KING-TV broadcasts Pacific Northwest's first local live television news program, with Charles Herring as anchorman, on September 10, 1951.

  • By Frank Chesley
  • Posted 3/14/2006
  • Essay 7688
At 6:45 p.m., on September 10, 1951, Charles H. Herring Jr. (1922-2006), stood before KING-TV's studio camera to launch television news in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle station had been on the air for only two years. Along with other new stations throughout the country, KING-TV was inventing television as it went along and was already among the leaders of the fledgling industry.

Dorothy Bullitt (1892-1989), a newcomer to broadcasting, had bought the station in 1949 and she felt "a strong obligation to public service, using her stations to serve the community -- her 'home town'" (Chesley). The King Broadcasting Company's aggressive news and public-service commitment set a standard not only for the Pacific Northwest, but for national TV broadcasting as well.

There were only a few thousand television sets in KING-TV's signal area in 1951, and they faced a circle of viewers mesmerized by the grainy, black-and-white images flickering on the eight-inch screen. Television's first network anchorman, CBS's Douglas Edwards (1917-1990), had been on the air since 1948, followed in 1949 by John Cameron Swayze (1906-1995) on NBC. CBS and NBC were in a race to develop color television. The first transcontinental television broadcast had occurred only a few days earlier, on September 4, from the historic Japanese peace treaty conference in San Francisco, which officially ended World War II.

Humble Beginnings

The first news department at KING-TV, in a rickety old store on Queen Anne Hill, was jury-rigged and "very primitive" (Bremner). The 15-minute broadcasts, called "Early Edition," were mostly radio with a talking head, rip-and-read copy from Associated Press and other wire services, telefaxed photos, and maybe a kinescope from the networks. Teleprompters were not yet on the scene, but Herring wrote his own copy, was a fast read, and needed only an occasional glance at his copy. Cameraman Ed Racine shot 16-mm film for local coverage.

The Federal Communications Commission had frozen station applications shortly after Bullitt bought the station, and her new KING-TV, and Herring, enjoyed an early monopoly. Herring anchored the only television newscast west of Minneapolis and north of Los Angeles and he "became part of the family dinner-hour ritual" (Vinh). He was news director and anchorman, a "loyal platoon leader under (Lee) Schulman," the station's dynamic program director (Bremner). The newscast originally was sponsored by Alka-Seltzer, and voicing the commercial was part of his job. When the floor director dropped the tablet in the glass of water, Herring melifluously intoned, "Listen to it fizzzzzzz." But the TV news industry quickly realized that news credulity and sales shouldn't mix and Herring lost this lucrative sideline.

He manifested the television-anchorman persona of the time, "the look and sound of Edward R. Murrow" (1908-1965), CBS's pioneering broadcast journalist (Corr). Herring was, "curly-haired, crisp-spoken" (Duncan), well-tailored, and exuding an earnest resonance. "He was a bit stuffy and pompous, but he was an excellent newsman and I respected him," said Eric Bremner, president of King Broadcasting properties from 1970 to 1992 and onetime floor manager for the Herring news show in his early days at the station.

Animal House

Herring's stuffiness was the butt of an elaborate hoax in 1959, an eruption of the eccentric strain that found an early home in the station's psyche. The KING staff, including program director Schulman, created a fake prison-break story with phony bulletins from AP and dummy calls from the Walla Walla penitentiary, all funneled to Herring, who was feverishly organizing the story for a special report. The fakery was revealed a few minutes before "air time," said Bremner, a participant. "He had a sickly smile. What could he do? He was not disliked. He was ... Charles Herring."

Herring was a farm boy from the Walla Walla area, attended Washington State College (now Washington State University) briefly, but graduated from Whitman College in 1944, cum laude. While at Whitman, he worked for a radio station in Walla Walla. After service during World War II with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater, he worked two years in radio news at KJR in Seattle before joining KING-TV.

Herring left KING-TV in 1967 and, with his wife, the late Mary Bemus, operated radio station KAPY-AM in Port Angeles. Of his career at KING-TV, Herring said, "They were 16 wonderful and crazy years" (Duncan). Charles Herring died on January 23, 2006, in Seattle, of cancer. He was 83.

Sources: O. Casey Corr, KING: The Bullitts and Their Communications Empire (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996); Tan Vinh, "Charles Herring Anchored Seattle's First Live TV News," The Seattle Times, January 29, 2006; Frank Chesley interview with Eric Bremner, March 10, 2006; Don Duncan, "Pioneers," The Seattle Times, August 22, 1990, p. 4; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Payne, Ancil H. (1921-2004)" (by Frank Chesley) (accessed March 14, 2006).

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