7/21/09 - Goodbye Walter

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k7ip Tue, 07/21/2009 - 05:55

I'm just barely old enough to remember hearing Edward R. Murrow's news broadcasts in the early 50's. When I was growing up in South Lake Wobegon, MN, we were over a hundred miles from the nearest tv station, so radio was pretty much the only entertainment and I got hooked into short wave at an early age. Ed was always there on CBS, and his steady and reassuring voice seemed to say that despite the problems in the world, unbiased news reporting would give us the information we needed to get through to better times.

When a TV first appeared in my family's house, it was a big deal. The antenna perched on the roof and swung this way and that, searching (usually with unsatisfactory results) for KGLO in Mason City, Iowa, or WCCO, KSTP, WTCN, or KMSP from Minneapolis-St. Paul. Occasionally the sporadic E would give us images from other more exotic locations, but we primarily tried to make sense of the snowy signal from those stations. WCCO, the CBS affiliate, had the most stable signal, and the evening in the history teacher's home was never complete without the newscast at dinner time. We watched Ed Murrow's program, and I vaguely remember the days of the Army-McCarthy hearings in the very early 50's. But Ed was getting near retirement, and a new face had appeared on the CBS evening news...Walter Cronkite. He wasn't especially handsome or charismatic. But he was sincere, always prepared, and much like Ed Murrow, had a way of reassuring you that despite whatever unpleasantness might be going on in the world, he could help you understand and deal with it. And then came The Twentieth Century. A new form of reporting, the documentary, made it's debut with this fine program. Walter Cronkite was the host, and that Sunday afternoon program was soon the center of my entertainment world.

It still seems to me today that the 1960's were the most interesting and newsworthy time in the last century. Although the world had gone through two global wars, the 60's were really about the technological and political aftereffects of them. Walter was there for us. He was an enthusiast of the space program, a compassionate reporter of the tragedy of Viet Nam, a pillar for us during that horrible time when John Kennedy was killed, and a powerful voice in reporting the racial unrest and changes during the struggle of minorities for acceptance and equal rights.

Although he came to ham radio later in life, I always wished I could have had even a short qso with him to say 'thanks' for his familiarity and steadfastness. He unquestionably earned and richly deserved the title of most trusted man in America. I never got the chance to speak personally to him, but felt that I knew him as part of my family.

I suppose there is a human tendency to lionize celebrity, for good or bad. If ever anyone deserved elevation to American hero status though, it was Walter Cronkite. I have known for years that I would unashamedly weep at his inevitable passing. I think about the 50's and 60's more and more these days as I myself age. His voice has not graced the news hour for more than 20 years, but I still hear it whenever I think of those days..."And that's the way it is..."

Goodbye old friend. You will be missed.