William Burke Miller
According to census documents, William Burke Miller was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the son of Charles J. (an assistant manager at a furniture store) and Julia Miller. They also had another child, a daughter named Mary. Little is known about Miller's childhood, although several sources have noted he had originally dreamed of being a professional singer ("The Man Who" 27).
Miller first came to prominence somewhat by accident. He was a cub reporter for the Louisville's Courier-Journal, making $25 a week ("Two Men," 33), and his newspaper sent him to cover the story of Floyd Collins,a 35-year old man who had been trapped in a cave, his leg pinned by a large rock ("Tells How Cave" 2). As the story unfolded, Miller was able to report from the scene, and even make contact with Collins: Miller was very slight (five feet five inches tall, 117 lbs.), enabling him to squeeze into a part of the cave where he could actually talk to Collins, pray with him, and even bring him food, as rescuers engaged in a frantic effort to get him out ("Ex-Reporter," 1; "Collins Release, 1; "Reporter Who Prayed," B3). Each day, Miller filed his stories, in the first person; wire services picked up the story and soon a national audience was waiting and hoping for Collins to be set free. Unfortunately, the rescue proved more difficult than originally expected, and by the time Collins was reached fifteen days later, he was found dead ("Floyd Collins Cave Death," 1). Miller's reporting earned him a Pulitzer Prize on May 4, 1926; his newspaper also gave him a $1000 prize ("Pulitzer 1925 Awards," XX14) But Miller's heart was not in journalism. Despite his newfound fame, he left the profession, moved to Winterhaven, Florida, and went into retail, working for an ice cream manufacturer ("Reporter Who Prayed, B3; "Prize Reporter," 9). His hiatus from journalism was only temporary, however. He was offered a job at the New York Morning World, and moved to New York, along with his sister. But his newspaper career stalled when his new employer did not like his writing (Winchell, 11) and Miller decided to leave journalism and enter broadcasting.
William Burke Miller was hired by the National Broadcasting Company (which would later be known as NBC), sometime in 1927, as the assistant chief press agent, working in the publicity department at the network ("Kentucky Cave Hero" 23). By 1930, he had been promoted, as NBC created a new department, special events programming; his job was to supervise all current events broadcasts, and also help with special news programs ("Kentucky Cave Hero," 23). This meant coordinating all on-location remotes—such as when NBC attempted a broadcast from a submarine in New London, Connecticut, in late 1930. Miller supervised the team that set up the special microphones and made sure the announcer would be in position to describe this unique event ("Broadcast From," 48). Throughout the 1930s, whenever an unusual event required staff to be on location, it was often Miller who made sure things went smoothly. By the early 1940s, he was also supervising public service broadcasts ("Radio Called," 1) Due to Miller's creative on-the-spot coverage (including the first live transmission from a parachute jump) Robert Ripley designated him "the bravest man in radio."
At some point in the late 1930s, Miller married radio and stage actress Alice Reinheart, but their marriage ended in divorce. In the late 1940s, Miller remarried, to children's show host and producer Madge Tucker.
When television came along, Miller was among the many NBC personnel who began to work in both the radio and the television operations. He had already done some work with NBC's experimental TV station, where by some accounts, he arranged the first televised sports broadcast, a college baseball game between Columbia and Princeton ("William Miller," n.p.) By 1947, he had officially joined NBC-TV, as one of the network's program editors ("Advertising News," 36). Miller continued to cover news and special programming for NBC TV and Radio. In 1954, he returned to the Mammoth Cave National Park area with a group of 32 people (journalists, scientists, and explorers) who were eager to study the famous Crystal Cave that Collins had originally discovered in 1917. They entered it, and spent an entire week exploring; Miller told an Associated Press reporter the Crystal Cave, with its "flower-like formations of gypsum" was like an "orchid paradise" and despite its role in the tragedy of Collins' death, it was still a place of amazing natural beauty ("Cave Yields," 3). After Miller retired from NBC, where his final position was as night editor for the network ("TV-Radio," 6M).
He and his wife moved to South Wallingford, Vermont. Miller still did some freelance writing for the local newspaper. He died in Sebastian, Florida, in January 1984, after a period of failing health; he was 79 (William Miller, n.p.).
- "Advertising News and Notes." New York Times, May 21, 1947, p. 36.
- "Broadcast from Depths of Sea Today at 1:30." Springfield (MA) Republican, December 7, 1930, p. 48.
- "Cave Yields Orchid Room." Omaha (NE) World Herald, February 16, 1954, p. 3.
- "Collins Release Seems Near." Omaha (NE) World Herald, February 4, 1925, p. 1
- "Ex-Reporter Back to Help Explore Floyd Collins Cave." Omaha (NE) World Herald, February 3, 1954, p. 11.
- "Floyd Collins Cave Death Is Recalled." San Diego Union, October 30, 1958, p. 1.
- "Kentucky Cave Hero Is Promoted by NBC." Omaha (NE) World Herald, March 23, 1930, p. 23.
- "Pulitzer 1925 Awards Made to Vivid Types." New York Times, May 9, 1926, p. XX14.
- "Radio Called Ally in Press War." Dallas Morning News, March 11, 1944, Section 2, p. 1
- "Reporter Who Prayed With Floyd Collins Gets Prize." Boston Globe, May 9, 1926, p. B3.
- "Tells How Cave Imprisoned Him." Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 5, 1925, pp. 1–2.
- "The Man Who Did His Best to Save Floyd Collins." Cleveland Plain Dealer, November 22, 1979, p. 27.
- "TV-Radio Highlights." Portland Oregonian, July 30, 1959, p. 6M.
- "William Miller, 79; Journalist Who Won Pulitzer in 1926." Boston Globe, January 12, 1984, n.p.
- Winchell, Walter. "Broadway." Richmond (VA) Times Dispatch, May 11, 1936, p. 11.