(CBS News) NEW YORK -- On Sept. 2, 1963, what had been, since 1948, a
15-minute broadcast, anchored first by Douglas Edwards and then Walter
Cronkite, doubled to 30 minutes overnight.
A half-hour may not seem like a big deal in this era of 24-hour cable
news, but in 1963, it revolutionized journalism. It was heralded in the
press and even got the attention of the president, who gave Cronkite an
exclusive interview for the debut broadcast.
"At his summer
White House in Hyannis Port on Massachusetts' Cape Cod, President
Kennedy today talked with this reporter of many things," Cronkite said
on the first 30-minute broadcast.
Kennedy's comments set off a debate that continues today, about what he
would have done about the war -- if he had lived.
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final analysis, it's their war," he said. "They're the ones who have to
win it or lose it. We can help them. We can give them equipment. We can
send our men out there as advisers. But they have to win it -- the
people of Vietnam -- against the Communists."
Now, here's what happened right after the interview:
"Does that do alright from your standpoint?" Cronkite asked the president.
that was fine." Kennedy said. "Maybe just a little long on the answer,
so I don't mind if they decide to edit any of this stuff."
didn't mind, but his press secretary did. At the studio, the
post-broadcast celebrations were interrupted by a phone call from press
secretary Pierre Salinger.
That first night, producer Sandy Socolow was in the control room, which back then was in Grand Central Terminal.
accused Cronkite and the rest of us of distorting what the president
said, of misleading the American people by faulty editing," said
Socolow. "Which if you look at the transcripts and you look at the cut,
it just doesn't hold water."
In the days of the 15-minute broadcast, Cronkite and his staff would
have to make a mad dash, just before airtime, from the newsroom on one
side of Grand Central to the studio on the other. Eric Shapiro, who is
the director of the Evening News today, was just starting his career at
the network back then.
"This was the shortcut," Shapiro
said of the catwalk above the terminal. "They would just run as fast as
they could across here, running through this catwalk."
wouldn't do for the half-hour broadcast, so the newsroom became the
studio, with Walter surrounded by wire machines, clanking and
clattering. The expanded newscast that came out of that newsroom would
help change the world.
"It's one thing to say there was
the police and African-Americans who had and a clash in Birmingham; it's
another thing to see the barking dogs and a fire hose," said historian
Douglas Brinkley. It's one thing to say they were using napalm in
Vietnam, and it's another thing to actually see napalm."
In 1963, Marvin Kalb was on the diplomatic beat for CBS News. He told us the expansion to half an hour was "liberating."
opened the door for many of the reporters who had never been seen
before to show their stuff," said Kalb. "And night after night, Walter
was able to introduce reporters from all over the world."
days after Cronkite signed off on Sept. 2, 1963 -- 81 days after that
interview with President Kennedy -- the broadcast of Nov. 22 opened this
"John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated today in
the 46th year of his life and his third year as President of the United
States," Cronkite reported.
That half-hour was part of
four days of unprecedented live coverage that saw television news come
of age. More Americans were now getting their news from TV than
The expansion of the broadcast to 30 minutes
had come just in time for some of the most momentous stories in the
nation's history: the marches for civil rights, boots on the ground in
Vietnam, first steps on the moon.