Ted Turner, "the mouth of the South," put in all-new cable television network on the air yesterday with the blessings of a minister who compared him to Jesus Christ and the presence of an array of cable TV executive and potential advertisers who perspired in the north Georgia sun to see if his audacious plans would actually get off the ground.
Turner, a 41-year-old yachtsman and billboard and television entrepreneur, circulated among the hundreds of invited guests, exuding the charm of a Rhett Butler and the guile of a snake-oil salesman. He buttonholed anyone who would listen to expound on his dream of telling the news like it really is and beaming it 24-hours a day, seven days a week, to a national audience.
The Rev. William Borders, a well-known local minister who compared Turner to Jesus, reflected the air of missionary fervor that permeated the opening ceremonies. Turner has publicly stated that he wishes to report the positive side of the news and feels he can bind peoples together through a feeling of brotherhood. As for the comparison, Turner's only comment was, "I didn't put him up to that."
At exactly 6 p.m., backed by a roster of uniformed military officers and television news executives, Turner, wea ring the official blue blazer of the America's Cup race and standing in front of the southern antebellum mansion that houses his television empire, listened to the dying strains of the National Anthem and smiled broadly as his network went on the air.
With Southern aplomb, the mustachioed Turner turned to his platform guest and said, in an on-mike aside, "Okay, thank y'all for comin', we appreciate it."
The first news report that went out over the cable network was a followup on the shooting of Urban League President Vernon Jordan, a Georgia native, in Fort Wayne, Ind. As that report was being produced, Turner plunged into the crowd of well-wishers, a cocktail glass (plastic) in hand.
A few moments later, he had made his way under the large circus-style tents housing a half-dozen bars and tables laden with food while President Jimmy Carter spoke live from Fort Wayne over Turner's cable network. The audience cheered lustily, and the man who had put it all together chattered easily with Pete Rozelle of of the National Football League.
"I don't know why we don't have you running baseball," said Turner, owner of the losing Atlanta Braves. Rozelle smiled appreciatively and complimented Turner on his amibtious undertaking.
the opening of Turner's cable network attracted a well-dressed crowd of invited guests, who ranged from Georgia congressmen (including Democrats Wyche Fowler and Elliot Levitas) and communications executives to Turner relatives and friends. They mingled in the 92-degree heat, sipping bourbon and water and munching on tenderlion sandwiches, while bands played and flags of the United States, the state of Georgia and the United Nations waved from tall poles which were reflected in a circular pool in front of the network building.
But inside the building there were sweaty palms and intense expressions. Getting on the air at all had been a cliffhanger of a job. A scant hour before the scheduled debut, an auditorium-sized newsroom deep inside the former country club was swarming with writers, editors, announcers and producers. Only a year earlier, the newsroom had been but a grand idea in the brain of the dreamer, Ted Turner. Now it was packed with $10 million worth of equipment, a few high-priced national news network veterans and a basic cadre of as-yet untried, lower-priced kids not long out of college.
Turner was bouncing in and out of the newsroom, now exhilarated, now anxious. Accosted in a hallway, he gushed opitmistic about the goals of his network.
The newspapers are too slow," Turner said. "I mean, by the time you read about the latest fluctuation in gold prices, it't outdated. We are going to tell people what the facts are while they're still the facts. Like if a quarterback gets an injury, we'll have that fact to the viewer while it's still relevant, not after he's already seen the game."
When the switches were thrown and the images of Turner's instant TV stars were glowing on the large screens positioned under the tents, the 300 employees of Cable News Network (CNN) seemed to accept slowly the fact that they had pulled it off.
"We did it, we did it," crowed an electronics engineer, clapping a co-worker on the back.
Turner merely smiled his Rhett Butler smile, sidled up to one of the bars and ordered another drink.