Walter Cronkite, RIP
I was having such a wonderful time listening to the NASA radiocast rebroadcast of 40 years ago and sharing with friends in an on-line community what each of us were doing on that wonderful night 40 years ago when Neil Armstrong took is “small step.”. Then a news flash from the AP on my iPhone, and I started to cry.
The night of the moon landing I was 13 years old – away from home for a week at Camp Arrowhead – the Birmingham (Alabama) area’s boy scout camp. Only one building had power. It was the mess hall. All the campers and all the counselors and all of the adult leaders were crammed into that one building, watching a tiny black & white TV in one corner. Between the quality of the picture coming from the moon and the poor reception out there in the middle of nowhere, the TV had little on it other than snow. I had a transistor radio with an earphone in my ear, so I could hear the transmissions. To this day, it is the highlight of my life other than family events (marriage, births, etc).
More than anyone else, Walter Cronkite was our guide to the space program. Others came and went, but he was always there and he was always the best.
Many years later, I had the great honor of getting to meet Mr. Cronkite. I worked for CBS in New York as a radio engineer in 1980 at the broadcast center on West 57th Street. My job was project manager for the transition of the radio network from distribution via AT&T to distribution via satellite. The news division was just down the hall from where we engineers worked.
This was after Dan Rather had taken over the big chair, and I enjoyed stepping into the control booth each afternoon when Dan was recording the “Dan Rather Reporting” show. One afternoon, I shared the booth with Mr. Cronkite, who was in to see Dan about something. I was starstruck, but had enough wits about me to remember to thank him for his coverage of NASA and space. He was incredibly charming – saying that he enjoyed covering the space program more than anything else in his career.
Mr. Cronkite made me feel like we were having an actual conversation – even though he had to view me (at that point a 24-year old nobody) as nothing but a nuisance. I’ve never again been able to hear that distinctive voice without feeling like I have a connection to the man.
Much has been said about Walter Cronkite being the most trusted man in America. Many believe that his decision to say publicly that he believed the Vietnam War was a mistake directly led to the US population’s withdrawal of support for that war. To a young boy growing up in Alabama, Walter Cronkite provided a window onto the wide world. That daily 30 minutes expanded my mind beyond the little slice of the world that was my experience.
Walter Cronkite was the news for a very long time.
Rest in peace, Mr. Cronkite.