I vividly remember watching the first broadcast of CNN live. I was home having lunch and eagerly anticipated the new network’s appearance on my local cable system. Ted Turner gave a brief speech laying claim to the high road of journalistic excellence. Sometimes called the "Mouth of the South," Turner said, “We won't be signing off until the world ends. We'll be on, and we will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event ... and when the end of the world comes, we'll play 'Nearer, My God, to Thee' before we sign off." Only Turner could be so loquacious.
After that brief pontification, Turner turned the broadcast over to the husband and wife team of David Walker and Lois Hart, who anchored the first newscast. Other early air personnel included weathercaster Flip Spiceland and my personal all-time favorite CNN newscaster Lynn Russell.
The first CNN news crew consisted of only 25 people. Early network newscasts had plenty of both technical and people problems. Mistakes with cut-ins, commercials (what few there were), news inserts and bloopers gave pundits plenty of fodder to criticize the network. But, Ted and his CNN staff made their own headlines on June 1, 1980, when they launched what has become the most prevalent television news channel in the world.
The network is located in Atlanta, home to the another early Turner cable network, WTBS. In those days, the cable version of WTBS was called a “Super Station” and was distributed by many cable systems. Early CNN shows included longtimers "Moneyline" and "Larry King Live."
Younger readers may not know that Turner actually created a CNN newscast that carried only “positive news.” He claimed that there was too much negative news on the air and wanted to balance things. It didn’t work, and the newscast soon died. Whether it was for lack of advertising, content or viewers remains an unknown.
It wasn’t just Turner’s expertise that helped CNN become America’s “other” news network. Crucial to the network’s success was its 24-hour coverage of important events like the Challenger disaster, Peter Arnett’s live war coverage from Baghdad and the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The 24-hour operation and live coverage gave CNN a huge advantage over the noncable news networks. Because the events were available live and then repeated often, Americans discovered a never-ending source of news.
CNN is actually composed of multiple versions of the main network. For instance, the CNN Airport Network is displayed in 46 airports and carries much of the same news as the mother channel, but lacks coverage of airplane disasters. CNN International emphasizes international news and is carried in more than 200 countries. CNN launched what was initially called, “CNN2,” later renamed Headline News in 1982. The headline network was again renamed, this time “HLN,” and the content refocused more on celebrity news in 2008. Other CNN networks include CNN en Español, CNN Radio and CNN Radio Noticias.
The original staff of 25 has grown to more than 4000 according to the CNN website. Other networks have challenged CNN. But when you travel, it is CNN that’s displayed in elevators, bars, health clubs, airports and hotel rooms.
Atlanta may be known for lots of things, but in this industry, it’s know as the home of CNN.
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