CBS Evening News anchorman Dan Rather took listeners on a tour of electronic journalism's past 50 years and then took a leap of faith forward to explore advances in the industry during a lecture Sunday at Daemen College.
The award-winning television journalist addressed a packed house in the college's Wick Center on the Main Street campus in Snyder as part of the college's half-century celebration and as an invited guest of Martin J. Anisman, the college's president and a longtime friend.
"I want you to know that I'm here this afternoon because Dr. Anisman is the president of this school. He is that kind of friend," Rather said.
In his introduction, Anisman recalled aspects of the Sam Houston State Teachers College graduate's storied career, including his start as an Associated Press reporter in Huntsville, Texas, in 1950 through the young Texan's early years with CBS News that began in 1962, when Rather was made chief of its Southwest bureau in Dallas.
On Nov. 22, 1963, while heading the Southwest bureau, Rather broke the news of the death of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.
In 1981, Rather succeeded Walter Cronkite as the evening news anchor and managing editor.
Peering back at the dawn of TV journalism, Rather noted television's rise as the dominant cultural force of our time was unfathomable then.
"Fifty years ago . . . television was still so expensive, only a few people had it. Almost nobody programmed for it and the few people involved were losing their shirts. That's just 50 years ago," he said.
Fifty years hence, he speculated: "Will we not have developed new technology that will beam the evening news directly into our minds, without our having to lift a finger, push a button or tap a mouse?"
Often characterized by his brooding intensity on television, Rather was relaxed Sunday and appeared far younger than his 66 years. Often, he displayed an engaging sense of humor, like as when he talked about important technological advances in the field of electronic journalism, such as the development of jet travel, videotape and satellites in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
"Then in the 1970s we had the tremendous influence of a very important invention," he said. "The blow-hair dryer, was very important in the development of electronic journalism."
Speculating on what might be possible in broadcasting's future, he pointed to the seemingly implausible genesis of some of today's advances in medical technology.
"Since 1966, there have been some incredible leaps and bounds in medical technology, simply because medical technicians watched a television show called 'Star Trek,' " Rather said.
"When Dr. McCoy had a device that looked promising, some people went out and invented the real thing. When people let their imaginations go out, they dream tomorrow's realities," he added.
As an example of the advances in broadcast journalism, Rather recalled the end of the Persian Gulf war in 1992. CBS News, he said, was the first news organization to transmit audio and video reports from the newly liberated Kuwait City because it had satellite technology so advanced it could fit on the back of a jeep.
"We're still in the same decade, and it's possible to fit all of the equipment into a not very big suitcase. The day is not far off when it will be possible to fit all of that equipment necessary to broadcast live into the pocket of a suit jacket," he said.