Sunday, June 05, 2005


I was looking at TVBarn and found this site with all this great video from the first day of CNN. Great site and great video.

The CNN of 25 years ago looked nothing like the CNN of today. For one thing, they weren't at CNN Center in those days, they were located at some plantation or somewhere in Atlanta. And they made a lot of technical mistakes and lots of video feeds that went missing, anchors introducing the wrong people, etcetera. It looked like a regular '80s newscast having a really bad day. I also noticed that they didn't have any teleprompters; a lot of stations didn't have them in those days. Man, when I did anchoring on TV I couldn't live without a teleprompter. Whenever there was some potential technical problem with the teleprompters going down everyone would panic. I can't believe how those people were able to get through a live newscast without them, but they managed.

The best part of the first day was the sports. They had an interview with Pete Rozelle and Pete was talking about the Oakland Raiders situation, whether or not the team was going to move to Los Angeles. The big story was some goon taking a shot at Reggie Jackson on the street the day after a game the Yankees played against the Toronto Blue Jays. They also had highlights from an NASL game from Washington D.C. that over 50,000 people went to see. Those were the days.

The news stories were typical humdrum news from that day: Vernon Jordan had been shot and President Jimmy Carter went to visit him and had a live press conference that CNN picked up. There was also a prison riot in Arkansas or something and they actually mentioned "Governor Clinton."

It was fascinating. There were very few people on that original news day who I actually recognized: Bernard Shaw, Lou Waters, Fred Hickman, Mary Alice Williams who's been long gone. Flip Spiceland did the weather, that's yet another guy they kicked out. Most of the people they had on, though, were people I never heard of, and probably people you never heard of, either. It was way different from today, or even from five years ago. Compare it to ABC or CBS or NBC from the same time period, where you'll find plenty of folks who are still around. But CNN has nobody.

In fact a lot of the big names from CNN for the past 25 years, people like Larry King, Judy Woodruff, Christiane Amanpour, Wolf Blitzer, even Peter Arnett- a lot of them actually didn't arrive until several years later. Larry was still on the radio late at night back in 1980, Wolf and Arnett were in print journalism, and I'm not sure where Woodruff was in 1980; I know she was at PBS for a while, though. Amanpour joined CNN two or three years after its launch, as a grunt production assistant, and quickly rose the ranks because it was a growing operation.

In fact the early CNN hired lots of underpaid production assistants and it sure showed. Word of advice to news organizations: make sure you shell out the money for good help. Because if you go cheap, you'll get cheap, and that's what we got from CNN on the screen in 1980!

The other thing that struck me were the stories from that era and more particularly the public service announcements. There were PSAs and ads talking about how to conserve energy and the like, and quite a few stories about the price of oil and the economy. No mistaking that the energy crisis was the top story of the day and you could really notice it in the coverage from this 25-year distance.

I found the advertising quite interesting- there were ads from the "new" Chrysler Corporation, which of course had just about gone totally belly-up. And lots of ads from drug companies. But in those days it was mild stuff like Maalox and Contac. Now it's Viagra and all these other newfangled prescription medications that you see advertised on TV all the time during the news- all these ones where they have to list the multitude of side effects. I guess people need stronger drugs these days.

It was really interesting watching those videos. Last week certainly was a big one for CNN, they've come a long way. In fact there were a few other big events. Larry King celebrated his 20th anniversary at CNN and Crossfire finally went off the air, and Judy Woodruff bid farewell to the network.

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