John Chancellor, a pioneer of television journalism who brought Midwestern forthrightness and a reassuring manner to reporting, anchoring and wide-ranging commentary, died Friday. He was 68.
Chancellor, who underwent treatment for stomach cancer in 1994, died at his home here, said NBC spokeswoman Beth Comstock. He would have been 69 on Sunday.
He spent more than 40 years at NBC, reported from more than 50 foreign countries and lived in five, with a two-year hiatus as director the Voice of America in the 1960s. He retired in 1993.
“When I started at NBC in 1950, I was one of its first television reporters,” Chancellor said in a 1993 Associated Press interview. “We only had three or four.”
“By 1952, we knew TV would be more powerful than radio, and this place (NBC News) really got going.”
Chancellor first came to the attention of a national TV audience in 1957 as NBC’s senior correspondent covering the school integration crisis in Little Rock, Ark.
A panelist on the 1960 televised debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, Chancellor had interviewed every U.S. president since Harry S. Truman, every British prime minister since Clement Atlee and every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir.
He was in Berlin when the Wall was built in 1961, and he was there when it was torn down in 1989.
Among his posts over the years: correspondent in Moscow, Vienna and Brussels, Belgium; “Today” show host (1961-62); and national affairs correspondent.
From 1970 to 1982, he was anchorman of the “NBC Nightly News”; from then until his retirement in 1993, he delivered commentaries.
More recently, he was narrator of Ken Burns’ nine-part Public Broadcasting Service documentary, “Baseball.”
Chancellor was born in Chicago on July 14, 1927, and began his journalism career at the Chicago Sun-Times. He moved on to broadcast news in local radio in Chicago, and moved to NBC television in 1950.
Covering his last political convention in 1992 - 40 years after his first - he groused that stage management and a dearth of old-fashioned politicking had made the gatherings “about as interesting as the Miss America pageant. They’ve taken all the fun out of it, and then they complain that nobody watches it and we don’t cover it.”
Chancellor’s most memorable convention appearance came with the Republicans who nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964. He was arrested for blocking an aisle while interviewing someone. Television viewers watched Chancellor led out of the hall, giving play by play into his microphone: “Here we go down the middle aisle. … I’ve been promised bail, ladies and gentlemen, by my office.
“This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody.”