20 Events and People in the Evolution of Televised News in the United States

After reports of the raid on Pearl Harbor were telecast on December 7, 1941, the war temporarily suspended development of televised news. US Navy

2. Pearl Harbor changed television news

Before the Second World War most American television stations, which were yet to be affiliated in networks, severely limited their broadcasting hours. In many American cities television stations remained dark on Sundays, giving their on-air staffs a day off, and allowing maintenance of equipment not possible when broadcasting. Those that did go on the air often simply presented old movies. One such station was New York’s WNBT, which was broadcasting a film on the afternoon of December 7, 1941, to its limited audience. For the first time in history, an American scheduled broadcast was interrupted to present the audience with breaking news when Ray Forrest, whose primary job was reading commercials, announced the reports of an attack on Pearl Harbor.

There was little news to announce. The Army and Navy immediately imposed restrictions which curtailed the release of information, and rumors of a great naval battle between the American and Japanese fleets quickly spread, on the radio and in the newspapers as well as on television, which got most of its information from those two sources. Few television stations had their own news gathering resources. WCBT, which was normally dark on Sunday, went on the air that evening with a report of the attack and the aftermath, again with little to go on other than the news reported earlier in the day. The live, unscripted news broadcasts of December 7, 1941, were the first of their kind in the history of American television.