Remembering “Nightly Business Report,” a business journalism pioneer
On Dec. 27, the closing bell will ring one last time for “Nightly Business Report” (NBR) on public television. It is the final chapter of a program that invented daily business news for television.
“Nightly Business Report” will cease production after Dec. 27. The announcement was made by CNBC, the current owner.
NBR, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last January, pioneered daily business news on television. This was before there were multiple business news channels and dozens of other outlets. The year was 1979. I was privileged to be there from the start at WPBT/Miami, the original producing station, creating the program concept and leading the NBR team for the next 28 years. We worked with an immensely talented group of staff members.
In 1979 there was no CNN, no CNBC, satellite television or the internet. From our small newsroom in Miami, we used typewriters and carbon copies to create scripts for the program. We would lay out the rundown each night on a white board in the back of the newsroom. While we had the AP wire service, we were limited in the business news we could access, so we would phone trusted financial sources daily to get additional closing market data.
In those early days, we broke all the television rules to create a program our industry experts said wouldn’t work. Their reasoning: business news was “too dull for television.” The naysayers told us the nation already had The Wall Street Journal, and how could anyone produce a business news program based in Miami anyway? Our small group of dedicated staff members set out to prove them wrong. And we did. One reporter called NBR “the little engine that could.”
Before NBR, viewers had to wait until the morning newspaper to find out how their stocks closed the day before. It seems almost quaint by today’s standards. The notion of a business news program delivering stock quotes, business news and analysis just two and a half hours after the closing market bell resonated with millions of viewers.
When we went national in 1981, 125 public stations carried the program, which was distributed by American Public Television (APT), then known as Eastern Educational Network. Station carriage moved very quickly to more than 250 stations. For nine years, the global news organization, Reuters, was our editorial and production partner. At its peak, we had bureaus in London, Tokyo, New York, Washington, Chicago and other centers. “Nightly Business Report” remained the most-watched daily business news program on television – broadcast or cable throughout that time. With regular commentators including economists and analysts Alan Greenspan, Art Laffer, Alfred Kahn, Charles Schultze and many others, the program’s influence was significant. Financial commentator Paul Kangas presented a lively stock market report each day, bringing his special brand of wit and rapid-fire delivery to the series.
I resigned from NBR/WPBT in late 2006 to become chief content officer at KQED/Sam Francisco. It was difficult leaving this beloved program, but I knew I left it in very capable editorial hands. From afar, I worked to support the program, and I was proud that we were able to establish a West Coast bureau at KQED for a brief time. And wherever I traveled around the country, I would be amazed at the people who would say they literally grew up watching this program. One viewer told us his father bought him 10 shares of a stock the year NBR began, and he and his dad had watched together ever since. Another viewer from the northern reaches of Australia wrote that he marveled how he could fish, boat and hunt, still gain access to business information. It was gratifying to receive that kind of feedback and to know something that touched so many lives.
After several ownership changes, CNBC purchased the program in 2013. Along with series distributor APT and WETA, the current presenting station, they have done fine work bringing this program to public television viewers. Veteran anchors Bill Griffeth and Sue Herera, along with their colleagues at CNBC, have brought additional worldwide resources to the program.
Times have changed, and there are many ways viewers can access business news, which is instantly available on smart phones along with several cable channels dedicated to business news around the clock.
It’s heartening to know that our original concept for business news on television didn’t start on a network with millions of dollars to invest, and huge r and d budgets. It started as a home-grown public station local offering,
While it’s difficult to say goodbye to NBR, I am proud of the program’s staying power over four decades. Few programs can claim 40 years on the air — five nights a week/52 weeks each year.
It is a tribute to a dedicated team at WPBT and the public media stations who took a risk in those early days. It is a program that literally started from the ground-up with very few resources — but with a mighty belief in making a difference.
Linda O’Bryon is the founding executive editor of “Nightly Business Report” and one of its original anchors. She wrote this for Talking Biz News.