This newcast did not end with the usual nighty-nights. Instead, co-anchor Lois Hart told viewers, optimistically perhaps, that the news would continue "from now on, and forever."
It was the end of the first hour for the Cable News Network (CNN), Ted Turner's fabulous gamble on a 24-hour national news service. CNN uplinked to the satellite at 6 p.m. yesterday, on schedule, catching Turner in midspeech as the blustery yachtsman-broadcaster dedicated the channel in ceremonies at its Atlanta headquarters.
Turner concluded with a little poem that ended, "I dedicate the news channel for America, the Cable News Network," followed by the presentation of colors and the national anthem. Then the camera panned to the saucer-shaped gizmos behind the building that helped make it possible -- satellite "dishes" that beam the signal to cable systems throughout the country.
And then the actual news program, a little sloppy-boppy but also rather exciting, began.
"Good evening, I'm David Walker," said David Walker.
And I'm Lois Hart," said Lois Hart. "Now here's the news."
From now on and forever -- or so Turner hopes.
The first hour of the news service, carried locally by Arlington's Metrocable TV (which claims 33,000 subscribers and is still growing), was a news smorgasbord of no particular distinction except for an utter lack of organization. But technical fluffs were relatively few and CNN showed it might be made of stern stuff indeed when it dare to interrupt one of its few commericals -- a Nestea spot -- so it could switch live to Fort Wayne, Ind., where President Carter was making a statement on the shooting of Vernon Jordan.
Unfortunately, despite this bold demonstration of its capability to be spontaneous, CNN then interrupted the president as blithely as it had interrupted the Nestea plunge because, said anchor Wlaker, there was "a live feed from the Mideast" coming up "momentarily."
Then two minutes later Carter was back, but this time on tape in the Oval Office, where he was being interviewed by correspondent Daniel Schorr and bureau chief George Watson. This turned out only to be a teaser for a full-length Carter interview seen later that night. At the start of the interview Schorr goaded the president into making some remarks upon the auspiciousness of CNN's inaugural. "It's an exciting and histroic thing in my judgment for our country," Carter said with his usual grin. He said he hoped the network would cover the news "in much more depth" than is usual on TV, thought that it would go through "a transition phase" that might be rickety, but that it would be "successful" in time.
"I know Ted Turner personally, as a fellow Georgian," Carter said. "He's one of the finest and most competive men I've ever known." Carter said his only "hope" was that Turner's record with CNN will be much closer to his high showings in the America's Cup races than to his miserable luck with the woebegone Atlanta Braves baseball team, which he also owns.
A crowd that had gathered at Metrocable headquarters in Arlington to witness the maiden voyage of Turner's Good Ship newsathon groaned at the sight of the first goof, 12 minutes into the program, when a report from New York on Reggie Jackson and the man who'd fired a gun at him suddenly vanished in the middle of a sentence. Viewers were transported to Mount St. Helens, only to be told that not much was happening there, just as they would later be rushed off live to Key West Fla., only to be told there was "little activity" there either.
The most apparent immediate problem appeared to be that this newspaper-of-the-air had no table of contents; you had no way of knowing whether you were about to get political news, world news, non-news, or the very latest poop on Linda Lovelace.
All-news radio stations, which have existed for some time, usually lay out the news menu at the beginning of each hour or half-hour. There was something daffy about the way CNN bounced from its Key West report to an interview in Atlanta with the mother and brother of a young man awaiting execution on death row.
The style of the newscast looks paterned after that of ABC news, with visuals superimposed over the right shoulders of anchor people.
The viewers of CNN -- and only about 2 million cable subscribers around the country can receive it at this time -- saw just a small part of the opening day hoopla from Atlanta. But all of it was carried on Turner's ubiquitous Super Station, Channel 17, which is also zipped from Atlanta by satellite link-up to cable systems throughout the United States.
Thomas Wheeler, president of the National Cable Televeision Association and one of many guest speakers at the event, announced that with the throwing of the CNN switch "we are turning video into a telepublisher" and "would be replacing sameness with diversity. He also told the samll crowd gathered in front of Turner's Tara-like CNN headquarters that the credo of the operation would be "not all the news that fits, but all the news all the time." o
He said Turner ahd "infected America with the dream that can be."
In fact, though, the presentation of news on this first outing was not noticeably different from the standard approach. Certainly keeping things brisk and brief had a higher priority than making them through or substantial. Often it seemed that, as with much of network TV news, the point of getting anything onto the screen was chiefly to get it off again and replace it with something else, lest viewers grow weary.
And Bernard Shaw, the Washington correspondent, perhaps didn't realize he was borrowing another newscaster's rather famous trademark when he ended his report with, "And that's the way it is, from our Cable News bureau in Washington."
The Turner studios looked impressive and filled with productive hub-bub, though with perhaps too much background noise. As a bridge into and out of commericals and segments, the sound of a computer printer outer will probably have to go. It sounds too much like something that might have been recorded inside the stomach of an ailing rhinoceros.
One member of the audience at Metrocable imitated the noise by going, "neenee neenee neenee," which wasn't a far cry from the real thing.
About 13 stories were covered in the first hour, some only teasingly, others in brief healdines. CNN aired the "exclusive" interview with Carter at 9 p.m., but in fact CBS had featured the president earlier in the day on "Face the Nation"; the exclusive, especially with the last major primaries only a day away, did not seem particularly priceless, but thse southern boys do stick together.
At any rate, it was obvious from the premiere, for all the rough edges, that CNN means business that it is anything but the plaything of a playboy. A new day dawned at dusk.