On this day in 1980, CNN (Cable News Network), the world’s first 24-hour television news network, makes its debut. The network signed on at 6 p.m. EST from its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, with a lead story about the attempted assassination of civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. CNN went on to change the notion that news could only be reported at fixed times throughout the day. At the time of CNN’s launch, TV news was dominated by three major networks–ABC, CBS and NBC–and their nightly 30-minute broadcasts. Initially available in less than two million U.S. homes, today CNN is seen in more than 89 million American households and over 160 million homes internationally.
CNN was the brainchild of Robert “Ted” Turner, a colorful, outspoken businessman dubbed the “Mouth of the South.” Turner was born on November 19, 1938, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and as a child moved with his family to Georgia, where his father ran a successful billboard advertising company. After his father committed suicide in 1963, Turner took over the business and expanded it. In 1970, he bought a failing Atlanta TV station that broadcast old movies and network reruns and within a few years Turner had transformed it into a “superstation,” a concept he pioneered, in which the station was beamed by satellite into homes across the country. Turner later bought the Atlanta Braves baseball team and the Atlanta Hawks basketball team and aired their games on his network, TBS (Turner Broadcasting System). In 1977, Turner gained international fame when he sailed his yacht to victory in the prestigious America’s Cup race.
In its first years of operation, CNN lost money and was ridiculed as the Chicken Noodle Network. However, Turner continued to invest in building up the network’s news bureaus around the world and in 1983, he bought Satellite News Channel, owned in part by ABC, and thereby eliminated CNN’s main competitor. CNN eventually came to be known for covering live events around the world as they happened, often beating the major networks to the punch. The network gained significant traction with its live coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the network’s audience grew along with the increasing popularity of cable television during the 1990s.
In 1996, CNN merged with Time Warner, which merged with America Online four years later. Today, Ted Turner is an environmentalist and peace activist whose philanthropic efforts include a 1997 gift of $1 billion to the United Nations.