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Nostalgia June 2015

Old Time TV News Was Good News

By John C. Liburdi

Back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, it was easy to tell when the evening news came on TV because I’d hear solemn music mixed with noisy Teletype machine clatter or urgent Morse code beeping.

There’s little doubt that long-gone TV news icons like Water Cronkite and his contemporaries are perpetually spinning in their respective graves as modern-day 24/7 cable news permeates homes all over America. Those old guys had the right formula: objective news without zany theatrics and mind games. Furthermore, they let me know what was going on in the world without trying to shove my face deep into each and every overseas toilet bowl.

Back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, it was easy to tell when the evening news came on TV because I’d hear solemn music mixed with noisy Teletype machine clatter or urgent Morse code beeping. Then a stern newscaster would give all of America a perfunctory greeting followed by a series of brief news items, each one providing just the key essentials and known facts of a given situation. While reading the news, they’d often display easy-to-view photos or film clips — devoid of any blood and guts.

Another appealing aspect of the old news was that there were very few commercials, and those ads usually portrayed happy people having lots of fun together. Like cheery folks “Seeing the USA in a Chevrolet” or perhaps a smiley family sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying some “Mmmm Mmmm Good” soup. Those uplifting moments took the edge off any psychological distress caused by the news, thereby preventing the onset of depression.

On the other hand, today’s news often starts with ear-splitting tunes and cutting-edge graphics to mesmerize TV viewers. Then the cameraman pans a studio equipped with futuristic furniture, absent of any equipment that would even hint at newsgathering activity. The focal points are clear glass desks and very low couches intended to facilitate provocative views of long-legged, bleached-blond news divas. And some news broadcasts even feature groups of trendy blabbermouths spewing out their unqualified opinions followed by silly laughter.

Of course, today’s evening news format mandates at least four commercials in between each news item. The TV commercials highlight every malady known to man and offer pleasurable cures in luxurious settings. Then comes the usual litany of repulsive side effects, with a warning to quickly see a doctor if death occurs while taking the medication. That’s all followed by timely ads for “ambulance-chaser” law firms. But it’s not all gloom and doom; romantic couples portray how magical pills can transform burned-out old men into virile gigolos.

Our world is now saturated with video cameras and surrounded by orbiting satellites that enhance news coverage. This allows us to experience all the global carnage via real-time TV, horribly graphic views of bloody warfare, fatal shootings and tragic crashes. Oh, don’t forget the satellite links to insensitive reporters that interview grieving families at crash sites: “How do you feel about your mother being killed in the plane crash? Do you suspect the pilot was drunk? Will you get much money from the lawsuit against the airline?”

Admittedly, Ted Turner’s creation of a global satellite network for TV news was a spectacular feat. However, he should have made it a one-way mirror, in our favor! Newscasters here eagerly exercise their freedom of speech to display America’s dirty laundry to the world via live TV— O.J. cruising around L.A in his SUV, Bill testifying about grayish sexual activity with Monica, etc. And what about the disclosure of sensitive military information via global TV news? Security leaks were treasonous acts back in the day; today they’re merely “oops” scenarios in the context of infotainment.

Yep, the old TV news was decidedly better. Newscasters of that era had rock-solid character, much like a town mayor or church minister. Cronkite, Swayze, Huntley and Brinkley dispassionately reported cold facts about a train derailment on the other side of the country or a bank robbery in some faraway town. And they’d allow just a few delightful commercial breaks to reassure me that, no matter what, my daily life was still going to be filled with bliss.

Most of those TV newscasters appearing on yesteryear’s black and white TVs weren’t pretty to look at, but they did a pretty darn good job of reporting the news in 30 short minutes.

Afterwards, they kept the world in check so that I could get on with my life as though nothing bad had ever happened anywhere. Yes indeed, I felt truly at peace each time I heard Mr. Cronkite’s nightly closing statement: “And that’s the way it is.”


Liburdi’s books are available at on-line bookstores and the Kindle Reader.

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