CNN Turns 30 Years Old

It was thirty years ago today — June 1, 1980 — that a brash young media executive named Ted Turner launched the first 24 hour cable news network:

ATLANTA — The birthday hoopla will be kept to a minimum this time. No Diana Ross and the Supremes headlining a Philips Arena blowout, as happened here when the honoree turned 20. No mega-lawn party like the one five years later, where hundreds lunched and listened to Christiane Amanpour spiritedly interview Ted Turner.

CNN plans to commemorate its latest big chronological moment — 30 years on the air — philanthropically, through its “Impact Your World” initiative. Turning 30’s a serious thing, after all. And a slightly unsettling one, whether you’re a onetime ingenue detecting the first hint of wrinkles or cable news’ original Young Turk, having to work even harder now not to lose a step.If you’ve ever tried to low-key a milestone birthday only to be greeted with black balloons and “hilarious” quips about AARP membership, imagine how the Atlanta-based news organization must have felt today approached.

The revolution Ted Turner launched on June 1, 1980 — by turning on round-the-clock news for everyone everywhere, then never turning it off again — keeps trying to make CNN feel older than it is. Sagging ratings, scrappy social-media kids threatening to run rings around it and all.

Despite the fact that it seems to be losing out these days to the more heavily partisan programming on MSNBC and Fox News Channel, though CNN still have some street cred for being the pioneer in medium that continues to define itself:

“Back in 1980, CNN defined ‘news on demand,’ because for the first time news was available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Will King, senior director of news operations for CNN International and one of 10 so-called “originals” — staffers who started at Mr. Turner’s pipe dream network before June 1980 and still haven’t left.

“A short while after that, what was then called ‘CNN2’ (now HLN) came along, and that was a different form of news on demand. It was 48 newscasts all day, every day.”

PBS’s NewsHour did an interesting retrospective on the past three decades of CNN tonight:

For all of the complaints one can level against it, CNN deserves credit for blazing a trail that has opened up the media market to more than just the big three broadcast networks, and for making news something you follow instantaneously, rather than something you read about in the paper with the morning coffee.

FILED UNDER: Media, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Not better, just different.

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I doubt CNN is losing anything to MSNBC but they have taken a back seat to Fox.

  3. reid says:

    I used to watch “HLN” (never liked that name; sort of like the change from Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC) so I could reliably catch up on the news, but half the day it now seems to show utter garbage. Now I never watch it, partially on principle. It’s symbolic of the media’s charge down the “ratings and money at all costs” crapper.