The Last CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite

By Ken Foote, CBSDFW.COM
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Former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite testifies on February 20, 1991, in Washington, D.C. before the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs concerning the Pentagon rules on media access to the Persian Gulf War. (credit: LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)

Whew! Tell me that it is not been 31 years since Walter Cronkite signed off as the anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News. But today is the anniversary when Walter told his audience goodbye, and that Dan Rather would start that next Monday.

I was not about to miss this broadcast. I was working at WTSP-TV in Tampa/St. Petersburg, the ABC affiliate at the time. But Cronkite’s show was carried by WTVT-TV Channel 13 (today WTSP is CBS for that area and WTVT is the FOX station). I made sure I got home in time to see this show! In Tampa, the show came on at 7pm ET. In my childhood, Walter Cronkite was “must see” TV… no questions asked! But in that day, CBS had a mandatory retirement age policy and it was 65… and Walter had hit that age (the only one at CBS that this did not apply to was Chairman William S. Paley, who otherwise would have retired in 1966!). Below is how Walter signed off:

This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of the CBS Evening News; for me, it’s a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we’ve been meeting like this in the evenings, and I’ll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure, I’m afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. A great broadcaster and gentleman, Doug Edwards, preceded me in this job, and another, Dan Rather, will follow. And anyway, the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists — writers, reporters, editors, producers — and none of that will change. Furthermore, I’m not even going away! I’ll be back from time to time with special news reports and documentaries, and, beginning in June, every week, with our science program, Universe. Old anchormen, you see, don’t fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that’s the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.

Tears came to my eyes when I heard this. I wasn’t ready for him to leave the anchor chair. But in our business, the most constant thing we have is change. He passed away July 17, 2009. What a great life he had. Thank you, sir, for sharing it with us!

See you next time.

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