A Brief History of CNN’s First Day on the Air, 35 Years Ago


Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine the news cycle as being anything less than a 24-hour one. But had you been channel surfing, say, 35 years and one day ago, your access to the day’s biggest headlines would have been relegated to the morning and afternoon papers, the evening news, and any breaking stories that were deemed important enough to preempt a regularly scheduled broadcast with the accompanying—and foreboding—announcement that “We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin.”

But all of that changed at 6 p.m. EST on June 1, 1980 when media mogul Ted Turner stood at a podium and dedicated CNN the world’s first 24-hour television news network.

What followed was a not-so-polished newscast, co-anchored by David Walker and Lois Hart, a husband and wife news team who had relocated from Sacramento in order to join the then-nascent CNN.

The top news story of the night was then-President Carter’s arrival in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he was visiting civil rights leader-turned-adviser to Bill Clinton Vernon Jordan, who was “in serious but stable condition” following an assassination attempt on May 29. Gun violence got additional coverage with a story about Reggie Jackson, who had managed to duck a few shots following an argument over a parking space.

Also on the agenda? The upcoming Super Tuesday, four incidents of airliners running out of fuel just seconds after landing, “the first live satellite transmission to the Cable News Network” (from Jerusalem), increasing oil prices in Saudi Arabia, the first day of the 1980 hurricane season, and the kid who played Timmy on Lassie getting busted on cocaine charges.

The first hour wrapped up with a fairly awkward sign-off, courtesy of Hart, who audibly stumbled with how to “sign off” a 24-hour news network:

Stay with us. We’re going to have all kinds of news, sports, weather, and special … special features coming from now on and forever.

You can watch the first few minutes of the broadcast below, or the first hour condensed into two minutes here: