For decades, Peter Jennings broadcast live nearly every night at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Much as Cronkite and Murrow before him, Jennings was a certainty, a network news figure who was there when and if he was needed. On September 11, 2001 when the "Twin Towers" of the World Trade Center were attacked by planes and rocked with explosions, Jennings stayed on the air longer than anyone thought possible.
In spite of his connection with America, Jennings was not born in the United States. But his father, Charles was a prominent voice on radio the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). And so while he would change his surroundings, followed a familiar path.
According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, at ten years old Jennings took his first anchor job on "Peter's Program," a talent showcase for young people that aired on Saturday mornings. From there, he continued to excel at broadcasting. He would be known by many in the business as someone who never relied on formal education even though he always appeared erudite on television.
His professional career began in Brockville, Ontario where he was a reporter and disc jockey for a small radio station. Among his first opportunities to show how well he could manage the fast-paced world of breaking news was a train wreck that got the attention of the CBC -- and ultimately a job with CTV, the Canadian private television network. When Elmer Lower of ABC News saw the young Jennings, he saw the Canadian as someone whose charm and appearance would appeal to an American audience. And in 1964, Jennings appeared in his first news segment for ABC.
The Making of an Anchor
Just 27 years old in 1965, Jennings became the youngest ever ABC Evening News anchor. Competing with Huntley-Brinkley on NBC and Cronkite on CBS, however, was not easy. Three years later, Jennings was in Rome as a foreign correspondent, aiming to improve his skills as a reporter. Jennings helped establish a network news presence in the Middle East and was the Beirut Bureau Chief for ABC News for seven years.
By the 1970s, Jennings had succeeded in developing a reputation for being a serious reporter and he returned to the United States as anchor for A.M. America's five-minute Washington newscast. From there, Jennings found his experience paying off. At a time when war in the Middle East remained a constant possibility even when the battles ended, he was well-positioned to cover the region. He was in the middle of the negotiations between Egypt and Israel as they attempted to make peace. He became the first reporter for an American news organization to interview the exiled Ayatollah Khomeni in Paris. And he was there with Khomeni on his plane back to Iran.
Jennings had reached the top. In 1978, ABC World News Tonight aired for the first time. By 1983, he was the lead anchor. And over the next two decades, he broadcast news programs featuring exchanges between the Cold War Superpowers, specials on crises in China, Iran, and the former Soviet Union. And would oversee specials, including a town hall meeting between American citizens and Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.
When he died of lung cancer on August 7, 2005, Jennings had won numerous awards, including several Emmys and the DuPont Award for Journalism from Columbia University. He had also gained acceptance from his adoptive homeland where polls and reviews regularly named him best anchor or the most believable source for news.