50 years after Cronkite took the anchor chair, his legacy lives on

(CBS News) - Fifty years ago, John Kennedy was in the White House, and Barack Obama was in diapers. The future of Berlin was in the morning papers, and the future of CBS News moved into the anchor chair.

"Good evening from CBS News headquarters in New York. Civil war threatens Algeria tonight," Walter Cronkite announced on during one of his early broadcasts.

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Newspaper ads heralded the arrival of a new era at CBS News. Forty-five-year-old Cronkite, who had covered war, political conventions, the Olympics and space shots, was about to become a daily presence in America's living rooms.

"This is the evening edition of CBS News with Walter Cronkite," the announcer proclaimed.

The new set featured a bank of black-and-white monitors. Variety, the showbiz magazine, called it "visual razzmatazz." The technology was primitive by today's standards.

"Paris is worried by developments in its one-time colonial capital. Robert Kleinman reported from there earlier today by telestar," Cronkite stated during the broadcast.

Unfortunately, Cronkite's debut was not recorded. This edition -- four months later -- is the only known recording of the broadcast from that era.

"More news in a moment after this word from Aerowax," Cronkite said.

Don Hewitt, who went on to create "60 Minutes," was the producer. But, Cronkite took the title managing editor.

"Everyone understood that Cronkite was the last word on how stories were handled," Sanford Socolow explained to CBS News.

Socolow eventually became the executive producer of the CBS Evening news with Walter Cronkite. He was there for that very first broadcast, which ended in Cronkite inviting viewers to get the details of the stories he'd reported in the next day's papers.

"An explosion broke out amongst the suits and management, who were very upset that Walter was sending people to read newspapers instead of coming to him for the news," Socolow recalled.

So, Cronkite came up with an alternative sign off, the one he'd use for the next 19 years: "And that's the way it is." He would eventually pass the anchor torch to Dan Rather.

And, that's the way it was April 16, 1962.

  • Scott Pelley

    Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News;" Correspondent, "60 Minutes"

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