24-Hour News

Broadcast news was a staid affair, a half-hour visual summary showing events of the day. American networks NBC, ABC, and CBS each had a newscast and each aired at the same time.

Ted Turner inherited an outdoor advertising company. To build more advertising outlets he purchased a third-rate television station running old TV series and movies. In 1976, US regulators allowed him to transmit his channel via satellite to cable companies eager for cheap content. Eventually, he purchased the rights to WTBS and named his station the Turner Broadcasting System.

As the American public transitioned to cable, WTBS was a common channel and Turner’s reach — the number of people watching he could sell ads to — rapidly expanded. His net-worth also increased.

In 1977, media executive Reese Schonfeld contacted Turner about creating a 24-hour news network. Initially, Turner said no but later reconsidered. Turner’s Cable News Network, CNN, was launched with Turner announcing “We won’t be signing off until the world ends.”

Broadcaster Ted Turner created the 24-hour news channel that would continually update, rather than the short news broadcasts that preceded CNN. The “24-hour news cycle” became a business success and also changed the US political landscape.           

Roone Arledge and I had negotiated a new contract at ABC News, the country was in double-digit inflation, our children were about this high, and here I was thinking about going to work for a network that didn’t exist.

Bernard Shaw, CNN

The rehearsals were a nightmare…people would call for things that weren’t ready, the tapes weren’t there, the scripts were not completed.

Ted Kavanau, CNN

They started giving me a valium in my orange juice in the morning. But I didn’t know anything about it. After a week she stopped, because it wasn’t making any difference.

Reese Schonfeld, CNN

Cell phones were still a few years away. There was no Internet, but people could look at CNN and see history unfold before their eyes.

A cartoon in the New Yorker magazine from that time showed a dead bird, its feet in the air and a CNN cameraman capturing the event. “A sparrow falls,” said the caption, “and CNN goes live.”

Reese Schonfeld, CNN

Today, due to CNN and the internet, always-on news is the norm, not the exception.