Give Us 18 Minutes, We’ll Give You the World

“I was cable before cable was cool.” Ted Turner, May 1982. Turner, aka “Mouth of the South,” founder of Cable News Network – CNN, was tooting his horn at the National Cable Television Association convention in Las Vegas. However, a month later another 24 hour news operation would offer some competition; Satellite News Network – SNC.

SNC, based in Stamford, Connecticut joined the 24 hour news business on June 21, 1982. It was a joint venture of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Westinghouse Broadcasting (Group W). SNC was designed as a satellite-delivered cable television network, much like CNN. However, they built in several innovative twists to their format, including a 10 minute cut-away for local news. That is where Capital Broadcasting Company fit into the plan.

WRAL on the Satellite News ChannelThe SNC format mirrored its slogan, “Give us 18 minutes, we’ll give you the world.” They used video and news packages from ABC News and seven crews based in Washington. International stories came from networks outside the country to fill a rotating format every 20 minutes. The remaining time in the 30 minute cycle was reserved for local stations to insert local content. WRAL signed up to provide news for the Carolinas.

June 14, 1982, WRAL had just expanded the 6pm Action News 5 newscast from 30 minutes to 1 hour. The ramp-up to the expanded newscast included additional resources in news personnel, operations, and engineering. The newsroom/studio had just relocated to an expansive space that once served as an auditorium for the AJ Fletcher opera company. Additional space beneath the newsroom provided the perfect location for a small control room and a one person anchor desk.  Reporter Nina Szlosberg was hired to be a producer/anchor for the local cut-in newscast. Other WRAL reporters, including Claren Scott, were tapped to anchor as well. Dave Waters, former WRAL ENG editor, became a director and played back his own tapes as well. Waters was a “one man band.” The glass enclosed control room served as a backdrop for the news anchor.

WRAL created a network of stations across North Carolina to feed news reports to Channel 5 to be used on Action News 5 as well as SNC. The newscast was uplinked to SNC which had the technology to integrate the local newscast from our basement studio into a dedicated feed to cable systems across North Carolina. At the bottom of the hour and the top of the hour, the process repeated itself; SNC provided national and international news for 18 minutes and then time for another local cut-in. The process is similar to what we do today during CBS Morning News.

The Satellite News ChannelThe super competitive Ted Turner, AKA “Captain Outrageous,” was not going to stand idly by having an upstart cable news network challenge his Atlanta established CNN and the recently launched CNN 2 (Headline News), which was a preemptive strike against the ABC/Group W venture.  In fact, there was already bad blood between Turner and Group W. By 1982, Turner Broadcasting was being eyed by other communication companies. In fact, Westinghouse launched a takeover attempt. The broadcasting boxing gloves had already come off.

SNC worked well for Capitol Broadcasting Company, but not for ABC and Group W. SNC had problems gaining traction with advertisers and cable systems. After little more than a year, the loss was more than $40 million dollars. Ted Turner stepped in, bought out the challengers and shut down SNC on October 27, 1983. Even the deep pockets of ABC and Group W could not compete with “Cable Cool” Ted.

As for Capitol Broadcasting, no problem.  When one door closes, another one opens. Media entrepreneur and visionary Jim Goodmon had a new project in mind that would change the delivery of background music to businesses. It just so happens that it needed satellites and uplinks.  Stay tuned for the story about Seeaburg Music. Of course it is another David vs Goliath story.

Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story & these photos. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.

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