Walter Cronkite

CBS got scared. Rather’s paw prints were certainly be found all over Cronkite’s back! Not a pretty scene.

Mediabistro’s TVNewser (Actually Gail Shister) is reporting WalterCronkite “is gravely ill, according to multiple CBS News sources. The network began updating his obituary more than a week ago, a source adds.”

How sad. Walter Cronkite was the dean on TV anchormen and an unlikely voice questioning the Vietnam War in the late sixties and early seventies. He was called the “Most Trusted Man in America.” It was a title earned and deserved.

In 1981 he was removed to make way for Dan Rather. Rather had threatened to leave CBS unless he was installed as the main anchor. CBS got scared. Rather’s paw prints were certainly be found all over Cronkite’s back! Not a pretty scene.

Even after retirement Cronkite remained active, but it was never the way it had been when he led his network’s coverage.

If these reports are true and Walter Cronkite is on death’s door it will mark the passing of an era–one which will never be repeated.

Radio Days

Bad news travels fast. A friend of mine, from my radio days, has been fired from a job he’s held a dozen years. That is, unfortunately, the way of radio (TV too). Few jobs have permanence. Everyone is expendable.

It’s a shame because he’s a great guy – as nice as they come. And, from the articles I’ve read, he’s taken the high road. I’m not so sure I’d be that nice.

All this got me thinking back to this special radio station where we met. It was one of the last stations to try and make a go of music on AM. We were not successful.

I started at WPEN in 1975. We were on Walnut Street between 22nd and 23rd in Center City Philadelphia. It was an old building, full of history and a few mice.

The studios were nondescript, but I do remember the fire escape. It was ostensibly used to catch a smoke and some fresh air. That it overlooked the girl’s dorm for an art college was incidental.

We played oldies. So did another station, on FM. They were the station most oldies fans listened to. It had little to do with the quality of programming and everything to do with the very real difference between AM and FM.

The reason this station holds such as soft spot in my heart is because of how well defined it was. We made no bones about it. There was nothing hip about this place. We were a rock ‘n roll oldies station – very stylized.

The most original part of our sound wasn’t our music or jocks, but our news department. Yes, we presented the news, but with verve!

Each newsman had three names on-the-air – whether they did in real life or not. Brandon Barrett Brooks, Bruce Erik Smallwood, Rod Allen Fritz and William Wellington Cole&#185 (among others) graced our air.

There was a joke that Walter Cronkite had applied for a job, but was turned down. No middle name!

Smallwood was the leader of the band. When he said “Thunderstorms,” your radio shook. He is best known for what he said when Philadelphia Electric was going to raise its rates.

“Ready Kilowatt says his costs are up, so he’s going to (pause for effect) up yours!

I loved that station. It helped define my radio career. It was a fun place to work. Those days are not coming back anytime soon.

&#185 – William Wellington Cole was actually Mumia Abu Jamal. He is my only close encounter with someone who became a convicted murderer.

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.

On Dan Rather

Today was Dan Rather’s last day at CBS. He went out as damaged goods.

I never met him. We have no mutual friends. I don’t even want to comment on the ‘Bush papers’ that ultimately were his downfall.

It is interesting to note, no matter how far removed in time, I can’t think of Dan Rather without thinking of what happened to Walter Cronkite.

Most times, someone loses a job when someone else gets one. Beverly Johnson, a beautiful, very nice woman, was fired just before I was hired in Connecticut. Those decisions were made without my involvement. I always sensed it was different with Rather.

News coverage through the years implied, or sometimes outright said, he did not want Walter Cronkite to steal his thunder. When CBS gave him the job, keeping him from bolting, Cronkite’s fate was sealed. For Dan to be in, Walter would be out.

Today’s departure is about as close as life comes to full circle.

Blogger’s note – It’s possible over time I have goofed up this story, or remembered things that happened differently or perhaps didn’t happen at all. Corrections are always welcomed.

My Friend Bob Blogs

I got an email late last week from my friend Bob, newly landed in Austin, TX. He wanted to start a blog and he wanted to know how?

This is one of those good news, bad news stories. The good news is, you can blog easily. The bad news is, if you take the difficult route you’ve got a lot more flexibility (and work). Since Bob isn’t computer-iffic I recommended the easy way out.

Bob is now firmly established on Blogspot, the Google blogging tool. I’ve added these links to his site because that will help Google and the other search engines find it&#185.

I’m pretty impressed with the ease at which his blog was created. I don’t think he can do all the tricks I can do here – though I’m not quite sure if that’s to my advantage or not. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to post on a regular basis.

In the meantime, in the more established ‘blogosphere,’ Arianna Huffington’s new, mainly liberal, blog community has made its debut. Walter Cronkite, Larry David, Mike Nichols and a host of other luminaries are there. That’s pretty impressive for a maiden voyage.

Again, like Bob’s blog, it will be interesting to see how it looks in a few months and whether there is enough discipline among her unpaid writers to keep it up.

&#185 – Getting links is good. I’m always appreciative when someone adds a link from their webpage to mine.

Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather – I Understand

There has been a lot of talk about Walter Cronkite’s CNN interview and his answer to questions about Dan Rather.

“Although Dan did a fine job, I would have liked to have seen (Schieffer) there a long time ago,” Cronkite said during an interview on CNN. “He would have given the others a real run for their money.”

“It surprised quite a few people at CBS and elsewhere that, without being able to pull up the ratings beyond third in a three-man field, that they tolerated his being there for so long,” he told CNN.

You might expect Cronkite, still a member of the CBS board, to be a little more charitable… be more of a team player. I didn’t. In fact, I am surprised this kind of talk didn’t happen earlier.

Thinking back, my recollection is Dan Rather putting on the pressure and forcing CBS to move Cronkite out. Roger Mudd, who was passed over in this bloodless coup, bolted and went to NBC.

From Mike Straka on

According to the late ABC News and Sports president Roone Arledge’s autobiography “Roone: A Memoir,” Rather used ABC as a negotiating chip to force CBS’s hand to install him as the anchor of CBS Evening News six months earlier than Cronkite had planned to retire. This was at a time when Cronkite was considered the most trusted man in America.

What’s the old line? Be nice to the people you meet on the way up. They’re the same people you’ll meet on the way down.