Of course, the early days of CNBC were anything but clear cut. Our original name, the Consumer News and Business Channel, was evidence enough that the mission was muddled to say the least. Creating a 24-hour news channel in a fraction of the time it takes to develop a half-hour sitcom, NBC had cobbled together an unusual assortment of talent for its first foray into cable news.
Financial news on television had been around for a while, so among the first hires was one of the breakout stars of the well-established Financial News Network (FNN), Sue Herera. Mark Haines, a journeyman local news anchor from Philadelphia with a booming voice and a business brain, made the trip to New Jersey. There was a hodge-podge of national and local news people willing to take a flier on this strange new venture, among them a 29-year-old weekend news anchor from Grand Rapids, Mich., with a remarkably full head of hair. In prime time, Dick Cavett and John McLaughlin had talk shows. Hodge-podge indeed.
The early reviews were not kind.
"CNBC updates drier-than-dry financial news with drier-than-dry style," USA Today wrote. "The reporters and anchors are uninspiring." (That one hurt a little.)
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The "endless" reports on the income tax deadline that first day added "little original insight about the yearly ordeal," the reviewer wrote, clearly not grasping the amount of care and effort the kid from Grand Rapids had put into his first national story, about how to file for an income tax extension.
In truth, the early programming was pretty bad, with segments about how to buy bed sheets running up against currency reports (remember, we were the Consumer News and Business Channel). The most redeeming aspects of the early days were the fact that much of the country could not see us—it would be another two years before CNBC was available in Manhattan—and an entrepreneurial, can-do spirit that took hold among the staff in those early days and somehow still has not let go.
Besides, soon enough, CNBC would get focused.
In 1991, FNN went bankrupt, and NBC won a court auction for the channel's assets, its subscribers, and some of the best business journalists around. Bill Griffeth, Ron Insana, and Joe Kernen were on our team now. CNBC was the only game in town…just in time for the dot-com era.
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