On June 1, 1980, a new frontier in television news was launched, and the Cable News Network–that being CNN–hasn’t been off the air since. It’s hard to remember a time when news wasn’t being broadcast 24 hours a day, but it wasn’t all that long ago in the grand scheme of things.
It was another world back then: Gas cost $1.25 a gallon, The Dow Jones Industrial Average only got as high as 1000, and the unemployment rate was 5.8%. When CNN went on the air, it was thought of as a joke, a passing fad, something that would surely never catch on, but Ted Turner pressed on anyway. Within 18 months, there was an off-shoot channel, CNN2, which later became Headline News, though since cable was not as widely available, the viewership was nowhere near what it is today.
Several major events, including The Challenger disaster, Baby Jessica, and most notably, the first Gulf War, helped CNN to gain a foothold thanks to the network’s schedule which was all news, all the time, giving them a leg up on the broadcast networks. CNN was also the first station to begin reporting on the terrorist attacks on the morning of September 11, 2001, by which time they were the #1 cable news station. They ended up being eclipsed by Fox News at the time of the second Gulf War, but CNN is still the standard bearer in cable news.
Below you can find a video of the first hour of programming aired back on CNN on June 1, 1980. It gives an interesting glimpse into how much the landscape of news has changed since then. For better or for worse, CNN changed the world.