Early TV Anchors

No one remembers Richard Hubbell.

But if you were one of the few people in New York during 1941 with a television set, you could have watched his 15-minute program, Richard Hubbell and the News.

Hubbell was one of the first television news anchors. His small audience watched the show twice a week on New York’s experimental CBS television station WCBW.

However, his early chapter in broadcast history came to an end with World War II. The emerging television industry was put on hold while the nation focused on the war.

Movie newsreels occasionally aired on TV during this period, but for the most part, radio reported the broadcast journalism stories from World War II.

Although radio networks had been in existence since the 1920s, large television networks really didn’t start until 1948 when coaxial cable began connecting major TV markets.

One of the first things the network stations shared was news. During the late 1940s and early 1950s television viewers began watching the news on four television networks: NBCCBSABC and DuMont.

These were the early days of television news. Keep in mind, that as of 1950, only nine percent of American homes had a television.

As NBC’s John Chancellor once put it, “It was sort of a primitive caveman television that we were putting out at that time.”

Don Hewitt from CBS said, “It was like a bunch of kids playing with Play Doh….We had no idea what we were doing in the early days….It was so horse and buggy and fun. Nobody knew what he was doing, but you didn’t care because who had a television set?”

The Beginning of NBC Television News

A few stations around the country experimented with television programming during the 1930s. Periodically radio announcers would do voice-over work for TV news reports with wire copy and still photographs.

In the early 1940s New York station WNBT (formerly W2XBS) simulcast the Lowell Thomas radio program. The simulcast, titled the Sunoco News, was sponsored by the Sun Oil Company. NBC also aired the Esso Television Reporter before World War II brought a halt to most television news.

When the war ended in 1945, WNBT broadcast a weekly program called NBC Tele-Newsreel (or NBC Telenews) that used MGM-Hearst movie newsreel film.

Beginning in 1947, 20th-Century Fox / Movietone produced the daily Camel Newsreel Theatre. It was sponsored by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The NBC Television Newsreel program started in 1948. In 1949 the Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayze began.

The Camel News Caravan was one of the first NBC news programs to use NBC filmed news stories rather than movie newsreels. Television news was becoming more independent and relying less on radio and newsreels.

John Cameron Swayze, who worked in radio for many years, had done voice-over work for the Camel Newsreel Theatre before becoming the television anchor of Camel News Caravan.  Although his journalism credentials were thin, he created an on-air personality that viewers liked.

He made eye contact and understood the visual role that anchors play in presenting the news. He could memorize scripts using his photographic memory — an invaluable talent in the years before the teleprompter.

Swayze ended his program each night with the line, “Well, that’s the story, folks. Glad we could get together.”  After his days at NBC news were over, Swayze appeared in Timex watch commercials. A generation of TV viewers remember his Timex slogan: “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”

Although it was not a traditional news program, the Today show with host Dave Garroway first aired on January 14, 1952. Garroway began the first Today show with the following introduction:

Well here we are, and good morning to you.  The very first good morning of what I hope and suspect will be a great many good mornings between you and me. Here it is, January 14, 1952, when NBC begins a new program called Today and, if it doesn’t sound too revolutionary, I really believe this begins a new kind of television.

The Huntley-Brinkley Report with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley replaced the Camel News Caravan on October 29, 1956. Huntley reported from New York and Brinkley from Washington, DC. Over the years viewers came to expect their familiar sign-off, “Goodnight, David — Goodnight, Chet.”

During most of the 1950s and 1960s NBC lead the network evening news ratings race. CBS was a respectable second and ABC a distant third. However, that began to change in 1967 when Walter Cronkite’s ratings improved.

When Chet Huntley retired from his evening news program on July 31, 1970, it marked the end of one of the most successful anchor teams in television history. He ended his last Huntley-Brinkley Report with the following: “Be patient and have courage — there will be better and happier news some day, if we work at it.”

Here is a list of NBC evening news network anchors/commentators:

  • NBC Television Newsreel
    (Paul Alley, off-camera commentator)
    February 1948 — February 1949
    (Video from Brian Williams story about 1948 show)
    (Video from the June 14, 1948 broadcast)
  • John Cameron Swayze (on-camera)
    Camel News Caravan
    February 1949 — October 1956
  • Chet Huntley and David Brinkley
    Huntley-Brinkley Report
    October 29, 1956 — July 31, 1970
    (Video — November 22, 1963 — example 1)
    (Video — November 22, 1963 — example 2)
  • David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Frank McGee
    NBC Nightly News
    August 1, 1970 — 1971
  • John Chancellor and commentator David Brinkley
    NBC Nightly News
    1971 — 1976
  • John Chancellor and co-anchor David Brinkley
    NBC Nightly News
    1976 — 1979
  • John Chancellor
    NBC Nightly News
    October 5, 1979 — April 2, 1982
  • Tom Brokaw and Roger Mudd
    NBC Nightly News
    April 5, 1982 — September 1983
  • Tom Brokaw
    (Commentaries by John Chancellor, 1983-1991)
    NBC Nightly News
    September 5, 1983 — December 1, 2004
  • Brian Williams
    NBC Nightly News
    December 2, 2004 –

The Beginning of CBS Television News

The network’s first regularly scheduled nightly newscast, the CBS Television News, was anchored by Douglas Edwards on August 15, 1948. A couple of years later the name was changed to Douglas Edwards with the News. This was the beginning of the CBS Evening News we know today.

Only five stations belonged to the CBS television network when Edwards began broadcasting the network evening news in 1948.

In 1946, before the network was connected with coaxial cable, WCBS-TV aired an occasional newscast with Douglas Edwards as anchor. A year later a more formal program called Gulf News, which was sponsored by the Gulf Oil Company, began broadcasting.

On June 21, 1948, the television networks broadcast their first live reports from a presidential convention when they covered the Republican convention. Philadelphia hosted both the Republican and Democratic parties that summer.

CBS producer Don Hewitt is often credited with creating the term news “anchor” to describe Walter Cronkite, who served as the network anchor during the July 1952 national political conventions.  Hewitt would later be known for his work with 60 Minutes.

During the 1950s the CBS news division also produced many other programs, including Edward R. Murrow’s See It Now program, which began in November 1951. On March 9, 1954, Murrow and See It Now broadcast one of the most famous programs in journalism history: “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.” (The CBS “Public Eye” blog has posted some See It Now videos: 1953 report from Korea and the 1953 report from Berlin, Germany.)

Another Murrow program during this period was Person To Person. (Here is a link to a video of his 1954 interview with Eleanor Roosevelt.) A few years later, during a speech at the RTNDA convention on October 15, 1958, he worried about the future of televison. Near the end of his speech Murrow said:

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate;
yes, and it can even inspire.
But it can do so only to the extent that humans
are determined to use it to those ends.
Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box.

(Four years later Murrow hosted the opening night broadcast of New York public television station WNET. The September 16, 1962 video has been posted on YouTube.)

Walter Cronkite replaced Douglas Edwards as the anchor of the CBS Evening News on April 16, 1962. The 15-minute program expanded to 30 minutes on September 2, 1963. On network television’s first half-hour news broadcast, Cronkite interviewed President John Kennedy.

A little more than two months later, on November 22, 1963, Cronkite reported on the assassination of the president.

The CBS Evening News became the ratings leader in 1967.

Cronkite is remembered for his avuncular style, high journalistic standards, and stories on topics such as the Vietnam War and U.S. space program.

On March 6, 1981, Cronkite ended his last CBS Evening News with the familar line, “And that’s the way it is.”

Here is a list of CBS evening news network anchors:

The Beginning of ABC Television News

If you were watching the ABC network on August 11, 1948, you might have seen their first regular newscast.  They called it News and Views.  H.R. Baukhage and Jim Gibbons served as the program’s anchors.

In April 1951 the network began a new show, After the Deadlines.

On October 9, 1952, ABC began experimenting with a longer evening newscast, All Star News. But ratings showed that viewers prefered a shorter and more traditional evening news program. As a result, the network returned to the traditional evening news format, and premiered John Daly and the News on October 12, 1953.

Before he came to ABC television, John Daly had a long and successful radio news career at CBS. He reported on the Franklin Roosevelt administration as a White House correspondent in the late 1930s. During World War II he was the CBS network’s chief correspondent in Italy.

Beginning in 1950, Daly started moderating the CBS television game show, What’s My Line? He remained as the host even after he became an ABC news anchor.

Daly not only worked at the anchor desk, but he also served as a network vice president for news. He left ABC in December 1960. Daly ended each of his shows with the closing line, “Good night, and a good tomorrow.”

During the 1960s the network struggled to find someone to compete against Huntley-Brinkley and Walter Cronkite. It was during the middle of the decade that a young Canadian journalist named Peter Jennings first served as an ABC network anchor.

Here is a list of ABC evening news network anchors:

  • H.R. Baukhage and Jim Gibbons
    August 11, 1948 — April 1951
  • Anchor? (After the Deadlines)
    April 1951 — October 1952
  • Anchor? (All Star News)
    October 9, 1952 — October 1953
  • John Charles Daly
    October 12, 1953 — December 1960
  • ABC tried various anchor formats during this period.
    Program anchors included:
    Former NBC anchor John Cameron Swayze, Bill Shadel,
    Edward P. MorganBill LawrenceHoward K. Smith,
    Bill Sheehan and Fendall Yerxa
    December 1960 — March 1962
  • Ron Cochran
    March 1962 — January 1965
  • Peter Jennings
    February 1, 1965 – December 29, 1967
  • Bob Young
    January 1968 — May 1968
  • Frank Reynolds
    May 27, 1968 — May 1969
  • Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith
    May 26, 1969 — December 1970
  • Harry Reasoner and co-anchor Howard K. Smith
    December 1970 — 1975
  • Harry Reasoner and commentator Howard K. Smith
    1975 – October 1976
  • Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters
    October 4, 1976 — July 1978
  • Frank Reynolds, Peter Jennings, Max Robinson
    July 10, 1978 — September 1983
  • Peter Jennings
    September 1983 — 2005
    (He died of lung cancer on August 7, 2005.)
  • Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff
    January 3, 2006 — May 2006
  • Charles Gibson
    May 29, 2006 – December 18, 2009
    (Video — December 18, 2009)
  • Diane Sawyer
    December 21, 2009 –

The Beginning (and end) of DuMont Television News

From 1946 until 1956 the DuMont network was considered the fourth major television network.

DuMont owned three TV stations in the late 1940s and early 1950s: New York’s WABD; Washington, DC’s W3XWT; and Pittsburgh’s WDTV.

Because DuMont was so small it could experiment and be more innovative than the other networks. For example, they successfully used station-to-station coaxial cable hookups a couple of years before their competitors.

The Walter Compton News was the first news program on the DuMont network. Other news shows from DuMont included: Camera Headlines, INS Telenews, Newsweek Analysis, and the DuMont Evening News.

It was clear by 1955 that DuMont’s days were numbered. By then their schedule was limited almost exclusively to sports. The final DuMont network telecast in August 1956 was not a newscast, but a boxing match.

The three remaining networks, NBCCBS, and ABC dominated broadcast news for the next three decades.

People may never remember Richard Hubbell, or the small DuMont network, but hopefully they will at least remember a few of the early anchors and innovators of network news.

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