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The BIRTH of CABLE NEWS

By Charles Apple
The Spokesman-Review

Once upon a time, you could watch TV news in the mornings (think NBC’s “Today” show), in the evenings and maybe again at night. The rest of the time, you relied on radio or newspapers. All that changed 40 years ago today with “the 24-hour news cycle” brought on by the creation of CNN.

CNN’s first news broadcast on June 1, 1980, was anchored by Lois Hart and David Walker ... who also happened to be married. (CNN)

A new kind of news: Cable News Network

It’s difficult to remember how different the TV news landscape was before the creation of cable news. What’s more, the guy who made it all happen was satellite TV pioneer Ted Turner – who, at the time, may have been more famous for winning the America’s Cup sailing event in 1977 or buying the Atlanta Braves and then blasting their games nightly across the nation on what had previously been a low-rent UHF TV station.

Ted Turner

Turner had never been serious about news at his station, but he suddenly decided he needed to start a news operation that would be based not in New York or Washington, D.C., but someplace else. So he put it in his hometown of Atlanta – in the basement of a building that had once been a Jewish country club.

CNN went on the air at 2 p.m. Pacific on June 1, 1980. Turner made a brief speech, had a United Nations flag raised beside the Georgia and U.S. flags and then threw the broadcast to David Walker and Lois Hart, a husband-wife anchor team whom Turner had hired away from a station in Sacramento, California.

The new venture was not without its setbacks. One day a studio light exploded, setting fire to the pants of one of its biggest stars, longtime CBS News veteran Daniel Schorr.

CNN lost a lot of money its first few years – reportedly $2 million a month. Turner continued investing in his venture by setting up news bureaus around the world. In 1983, he eliminated his competition by buying the Satellite News Channel – partly owned by ABC.

The big breakthrough for CNN would come during the Persian Gulf War in 1991: CNN was the only major news operation that had a team in Baghdad and could get information – including live pictures and reports, of course – back to the U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told reporters he was following the attacks on CNN. One Detroit NBC affiliate pulled its network coverage and simply ran CNN’s feed.

In 1996, Turner sold his collection of cable networks to Time Warner, which, in turn, was acquired by AT&T in 2018. CNN’s corporate parent today is WarnerMedia.


How cable TV news has evolved since 1980

June 1, 1980

CNN launches

Nov. 30, 1981

Financial News Network launches

Jan. 1, 1982

CNN2 launches

May 2, 1982

The Weather Channel launches

June 12, 1982

Satellite News Channel launches

Aug. 9, 1983

CNN 2 rebrands as CNN Headline News

Oct. 27, 1983

CNN buys Satellite News Channel

Sept. 1, 1985

CNN International launches

April 17, 1989

CNBC launches

March 11, 1991

BBC World Service Television launches

May 21, 1991

CNBC buys FNN

Jan. 20, 1992

CNN Airport Network launches

Jan. 1, 1994

Bloomberg Television launches

Nov. 29, 1995

CNN FN launches

July 15, 1996

MSNBC launches

Oct. 7, 1996

Fox News launches

Nov. 1, 1996

ESPNews launches

Dec. 12, 1996

CNN/SI launches

March 17, 1997

CNN en Español launches

January 2000

Free Speech TV Dish Network channel launches

Dec. 1, 2000

RFD-TV farm news channel launches

May 15, 2002

CNN/SI closes

July 20, 2004

ABC News Now launches

Nov. 15, 2004

NBC Weather Plus launches

Dec. 15, 2004

CNN FN closes

Oct. 15, 2007

Fox Business launches

Sept. 2, 2008

NBC buys The Weather Channel

Dec. 15, 2008

CNN Headline News becomes HLN

Dec. 31, 2008

NBC Weather Plus closes

April 27, 2009

ABC News Now closes

February 2010

RT America, a Russian government network, launches

July 1, 2010

CNC World, a Chinese government network, launches

May 20, 2011

Dish Network launches The Weather Cast. Shuts it down four days later.

Feb. 6, 2012

CGTN, a Chinese government network, launches

Sept. 12, 2012

Glenn Beck’s network, The Blaze, launches

July 4, 2013

OAN: One America News Network launches

Aug. 20, 2013

Al Jazeera America launches

Oct. 28, 2013

Fusion TV launches

June 16, 2014

Newsmax TV launches

March 10, 2015

Accuweather Network launches

April 12, 2016

Al Jazeera America closes

April 2017

Cheddar finance and tech network launches

September 2017

Newsy launches

September 2018

NewsNet – all news, no opinion – launches


Cable TV today

CNN lost its ratings lead to Fox News in 2002 and then fell further behind during the war in Iraq. These days, it’s in third place – and sometimes a distant third place – behind Fox and MSNBC. In April, Fox posted its biggest month of prime time ratings in its history. A pair of Fox News daily programs – “Special Report With Bret Baier” and “The Five” – are the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked programs in all of cable news.

All three major cable networks got a ratings boost in April with COVID-19 coverage.

Sources: “Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN and the Birth of 24-hour News” by Lisa Napoli, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The New York Times, CNN, CNN Money, Fox News, Hollywood Reporter, AdWeek’s TV Newser, The Poynter Institute, Pew Research Center, the History Channel, Vox.com, Deadline.com, CableCenter.org