Open Mic

I Was There: Watching the Great Cronkite at Work

Adam Buckman Posted July 17, 2009 at 7:11 PM

It was the 1980s and the old guys were still around.

One of them, Walter Cronkite, had relinquished his CBS anchor chair to Dan Rather in 1981, but I got an opportunity to watch Cronkite work one day a couple of years later, in a small studio at New York’s public TV station, WNET, where Cronkite was videotaping some intros and other material called “wraparounds” for a PBS documentary.

I had been invited up to the station to see him and, standing a few feet away from him while he worked, I learned about the art and effort of broadcasting.

Cronkite, then in his 70s, sat in a chair a few feet away from a large television camera, and recited some copy. I don’t recall if he read from a TelePrompTer, but if he did, it didn’t seem to draw his eyes away and distract him from his keen concentration on that camera lens.

He leaned forward in his chair and peered so intently into that lens that he literally seemed to strain physically to do it. It was as if he wanted to dive into it bodily. I realized that this was the method Cronkite must have adopted as anchor of “The CBS Evening News.” He must have believed that if he could focus his unwavering gaze directly through a point at the very center of the camera lens, then viewers at home could literally make eye contact with him.

The method evidently worked since it made him the most trusted man in America in his heyday as anchor of “The CBS Evening News.” I learned that day that broadcasting – real broadcasting – takes effort and study and work. And I never forgot it.