Television History: The first national newscast had humble beginnings

The CBS Evening News has been around, in one form or another, for 63 years.  In fact it was 63-years ago THIS WEEK when CBS aired a regular weeknight newscast that was called “The CBS-TV News”.  The anchor was Douglas Edwards and the original newscast was a 15-minute program ONLY on Saturday nights!  In 1948 it was expanded to weeknights from 7:30 to 7:45pm.

Interestingly enough the name has changed several times from the 1950 title “Douglas Edwards with The News” to 1963’s “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite”.  It celebrated many firsts during its early years.  In 1951 it was the first newscast to be aired coast-to-coast. On November 30th 1956 it was the first to use videotape.  That was so they could air it on a tape delay for the west coast viewers.

And then  this…..September 2, 1963 Walter Cronkite took over as the anchor of the nation’s first HALF HOUR weeknight newscast at 6:30pm.  It was Cronkite that launched the newscast into an 18-year dominance in the nightly news race.  Everyone talks of his coverage of the assassination of John Kennedy as a moment that locked him in the hearts of our country.  Cronkite retired on March 6, 1981.  I remember that broadcast well.  Nothing I can say to treat it with the respect it deserves….except to just print what he said.  He was the best.

“This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it’s a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we’ve been meeting like this in the evenings, and I’ll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure, I’m afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. A great broadcaster and gentleman, Doug Edwards preceded me in this job, and another, Dan Rather, will follow. And anyway, the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists; writers, reporters, editors, producers, and none of that will change. Furthermore, I’m not even going away! I’ll be back from time to time with special news reports and documentaries, and, beginning in June, every week, with our science program, Universe. Old anchormen, you see, don’t fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that’s the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.

Walter Cronkite (November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009)  R.I.P.


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