The year was 1967. Bill Gates had just enrolled in high school. Ronald Reagan becomes Governor of California. The Vietnam War was at its peak, as were the protests against it. “The Six Day War” erupted in the middle east. Chairman Mao’s China detonates its first hydrogen bomb. Canada celebrated its centenary of Confederation. And three American scientists discover that protons and neutrons are composed of even small particles they called quarks.
How many television channels were there? The answer is not many. We watched programs like Bewitched, Doctor Who, Captain Kangaroo, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour (if you had a colour television). And of course there were the news programs, and particularly the news anchors and commentators of the three big US broadcasting networks NBC, ABC, and CBS.
On NBC, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were an unforgettable duo. ABC had Peter Jennings, who started his career in Canada before joining the New York-based network. And on CBS, there was news anchor known as “The Most Trusted Man in America”, Walter Cronkite. “Uncle Walter” began his career as a wire-service correspondent during World War II, built an outstanding journalistic record, beginning in print, then radio then the new world of television. Born in 1916 and died in July of 2009, he became the preeminent news voice on American television, his reassuring demeanor watched by millions in North America and around the world, each weeknight evening at dinner time. Archie Bunker, the bigoted character played by Carroll O’Connor on the beloved 1970s weekly comedy All In The Family, called him “Pinko Cronkite”, and the nation laughed its own ironies.
Cronkite wasn’t only a regular news anchor, he reported live on many key events, on the Apollo Moon missions, on breaking news events such as his emotional announcement of the death of President Kennedy, and his was the voice and face of many special news and information programs, like the CBS show “The 21st Century”, sponsored by Union Carbide which called itself “The Discovery Company” back then, and here’s a clip from that show in 1967.
The show’s intent was to explore the possibilities of what people might expect to encounter 34 years in the near future, in 2001, in science, technology and life in general. It wasn’t a great commercial success, but Cronkite’s reputation, his style and presentation skills, and the respect and trust he garnered from a wide audience gave the show a sense that it was all seriously possible, and why not. Scientific and technological innovation was everywhere, not just in big businesses and industries, but homes, in offices, in people’s day to day lives. Think about it, what “man” of the 21st century wouldn’t want a TV monitor to keep watch on the “wife and kids” in the kitchen while he was doing his office work? Seriously though, it’s easy to poke fun at some of the thinking and the gadgetry in this this clip. It can seem hilarious, but there’s also prescience here, a certain foreshadowing. At the height of the Vietnam War, with a world that faced the possibility of nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis only 5 years before – with all this and lots more going on – here was a view, some would say a dream, some would say scary prediction, of the things that science and technology could bring to our lives. And was it really all that far off the mark? You be the judge.
As Cronkite would say when he ended each news broadcast: “And that’s the way it is”, or was, in 1967.