Messing With An Iconic Moment

Let me recommend PBS’s American Masters profile of Walter Cronkite. I watched it last night and was fascinated.

To see Cronkite in review is to see CBS in review, because they were inseparable.

There was one part of the show, unfortunately, that disappointed me. It’s a misportrayal I’ve seen many times, but didn’t expect to see from such an esteemed program. It’s Walter Cronkite’s ‘call’ of the astronauts’ landing on the Moon.

As Cronkite speaks, and the astronauts and mission control chatter back and forth on the radio, you see the shot of the lunar lander skimming the surface and finally touching down.

It might have happened that way in real time, but it didn’t happen that way on real time TV. The film (yes, it’s film) of the lander’s touchdown wasn’t processed until Apollo 11 was safely back on Earth.

We saw Neil Armstrong take his “one small step” live, but not this critical landing. We only had audio for the landing.

What difference does it make to insert this “B-roll” over Walter’s stentorian tones? Part of the amazing power of Cronkite on the night of July 20, 1969 was his ability to guide us through this sightless occurrence.

Showing it now, with pictures, changes the context of his words and visible emotions.

On that night, I was on my way to work in Fall River, MA. I listened in a service area along Route 24. To this day, I’m not 100% sure what was shown on TV before Walter took off his glasses and let out a sigh of relief. It just wasn’t video of the landing.

Men on the Moon – 35 Years Ago

Yesterday was the anniversary of the first men landing on the moon. Thirty five years ago today, Neil Armstrong took that first giant leap for mankind.

I remember those two days. I was excited to be working at WSAR in Fall River, Ma. It was my first professional broadcasting job.

I was on my way to work as the astronauts landed. I had stopped in my green Volkswagen Beetle at a rest area somewhere between Boston and Fall River. People were standing around listening to their radios. It was a sultry summer evening.

It is still astounding to me that we were able to achieve this amazing journey. Even today, with technology so far advanced, our space program is far from worry free. This was really uncharted terriotory in every sense of the word.

Over the years, some parts of the experience have been lost, others aodpted as if they had happened, when in reality they hadn’t.

For instance, we’ve all seen the film of Apollo 11’s landing, with the voices of the astronauts and Houston controllers calling out flight details. That film was not developed until the astronauts returned! Sure, we heard the voices live. We never saw the pictures.

Maybe there’s confusion because we did see (with some of the poorest video ever watched) Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. That was transmitted live from a camera mounted somewhere on the exterior of the lander.

One of my favorite trivia questions concerns the first words from the moon&#185. It wasn’t “One small step…” or “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

The first words from the moon were, “contact light.”

“Contact light…OK Engine stop…ATA outta detent…Mode control: both Auto…descent engine command override off…Engine arm off… 413 is in.”

Not very sexy. And, as my personal space expert, and former Inside Space producer, Dave Brody reminds me, that was said by Buzz Aldrin, not Neil Armstrong.

It is possible the greatest human achievment of my lifetime was achieved 35 years ago. That we haven’t exceeded this over that time period is a shame.

&#185 – My favorite trivia question is: “What is Lady Bird Johnson’s first name?” It is neither Lady or Bird.