NBC News is the news division of American television network NBC, a part of NBC Universal, which is majority-owned by General Electric. Its current president is Steve Capus. It is the top-rated broadcast news division and has been for a decade.
The first television newscast in history was made by NBC News on February 21, 1940, anchored by Lowell Thomas and airing weeknights at 6:45 pm. In 1949, the Camel News Caravan anchored by John Cameron Swayze began on NBC, continuing until 1956 when it was succeeded by the Huntley-Brinkley Report.
Although the operations of CBS News have received more attention from historians of broadcast journalism, NBC's operations often received higher ratings. From 1956 through 1970, NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report anchored by the team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley consistently exceeded the viewership levels attained by CBS News and its main anchor Walter Cronkite. The pair, together with fellow correspondents Frank McGee and Jay Barbree, distinguished itself in the coverage of American manned space missions in the Project Mercury, Project Gemini and Project Apollo programs, during an era when space missions rated continuous coverage. (An entire studio, Studio 8H, was configured for this coverage, complete with models and mockups of rockets and spacecraft, maps of the earth and moon to show orbital trackage, and stages on which animated figures created by puppeteer Bil Baird were used to depict movements of astronauts before on-board spacecraft television cameras were feasible. Studio 8H is now the home of the long-running NBC show Saturday Night Live.)
NBC's ratings lead began to slip toward the end of the 1960s and fell sharply when Chet Huntley retired in 1970 (Huntley died of cancer in 1974). The loss of Huntley, along with a reluctance by RCA to fund NBC News at a similar level CBS was funding its news division, left NBC News in the doldrums. The network tried a platoon of anchors (Brinkley, McGee, and John Chancellor) for some months afterward. Despite the efforts of the network's eventual lead anchor, the articulate, even-toned Chancellor, NBC News did not recover its previous viewership levels until after General Electric acquired RCA. Even perennially third-place ABC would equal Nightly News by decade's end with its World News Tonight format. It was only when Tom Brokaw became sole anchor in 1983 that things began to improve for Nightly News. That move helped NBC rebuild its news audience to the point that it finally won the top spot in the Nielsens. It happened in 1995, the first time in over a quarter of a century that an NBC newscast was the most popular in the nation.
Among many exclusives
NBC News got the first American news interviews from two Russian presidents (Vladimir Putin, Mikhail Gorbachev), and Brokaw was the only American TV news correspondent to witness the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
In the second Iraq War, NBC News main anchor Brokaw covered the war extensively, in part owing to the willingness of GE to fund it. NBC newsman David Bloom pushed through the GE and U.S. Department of Defense bureaucracies permission to construct a mobile news vehicle that could transmit live video broadcasts from the battlefield. The "Bloom-mobile" brought satellite images and videos (clear, detailed) into homes across America and Europe, live and one-on-one. Bloom did not live to accept the accolades after the armed conflict; he died of natural causes unrelated to combat during the final phase of the fighting.
Mail enclosed with anthrax
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, a letter postmarked from Trenton, New Jersey containing anthrax was addressed to then NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw as part of the 2001 anthrax attacks. The third floor offices of NBC News in New York were sealed off by the FBI for an investigation. Brokaw was not harmed, although two NBC News employees sustained anthrax infection but no permanent injuries.
- Lowell Thomas, So Long Until Tomorrow. New York: Wm. Morrow and Co., 1977 (ISBN 0-688-03236-2), pp. 17-19.