Monday’s CBS nightly newscast took me back in time, 50 years to be exact. Normally, I don’t get to see a network newscast but I did on this day since it was Labor Day.
I remembered though I couldn’t recall the exact event Scott Pelley documented at the end of the newscast.
Pelley, the current anchor, ended the news with a look back to the days of black and white television. He remembered the time when Walter Cronkite, perhaps the best network news anchor ever, sat behind the desk, as he reflected on a historic turn at the way networks covered news on Labor Day, September 2, 1963.
That was my birthday, just as Labor Day 2013 was. So I was particularly interested in what Pelley had to say about that day in history. Sure I remember watching Cronkite, or Huntley and Brinkley on a competing network, as a child but not the specifics of a broadcast on my special day.
On that day in 1963, CBS extended its nightly news broadcasts from 15 minutes to 30 minutes and brought in reporters from around the globe to the broadcast. They did so by using satellite feeds and television was revolutionized.
On that historic night, Cronkite interviewed President John F. Kennedy from Hyannis Port, Mass. The pair talked about a variety of topics in a taped segment from a casual setting on the beach earlier in the day. Just a mere 81 days later Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas and the networks provided immediate and expanded coverage of the incident and those that followed. Americans got to watch all the events; many live, including the funeral of Kennedy.
A new day in broadcast news arrived on that day in September. It eventually paved the way for what we see today in breaking newscasts, 24-hour per day competing cable news channels, remote broadcasts from the most desolate corners of the globe and even how news spreads on the Internet.
It wasn’t easy for Cronkite. He sat in the actual newsroom instead of at a set and disseminated the news with reporters talking in the background and over the clatter of Teletype machines from newswire services clicking away. But, he did it professionally and somehow pulled it all together into a cohesive whole.
As Pelley said, the effort was “just in time for some of the biggest stories in American history.”
Of course, less than three months later Kennedy was assassinated, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, the race to space and eventually the U.S. putting men on the moon were all in the not too distant future. Who knows, without CBS and Cronkite many Americans may have waited a few more years for the evolution to occur.
I smiled when Pelley finished and the screen went back to color. During his segment, I had pictured the old large cabinet television we had in 1963. You know, the ones with the dials to change channels, adjust the volume and the picture. We were uptown though. Our TV had a remote. You couldn’t choose the channel by number but you could flip through the numbers and when you landed on one of the three stations we got, you were in business.
How times have changed. It was nice to reflect on that, as I officially became another year older.