Walter Cronkite’s last broadcastswww.rl.tv), I can say I watched the consummate newsman at work.
Over the last couple of years, Cronkite, who died Friday at the age of 92, delivered five-minute segments for the station, which is affiliated with Erickson Retirement Communities. The news items were called “Cronkite Commentaries." They offered his take on issues ranging from the Electoral College to computerized voting to the presidency. His last segment, “Iraq,” in which he criticized the Iraq war, was never broadcast. Lucky for us, it, along with a few others, is available on RLTV’s Web site, www.rl.tv. He created about 10 shows in all.
As a tribute to Cronkite and his contributions, the TV station created a special, “The Most Trusted Man in America.” It has been shown throughout the week on the channel, said Elliot Jacobson, vice president of programming and producing for RLTV.
The show offers historical context, the seminal events Cronkite reported on, information on his background and childhood, and some of his commentaries, Jacobson said. It also contains a personal 2006 interview he gave to the station in which he presents his plans for the future and what he thinks his legacy will be.
The subject matter of this interview is what the station strives to be about.
“It’s forward-looking as opposed to looking backwards and nostalgia television,” Jacobson said.
Even decades after leaving the CBS anchor desk, Cronkite took his role as a journalist seriously.
“At 90, he was always prepared,” Jacobson noted.
What most surprised Jacobson and others at the station was how down-to-earth Cronkite was.
“He was a very warm and genuine person who was really more interested in hearing your opinions than in speaking about his own,” Jacobson said.
More than that, Cronkite was interested in “how you formulated your opinions,” according to Jacobson. “That was fascinating to all of us because it was not what we expected,” Jacobson explained. “We expected ‘Walter Cronkite, the preeminent journalist of the 20th century.’ What we encountered was a gentle, congenial man who considered himself a journalist.”
The weekly segments came into being after that exclusive interview with Cronkite in the summer of 2006—just prior to the station’s launch in September. Those in the long-term care field may have seen Cronkite around that time. He spoke at the September 2006 conference of the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry, and at the November 2006 annual meeting and exposition of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.
Cronkite was interested in the concept of the station and speaking to his core audience, Jacobson said. He also wanted to offer an exploration of ideas, in contrast to TV’s tendency toward sound bites and debates. He eventually agreed to do commentary.
“It took about six months of us gaining his trust,” Jacobson said.
The shows were executive produced by Jacobson and Dean Love and shot from Cronkite’s corner office at CBS in New York. Chip Cronkite, Cronkite’s son, produced several of them. Cronkite would send the station ideas and vice versa. He had complete creative control over the content, Jacobson said.
The station feels honored to have had the one-of-a-kind broadcaster join its programming. That is why it has no current plans of finding another host for the show, Jacobson said.
“We felt there was no replacing Walter Cronkite,” Jacobson said.
Most, I suspect, would agree.