Walter Cronkite was the news broadcaster of choice when I was a kid. Really, there was no choice, because it was no competition. Cronkite had all of the qualities that you would want in a television anchorman. He was avuncular, trustworthy, deep-voiced, and unflappable. Even bad news — and it seemed like there was a lot of that during the ’60s and ’70s — was a bit more palatable when you heard it from the mouth of Walter Cronkite.
Cronkite ruled during an era when the way people got their news started to transition from newspapers to television, and he was hugely popular. When it was time for the CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite, people would finish their dinner and watch a half hour of news, knowing that it would close with Cronkite saying “and that’s the way it was.” He had enormous credibility and seemed like a living, walking barometer of American public opinion. Some historians, for example, trace the change in American public opinion about the Vietnam War to Cronkite’s personal change of opinion about the value of continuing that conflict.
As important as Cronkite was to calming jangled nerves during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in the aftermath of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, the Watts riots, or the 1968 Democratic convention, I remember him best for another role he played. When I was young, the “space Race” between the United States and the Soviet Union seemed enormously important. If there was a rocket launch during school hours, we all would troop into the auditorium and watch to see whether America could successfully take the next step toward reaching the Moon. Cronkite anchored all of the rocket launches and coverage of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo manned space activities. He seemed to be an enthusiastic supporter of our space exploration efforts who enjoyed the science and wonder of the effort.
I remember him rooting the rockets along, urging “Go, Baby, Go!” I’m not sure an anchorperson would say such a thing in this more jaded era, but during the early 1960s it was a more innocent time, and Walter Cronkite helped to capture it.