Here’s a piece of American television history — the opening half-hour and final 15 minutes of the very first “Today” show, which aired on NBC sixty years ago, on January 14, 1952.
It’s a reminder of a time when viewers would be dazzled by live video from the streets of Chicago or the parking lot of the Pentagon, unseen correspondents checking in via phone from London and Frankfurt, wire service photos shown “minutes after they were taken,” newspaper headlines flown in overnight from across the country — and the lowest-tech weather graphics you’ve ever seen. It was full of technical snafus and segments interrupted with no warning, but remains fascinating to watch.
In those days, “Today” was essentially a newscast for white men by white men, anchored by Dave Garroway with a huge microphone hanging off his chest. There were no cooking segments or author interviews that morning, but there were musical interludes, in which jazz records were played while the camera panned across the studio, because — as Garroway explained — “we realize you’re not going to have your eyes glued to the screen all morning.”
Other things you may notice in this black-and-white TV time capsule, captured on film via a feed from NBC’s flagship station, WNBT/New York:
- A news ticker scrolling along the bottom of the screen;
- Garroway and his news anchor reading typewritten scripts, in the days before teleprompters;
- Amazement at a new device called the electric typewriter;
- Several people smoking cigarettes on camera;
- The emphasis on international news, thanks to the clacking teletype machines of United Press, International News Service, and Associated Press;
- The repeated concern over flammable sweaters;
- Don Pardo, at the time a relatively new employee, serving as the booth announcer for live promotional announcements during network breaks in the final segments.