has been dubbed onto the newsreel film of the crash, giving the impression of a modern television-style broadcast, but at the time newsreels were separately narrated in a studio and Morrison's words were not heard in theaters.
The availability of newsreel films, photographs and Morrison's description was a result of heavy promotion of the arrival by the Zeppelin Company, ironically making the crash a media event and raising its importance far beyond other disasters, less well reported and documented.
Morrison's usual broadcast work was as an announcer on live musical programs, but his earlier successful reporting of midwestern floods from an airplane led to his assignment at Lakehurst that day.
An urban legend has it that Morrison was fired by WLS for his emotional reaction, but according to the station's weekly magazine and Morrison himself, this is not true. In fact, he was highly praised by station management, and the story of how he and Nielsen made the recording was described in detail. It is possible that the story of his being fired came about because Morrison left WLS a year later to work for the Mutual Broadcasting System and that network's New York flagship station, WOR.
Morrison served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, and later became the first news director at WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh. In the 1975 motion picture The Hindenburg, Herbert Morrison was employed as a technical adviser. He was portrayed by actor Greg Mullavy in the movie, but his recording was used in the film. Herbert was also sent across the country by Universal Studios to promote the film.
He retired to live outside Morgantown, West Virginia. He was active as a lecturer to colleges and news organizations. He died in Morgantown, survived by his wife Mary Jane.
During the 1999 75th Anniversary broadcast of the History of WLS, producer and narrator Jeff Davis played the corrected speed version of Morrison's Hindenburg recording. This was the first time that the corrected speed version of the broadcast was heard by a national radio audience. The corrected speed version is quite astounding as the shock wave from the blast is now clearly audible, whereas in the previous higher speed version the shock wave was somewhat muffled.