The obituary of Walter Cronkite incorrectly described WTOP-TV, which eventually became WUSA, as being a CBS affiliate when Cronkite worked with the station in the 1950s. It was operated by CBS and jointly owned by The Washington Post Co. and CBS. The obituary also incorrectly said that NBC's nightly news program, hosted by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, was two weeks behind "The CBS Evening News" in expanding to a half-hour broadcast in 1963. NBC expanded its program one week after CBS did.
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America's Iconic TV News Anchor Shaped the Medium and the Nation
"He continued to fume and fret and drive and demand through the day, right up until 6:28, when he combed his hair, put on his jacket and -- two minutes later -- began the broadcast with his calm and customary, 'Good evening.' "
Cronkite said he never anchored a single newscast that left him fully satisfied. He watched NBC's nightly news program each evening after finishing his own, and his staff lived in mortal terror of the explosion of anger that would surely follow if NBC had a story or even a fact that had not been on Cronkite's show.
"I want to win," he once said. "I not only want to win, I want to be the best. I feel very badly if I can't be."
Birth of a Newsman
Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was born Nov. 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Mo. He grew up in Kansas City, Mo., and later in Houston, where his father served on the faculty of the University of Texas Dental School. As a junior in high school, he read a short story about the exploits and adventures of a foreign news correspondent, and he decided then and there that he wanted to be a journalist. He got his first look at television at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago.
He attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he worked part time as the campus correspondent for the Houston Post, as sports announcer for a radio station and as a state capitol reporter for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain. He concluded after two years that covering the state capitol was more exciting than studying political science at the university, and he dropped out of college to become a full-time reporter.
Cronkite worked at the Houston Post for a year, then joined the staff of a Kansas City radio station, where he worked as news and sports editor. Later, he became a sports announcer for an Oklahoma City radio station, where he developed a reputation for imagination and creativity for his colorful re-creations of football games based on nothing but wire-service copy.
In 1939, he became a reporter for the United Press wire service and soon was covering combat during World War II. He covered the Battle of the North Atlantic, went along on the first B-17 bombing raid over Germany, landed with Allied forces in North Africa and waded ashore in the Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944. Later, he accompanied the Allied breakthrough at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
Cronkite was chief United Press correspondent at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, and then from 1946 to 1948 was the agency's chief correspondent in Moscow. He returned to the United States in 1948 and served as Washington correspondent for a group of Midwestern radio stations until joining CBS News in 1950, shortly after the Korean War broke out. He had hoped to cover the fighting but was instead charged with developing the news department of what was then WTOP-TV, the CBS affiliate in Washington.
TV's Early Days
Although he came to the job with no TV experience whatsoever, he developed what he called "a gut feeling that television news delivery ought to be as informal as possible [and spoken] to that single individual in front of his set in the intimacy of his own home, not to a gathering of thousands.
Later, with the network, he covered Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's 1959 visit to the United States, the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, Calif., and the early space flights of John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Gordon Cooper and Walter Schirra.
When asked to anchor the evening news program, succeeding Douglas Edwards, Cronkite insisted that he also be named managing editor in an effort to emphasize that it was a news -- not an entertainment -- broadcast. Over the next several years, Cronkite worked with CBS News President Fred Friendly and others to build up a newsgathering organization that reached all parts of the globe.