That’s the Way It Was: CBS Evening News in 1975

Take a look at this.  It’s a CBS Evening News broadcast on January 17, 1975 — including the ads! 

If you are a new-media type, under 30, and only watch the network news during disasters or elections, watching this will give you a much better sense why these broadcasts were so important.  A few impressions:

  • What’s that rattling sound at the beginning and the end of the broadcast?  Those were teletype machines.  
  • The clips from the press conferences are longer, less pithy and visually empty.  This must have been before the PR people figured out that people don’t listen to the news, they watch it; and before they drilled senators, bureaucrats and other spokespersons that if the cameras are rolling, your job is to repeat, repeat, repeat, the talking points script.  People used to be interesting on TV — even boring people.  Now they’re afraid of being interesting.
  • Philosophically, the differences between then and now are vast.  It’s not just a simple matter of right vs. left.  It’s as if the basic Milton Friedman precept of “no such thing as a free lunch” didn’t exist.  Energy, the topic at hand, is presumed to be a good that government can allocate, with only the means up for debate.
  • Walter Cronkite, however, provides no evidence of any of the political bias the right wing imagines permeated the news back in the 70s.  His summary of the positions of Congressional Democrats, the Republican president, automakers, environmentalists, etc. strikes me as completely fair and comprehensive; delivered without rolling eyes or arched eyebrows.  As the network news audience has shrunk, the bias seems far more pronounced now.
  • You could get tires for $18???
  • “High nutrition” = a bowl of sweetened cereal, buttered toast, juice and milk. The cereal was called “Bucwheats,” but it isn’t clear if buckwheat is an ingredient.  However, maple syrup was, hence the commercial is set in Nevada near a bunch of maple trees.
  • “Munich” was just as potent a metaphor then as now.
  • The United States:  Arms merchants to the world.
  • You had three choices for over-the-counter pain relief:  Aspirin, buffered aspirin and a product called Anacin, which was made out of aspirin with caffeine.  This was before Tylenol, and long before Advil.
  • How quickly we forget:  The world’s primary terror target in 1975 was London. Civil liberties suffered greatly as a result.
  • A story about oil tankers in Banfrey Bay, Ireland was illustrated with a ridiculous commercial by Gulf Oil — an Irish ditty, complete with pennywhistle, about “bringin’ home de i-il, me boys” — designed to argue for deep-water oil ports in the US.  The story shows that these kinds of terminals lead to big oil spills that kill fish.  What were Gulf Oil’s flacks thinking!? “Hey, we don’t care about oil spills, we’re dancing an Irish jig!”
  • Whatever happened to “breeder nuclear reactors?”  In light of global climate change, will these come back?
  • Want soft skin?  Vaseline Petroleum Jelly.  Want lively looking hair?  Johnson’s Baby Shampoo lets you “baby your hair.”
  • If you were arrested in an anti-war demonstration on the capitol steps on May 5, 1971, the ACLU won you a $10,000-per-demonstrator settlement.  Did anyone ever get the money?
  • A sad little story about Richard Nixon in San Clemente, less than a year after his resignation.  He was sick. He liked talking about sports.  He rode around in a golf cart.  Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra paid him visits, as did Bebe Rebozo.  Anyone remember Bebe Rebozo?  Pretty soon, Nixon faced the end of his free postage privileges. The roses had to be donated: No one to take care of them.
  • Anyone remember Skitch Henderson?  He was the bandleader on the Tonight Show during the early Johnny Carson years. Anyone remember he went to prison? (Apparently, he got some bad tax advice…from Leonard Bernstein and Henry Mancini.)
  • The insane claims of advertisers!  Ground roast and instant coffee (Taster’s Choice) taste the same?  If that was true, do you think Starbucks would go to all that trouble? 
  • Nothing about celebrities. The closest was the story of George Halas’ ex-wife getting season tickets to Chicago Bears games in her divorce agreement.

And that’s the way it is, Friday, January 17, 1975!


3 thoughts on “That’s the Way It Was: CBS Evening News in 1975

  1. Thanks for posting that John – that’s the way I remembered the news being delievered back then. Another good example, from the mid-60’s, is in the background of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” IIRC. Can’t imagine anything remotely resembling the copy being read on it being written or delivered today.

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