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Veteran Newscaster Signs Off

March 30, 1988|DOUGLAS EDWARDS

After nearly half a century in broadcasting, including 40 years in network television, newsman Douglas Edwards will bid adieu Friday. His final TV appearances will be on CBS' "Newsbreaks" at 10:56 a.m. and 2:40 p.m. on Channels 2 and 8. His last radio broadcast will air over KNX-AM (1070) at 6 p.m.

In the summer of 1925, when I was 8 years old and living in Ada, Okla., I did the customary Saturday afternoon thing for someone my age: I attended the movies. The picture was one of the grand old Westerns, but this one was different. In addition to your usual cowboys and Indians, it featured one of the great sirens of the day, Clara (the "It" girl) Bow, and at one juncture in the film she took a nude swim in a cool mountain stream. I found it powerfully beguiling, stirring, upsetting in myriad ways unfamiliar to a youth of my tender age.

Later that afternoon, when I arrived at the home I shared with my widowed mother on Main Street, she informed me that toward fall we would be moving to Silver City, N.M., where she had accepted a position at New Mexico State Teachers College. Oh, joy . . . what opportunities that presented. In addition to cowboys and Indians, there would be burros and ponys to ride. Even the possibility of finding Clara Bow in one of those mountain streams.

Well, the burro and pony thing worked out fine. But I never found Clara.

Shift of scene: It is the mid-1950s and the coaxial cable has stretched from east to west, north to south and into many of the nooks and crannies of our land. I am the anchorman of the "CBS Evening News." One day a blue, highly scented envelope postmarked Culver City, Calif., arrives on my desk.

Inside, a handwritten message: "Dear Mr. Edwards, I'm a fan of yours." And glory, glory, it was signed "Clara 'It' Bow."

I had a tough time finding the proper words to answer that briefnote. I think I settled on something like "Now you tell me."

New Mexico led me along another path. I discovered radio out there in that clear, crisp mountain air. Radio in the form of a little crystal set with earphones. It brought in KOA in Denver, and California stations and, once in a while, Pittsburgh and Atlanta and other big 50,000-watt powerhouses that had clear channels to carry their signals.

It was a fascinating, mesmerizing new world. The little voice inside me said, "That's where you belong, on the radio one of these days."

Well, we moved to Troy, Ala., and somebody there built a radio station and hired me, age 15, as junior announcer. It paid $2.50 a week . . . enough for a couple of movies and a few hamburgers. Not only did I spin phonograph records and read poetry, I even had a 15-minute spot on which I sang a few popular songs, such as "Night and Day" and "My Buddy" and "Pretending That You Care." Not well, mind you, but I got by, got fan mail--and the ego was nourished.

After a premed course at the University of Alabama, the money ran out in the deep Depression year of 1935, and I went back to radio. At WSB, the Atlanta Journal Station, I moved swiftly into news broadcasting and a spot on the paper itself, editing the Sunday Radio page and doing the column when the regular editor was absent.

While in Atlanta, on March 13, 1938, I heard CBS broadcast the very first "World News Roundup" (which has just celebrated its 50th birthday). There were Edward R. Murrow in Vienna, William L. Shirer in London, Pierre Huss in Berlin and Bob Trout in New York. It was the time of the German annexation of Austria and it was one whale of a broadcast, neatly integrated, technically perfect, full of meaty reporting . . . a clear first, inspiring, stirring.

The inner voice said: "Go there. Go to CBS." So I did. It took four more years of preparation, at WXYZ and the Michigan Radio Network, and two more in Atlanta, but I got ready, and then I knocked on the CBS door and it opened for me.

That was almost 46 years ago. Astoundingly for me, 40 of those years have been in television as well as radio. That's a TV record that with a buck will get you a ride on the subway, but I'm proud of it and it just might stand for a while.

Since I announced my retirement about three weeks ago, I've been asked a lot of questions: "Is television news doing its job? Is it as good today as it once was? Is it too commercial? Is there too much concern for ratings? And how about the people, the men and women who appear before the cameras and in the field?"

The answers: Television news is more pervasive now than ever and, for the most part, it is in good hands, with top-flight people trying hard to make their offerings of good quality and succeeding most of the time.

Sure, TV is commercial: That's how we pay the bills and the salaries--oh, the salaries--but a network evening news anchor gets the same person-to-person exposure as the stars of "Dynasty" or "Dallas" or "L.A. Law" or any of the other entertainment shows. So these anchor people can demand and get money in the higher brackets.

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