Pioneer tales from the last news frontier

At CNN headquarters in Atlanta, souvenirs are not hard to come by. T-shirts, hats, key chains, even CNN Airport Network mugs are for sale in The Turner Shop on the first floor.

But one of the best keepsakes of how far the network has come in 20 years isn't found on these shelves. It's hanging in Chuck Roberts's closet.

"When I did the first show, the paint was wet on the set," says Mr. Roberts, a veteran anchor for CNN Headline News, the spin-off that went on the air in 1981. "I still have my original pair of pants with a gray line [on them] from the paint under the desk."

CNN's reporters have seen just about everything while reporting live, from bombs exploding to janitors emptying the trash on the air. They tell stories of watching a network's first steps and its growth.

"All of us felt like we were in this together and it was this huge pioneering project," says Bobbie Battista, who also was one of the first Headline News anchors and now hosts "TalkBack Live."

Anchor Bernard Shaw, in Washington since the startup, remembers the Sunday in June 1980 when CNN interrupted its first commercial because "President Carter was making remarks having seen [civil rights leader] Vernon Jordan who had been shot."

In the early days, CNN was little known and reporters had to elbow their way into key events. Mr. Shaw, who now co-hosts "Inside Politics," says CNN had a less-than-ideal location in the rafters next to the band at its first Republican convention. "When they struck up, we would have to stop broadcasting and reporting," he says.

It wasn't long before CNN spread overseas and brought news to areas that had seen nothing like it before. (Read more at

Ralph Begleiter covered world affairs for most of his 18 years at CNN. He recalls being in Saudi Arabia in 1991 as the Gulf War began, and the minister of information telling him his reporting was being aired there. "This is a breakthrough for the Saudi government to authorize the television to just put you on the air live without any restrictions, without any precensoring.... We've never had that before," Mr. Begleiter recalls being told.

Shaw covered the Gulf War -along with Wolf Blitzer and Peter Arnett - after a decade earlier leaving ABC News. Twenty- four-hour news was "the last frontier," he says. "I wanted to be a part of it."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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