WHEN LOWELL THOMAS was presented, a few years ago, with the leading award in American broadcasting, he replied with a smile and a snatch of doggerel:

"This is the bird

"That millions heard,

"While waiting for Amos and Andy."

So they did. For much of this country, in the 1930s and 1940s, the radio shows of the early evening were a ritual. Mr. Thomas brought to a huge audience its first word of the great events of those years. Network broadcasting began to emerge in the middle 1920s, a technical triumph that tied the country together in altogether new ways. Mr. Thomas was one of the small number of men who, guided principally by instinct, worked out the methods for using the new tool.

Most of the people who turn on the television news this evening will not remember Mr. Thomas' regular nightly broadcasts since, in fact, most Americans now alive were born since he discontinued them. But the network news shows still tend to follow the Thomas formula. The biggest story comes first, followed by the others in roughly descending order to signal a sense of relative importance. Then at the end there's an anecdote, for the sake of amusement or uplift. Mr. Thomas' style of delivery might have been called bland, but it was also rigorously impartial--not a minor virtue in the news business.

He was a great traveller, very much in the long tradition of journalistic adventurers. By the time he died--on Saturday, at the age of 89, at his home in Pawling, N.Y.--he had been just about everywhere and talked to just about everybody. Other people have had as wide an interest in the world as he did, but not many have conveyed it so well.