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From The Archives: Cronkite, Live Via Satellite

GUY RAZ, host:

Today, America remembers Walter Cronkite a day after his death at age 92. He's the man who, for decades, brought us the news: the Kennedy assassination, the first moon walk, the war in Vietnam, inaugurations, conventions, anything it seemed that mattered. Walter Cronkite not only reported many of the 20th century's greatest events, sometimes he was part of them.

Forty-seven years ago next week, the first transatlantic television signal beamed up into space and down to Earth again on the newly launched Telstar satellite. For the first time, Europe and America were connected on live TV. And the first face Europe saw, Walter Cronkite's.

Tonight we bring you Cronkite, in his own words, describing that broadcast of July 23rd, 1962.

(Soundbite of archive recording)

(Soundbite of first live satellite broadcast to Europe)

Unidentified Man: I understand now that the French horn - the French antenna is starting to track the satellite and it should not be very long before they are in complete auto track and capable of receiving our signal.

Mr. WALTER CRONKITE (Anchorman): Three American networks became partners with Canada and Eurovision for the first formal exchange of signals.

NBC provided facilities at 30 Rockefeller Plaza where I sat at a desk alongside that network's Chet Huntley with whom I normally competed for such breaking news stories. Fred Friendly of CBS was one of three producers.

As anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News" for all of 13 weeks by then, I was assigned to open the program.

(Soundbite of first live satellite broadcast to Europe)

Are you seeing anything right now on those monitors? We noticed a moment ago up above your head?

Unidentified Man: Yeah. We have two monitors - three monitors actually.

Mr. CRONKITE: The technology was so new neither continent had any sure way of knowing exactly what the other was seeing. In the last seconds before linkup, my only contact was with the AT&T ground station in Andover, Maine.

Across the Atlantic, ground stations in Pleumeur-Bodou on France's Brittany Coast and Goonhilly Downs, England, waited to complete the link. I stared at the monitors and saw nothing. Despite several run throughs, I still had qualms that it might all be an electronic goose chase.

(Soundbite of first live satellite broadcast to Europe)

(Soundbite of static)

Unidentified Man: I have just received word, Mr. Cronkite, that the French are ready and the program can now start.

Mr. CRONKITE: Eurovision? Eurovision, we're now putting up our Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor on the left side of our monitor, if you'll please put up your Eiffel Tower in Paris next to it.

Then, slightly ahead of schedule, Telstar rolled over the horizon on its 124th orbit at 18,000 miles per hour.

(Soundbite of first live satellite broadcast to Europe)

We're going to wait for your signal. If that's been completed, we'll go on that signal.

There were a few empty seconds, then the reassuring voice of an old friend and great broadcaster Richard Dimbleby of the BBC.

(Soundbite of first live satellite broadcast to Europe)

Mr. RICHARD DIMBLEBY (BBC broadcaster): Hello, Walter Cronkite. Hello, United States. On my television screen here in Brussels, they are both together as clear, so go America, go. Go America, go.

Mr. CRONKITE: Good evening, Europe. This is the North American continent live via AT&T Telstar July 23rd, 1962, 3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time in the East, the New York skyline on the Atlantic Ocean. On the West, 3,000 miles away, San Francisco, 12 noon at the Golden Gate Bridge. Between these two oceans 180 million Americans have begun another week. We'll visit with some of them in a moment.

It was that rarest of all television moments, the kind that compels viewers to lean forward and stare in a primal wonder and amazement at their screens. The reality of live telecast to Europe seemed so unbelievable. It was as if we had to keep telling ourselves it was happening. The plain facts of...

(Soundbite of first live satellite broadcast to Europe)

Mr. CRONKITE: …electronic life (unintelligible) that Washington and the Kremlin are now no farther apart than the speed of light, at least, technically.

(Soundbite of bell)

But what goes on in the United Nations building in New York can be seen in Belgrade and in Paris and in Bonn. We in television are convinced that the ability to portray immediacy, to realize what's new, what's going on is the true significance of this new communications bridge...

Such a gust of global exchanges via satellite have long since lost their special sense of occasion and ceremony. They are a daily routine now as satellites take us to places we didn't know existed. We knew we were christening a technology that would change the world. Years later, it still is.

For NPR News, this is Walter Cronkite, 22,000 miles out in space via Galaxy 4, Transponder 3.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: Walter Cronkite from a report originally broadcast in ALL THINGS CONSIDERED in 2002.

He died yesterday at age 92. Cronkite and producer John McDonough filed a number of reports like the one you just heard. You can hear them all at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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