(Pictured: Walter Cronkite and his family arrive at a party celebrating his final evening news broadcast on March 6, 1981.)
(When this blog began in January, I promised to write entirely new, never-before-seen posts for it once in a while. This is the first one.)
March 6, 1981, is a Friday. President Reagan holds an afternoon news conference. The reporters asking questions were chosen after Reagan drew names from a jelly-bean jar the previous day, but there are no limits on the questions he can be asked. He takes questions on the political situation in El Salvador, his economic recovery program, and his proposed cuts in social welfare programs. Longtime White House reporter Helen Thomas asks him if his stance on the right to life means he is opposed to contraception. He responds, “No, I am not.” In today’s Peanuts strip, Sally writes a report for school. Future actress Ellen Muth is born, and George Franconero Jr. is shot to death in front of his home in North Caldwell, New Jersey, in a suspected mob hit. Franconero, a disbarred lawyer and the brother of singer Connie Francis, was cooperating with the FBI in an investigation of organized crime.
After 19 years, Walter Cronkite anchors the CBS Evening News for the final time. He tells the audience, “I’ll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years.” CBS has placed full-page ads in newspapers around the country touting that assignment: a trip to Moscow as part of a five-hour special report on America’s defenses and the new series Walter Cronkite’s Universe. In Platteville, Wisconsin, several young college broadcasters have a little party to watch the last Cronkite show. CBS primetime features The Incredible Hulk and two episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard. NBC lines up Harper Valley PTA, The Brady Brides, Nero Wolfe (a detective drama starring William Conrad and Lee Horsley) and NBC Magazine. ABC has Benson, I’m a Big Girl Now, and Long Journey Back, a 1978 made-for TV movie starring Mike Connors, Cloris Leachman, and Stephanie Zimbalist, about the aftermath of a real-life bus/train crash that took place in 1972.
With less than one week to go in the regular college basketball season, undefeated Oregon State remains ranked #1, with once-beaten DePaul at #2. A column in the Chicago Tribune suggests that TV commentator Billy Packer is likely done after NBC loses the NCAA tournament to CBS in 1982. (Packer will move smoothly from NBC to CBS and remain one of its lead college basketball voices until 2008.)
The Grateful Dead plays Pittsburgh and Queen plays Rosario, Argentina. Duran Duran continues its first headlining tour of the UK in Cardiff, Wales. The Boomtown Rats play Toronto, and U2 plays the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, a show that will be widely bootlegged and eventually get an official release in 2004. Ted Nugent plays Portland, Oregon, and Kansas plays in Wichita with Loverboy opening. At D93 in Dubuque, Iowa, “The Best of Times” by Styx takes over the #1 spot from John Lennon’s “Woman,” which falls to #3. “Smokey Mountain Rain” by Ronnie Milsap sits between them at #2. Two songs are new in the Top 10: “Hello Again” by Neil Diamond at #7 and “Hearts on Fire” by Randy Meisner at #10. They replace “Don’t You Know What Love Is” by Touch, which is down from #6 to #14, and whatever was #9 the previous week, which has fallen off the survey entirely. The biggest movers are all up four spots; in addition to “Hello Again,” they include “What Kind of Fool” by Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb, ” “Morning Train” by Sheena Easton, and “Just Between You and Me” by April Wine.
Perspective From the Present: I had been working part-time at D93 and its AM sister, KDTH, for nearly two years by March 1981. D93 racked up enormous audience shares, although the numbers were somewhat illusory: its lone Top 40 competition in town was an AM station. D93, which was completely automated with no live jocks, had developed a modest reputation for breaking hits, although that rep came at the cost of playing lots of relative stiffs. The generic pop-rocker “Don’t You Know What Love Is,” the much more interesting “I Have the Skill” by the Sherbs, and the pointless Roy Orbison cover “Running Scared” by the Fools all made the Hot 100. But “Come to My Arms” by Graf, an attempt to clone the Doobie Brothers that’s pretty terrible, did not. Taken all together, D93’s music mix looks pretty weird, but it didn’t sound much weirder than what any other Top 40 station would have been playing in the spring of 1981.