The Debut of Cable News Network

Ted Turner, the maverick television mogul, founded CNN as part of his Turner Broadcasting System, or TBS, despite industry experts telling him it couldn’t be done. On June 1, 1980, CNN debuted after four years of development, with a news program hosted by Dave Walker and Lois Hart, a husband-and-wife combination.

The network launched with a main story about the attempted killing of civil rights leader Vernon Jordan from its Atlanta offices. The launch of CNN was undoubtedly one of the most significant political events of the 1980s.

CNN debunks the idea that news could only be broadcast at specific times of the day. At the time of CNN’s inception, three major networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—dominated television news with their regular 30-minute broadcasts. CNN is now watched in more than 90 million American households and over 370 million households and hotel rooms worldwide, up from fewer than two million in the United States when it first launched.

During its on-the-spot coverage of the Challenger space shuttle accident in 1986, the network won the competition. With its live “in-country” telecasts of the Persian Gulf War five years later, CNN again outperformed the other networks. CNN’s team of journalists, including Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett, and John Holliman, covered the conflict from both sides. Daniel Schorr, Wolf Blitzer, Catherine Crier, Mary Alice Williams, Christiane Amanpour, and Paula Zahn are famous CNN reporters and commentators. The “voice of CNN” is given by renowned actor James Earl Jones, whose recorded voice says, “This is CNN” regularly.

Who is Robert “Ted” Turner?

Robert “Ted” Turner, a colorful, opinionated businessman called the “Mouth of the South,” founded CNN. Turner was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on November 19, 1938, and relocated to Georgia with his family as a kid, where his father owned a successful billboard advertising firm. Turner took over the firm when his father committed himself in 1963 and expanded it. Turner purchased a failing Atlanta TV station that showed old movies and network reruns in 1970 and converted it into a “superstation,” a notion he pioneered. The station was beamed by satellite into homes throughout the country within a few years. Turner eventually purchased the Atlanta Braves baseball club and the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, which he broadcast on his TBS network (Turner Broadcasting System). Turner rose to worldwide prominence in 1977, when he won a famous America’s Cup competition with his boat.

Shows aired on CNN

Following CNN’s inception, other cable news stations sprung up in an attempt to cash in on the channel’s rising popularity, but they typically failed to compete with CNN. One of the earliest was Satellite News Channel, which debuted on June 21, 1982, with a combination of national and regional newscasts; after the channel discontinued operations on October 27, 1983, Ted Turner acquired the satellite transponder slot to increase the distribution of Headline News to more households.

CNN outgrew its first home, a former country club on the outskirts of metropolitan Atlanta, after five years. Turner bought the Omni International complex from its original developer, Atlanta real estate magnate Tom Cousins, in 1985 and relocated CNN’s headquarters inside the structure, renaming it the CNN Center. The facility has never been successful as Omni International. Cousins, along with the Atlanta Hawks NBA club, sold it to Turner. CNN has relocated to the top of the tower where The World of Sid and Marty Krofft used to be. Turner was a driving force behind the revitalization of Atlanta’s downtown.

Moneyline debuted in 1980 and was CNN’s primary financial show for almost two decades. The show was renamed Moneyline with Lou Dobbs, Lou Dobbs Moneyline, and Lou Dobbs Tonight when the focus shifted to broad news and economic and political commentary. In 2010, Dobbs — the network’s last original presenter since its inception in 1980 – left after controversy over his skepticism of whether President Barack Obama was a natural-born citizen of the United States, a requirement for the president under the United States Constitution.

Evans and Novak, a political debate show hosted by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, debuted in 1980. It indeed became one of the most famous debate shows on the cable network. Al Hunt and Mark Shields joined the show as occasional panelists shortly after, and the name of the show was changed to Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields in 1998 when Hunt and Shields were designated as regular members of the show.

In June 1982, the channel introduced Crossfire, a late-night political debate program presented by liberal Tom Braden and conservative Pat Buchanan that included debates on current matters from opposing views. In 1978, Braden and Buchanan debated on a daily radio broadcast, which gave birth to the idea for the show. The debate show quickly gained a following and was promoted to a primetime slot. Buchanan departed the show in 1985 to work as the communications director for Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Larry King presented a primetime interview show on CNN in June 1985. Larry King Live featured famous persons, primarily celebrities, politicians, and entrepreneurs, in interviews. Larry King, unlike many interviewers, used a straightforward, non-confrontational approach. His interviewing technique was candid yet with occasional flashes of irreverence and humor.


With the debut of MSNBC, a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft, and News Corporation’s Fox News Channel, in 1996, CNN faced its first serious competition; despite this, CNN remained the most-watched cable news channel, and Larry King Live remained its most-watched news show.

CNN was acquired by entertainment behemoth Time Warner Inc. in 1996, along with the rest of the Turner Broadcasting System, and was later called WarnerMedia. With CNN’s live coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the network acquired significant traction. The network’s audience increased in tandem with the growing popularity of cable television throughout the 1990s and far into the new century.