Huntley, Chet

Huntley, Chet
Dec. 10, 1911-Mar. 20, 1974
American television news anchor


As its "anchor man" for the 1956 Presidential conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties, the National Broadcasting Company chose Chet Huntley, the reporter and news analyst starred on its Sunday afternoon "hard news" program, Outlook, which had its premiere on April 1, 1956. Twice winner of the George Foster Peabody Award (1942 and 1954), Huntley has been known on the West Coast for more than twenty years as a thoughtful, unbiased newscaster who probes all sides of an issue and does not try to steer clear of controversial subjects. Since leaving Los Angeles for New York in early 1956 to appear on regularly scheduled radio and television programs, he has become familiar also to millions of East Coast listeners and to a vaster nation-wide audience.

Chester Robert Huntley, the son of P. A. Huntley and Blanche Wadine (Tatham) Huntley, was born in Cardwell, Montana on December 10, 1911 and was reared in such colorfully named Montana communities as Willow Creek and Big Timber. He has three sisters, Wadine Huntley Cummins, Marian and Margaret Huntley Shutz. On his father's side of the family he is descended from Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, and on his mother's side he is the grandson of W. R. Tatham, who crossed the plains in a covered wagon and in 1956, at the age of ninety-one, is still active.

Until he was twelve years old, Chet lived on a Montana ranch near the Canadian border. His father, a railroad telegrapher, then returned to work for the Northern Pacific Railroad. (He is at present employed at the Northern Pacific depot in Reed Point, Montana.) The boy attended the Whitehall High School in Whitehall, Montana, played football and basketball, and became interested in debating and oratory.

His record as a debater and his scholastic standing earned him a scholarship upon graduation in 1929 to Montana State College in Bozeman, where for three years he took a premedical course. Then on a scholarship which he won through national oratory contests, he studied at the Cornish School of Arts in Seattle, Washington for a year and a half before transferring to the University of Washington in Seattle, from which he received the B.A. degree in 1934. During his college years he was president of dramatic and forensic organizations and assistant editor of the year book. He joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon, but he recently stated that he has requested that the society remove his name from its records unless it rescinds its racial policy.

While still a college student, Huntley walked into Seattle's radio station KPCB one day in 1933 to apply for a job, just as the program director was being fired. Huntley was hired as program director and soon became also an announcer, salesman, janitor, writer and disc jockey for KPCB. After two years there he went to Spokane, Washington, where he was news broadcaster and writer for station KHQ for a year. Then in the same capacity, with the additional duties of announcer, he was employed by station KGW in Portland, Oregon in 1936-37 and by KFI in Los Angeles from 1937 to 1939.

Huntley's twelve-year association with the Columbia Broadcasting System began in 1939 when he became newscaster, correspondent and analyst at the company's Los Angeles station. One series of half-hour broadcasts which he wrote and produced, "These Are Americans," attempted to show Angelinos, at that time angered by recent Mexican zoot-suit riots in the city, that most Mexican-Americans are good citizens. For this series he was given the George Foster Peabody Award in 1942, a special news citation by the Ohio State University Institute for Education by Radio, and an award from New York University. In recognition of his work during World War II as regional director of two war bond campaigns, he received a medal in 1945 from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Moving to the American Broadcasting Company's Los Angeles station in 1951, Huntley conducted three daily news shows over KABC on radio and one on television—and became, according to Newsweek (April 19, 1954), "one of broadcasting's best reputed interpreters of world and local scenes" and had "the highest daytime rating of any ABC news show." He won his second Peabody Award in 1954 for "skill in analyzing the news" and "talent for mature commentary."

Because of his insistence upon giving background information on more than one side of controversial issues, such as the Communist "scare" in the United States, Huntley aroused the disapproval of pressure groups on the West Coast which tried to drive him off the air. After losing at least one sponsor, he filed suit against the leader of a group and in January 1954 received a substantial payment for damages and a public apology. (See the Nation January 16, 1954 and the New Republic January 25, 1954.)

In June 1955 Huntley joined NBC and was subsequently heard on the West Coast in five-minute news spots, Monday through Friday, and was seen on a half-hour Sunday evening television program. On four of these programs he dealt with the subject of narcotic addiction in Los Angeles, using films, interviews and research material.

When NBC signed Huntley to a seven-year contract and brought him to New York in early 1956 to conduct a television news show, several TV critics observed that NBC had apparently found in the West Coast analyst someone who might be expected to attain the popularity and national prominence of CBS's Edward R. Murrow. The first program from New York on which he appeared was Chet Huntley Reporting, a ten-minute radio commentary which since March 26, 1956 has been presented regularly Monday through Thursday evenings.

Outlook, NBC-TV's network "news-in-depth" program, began on April 1, 1956. The half-hour Sunday afternoon show includes films to "featurize" the news (on timely subjects and Huntley's news roundup. Since June 9, 1956 Huntley has also been seen locally over WRCA-TV on a Saturday evening news program. In the summer of 1956 he was selected to supervise NBC's coverage of the political conventions in Chicago (Democratic) and San Francisco (Republican). His counterparts are Walter Cronkite for CBS and John Daly for ABC.

In giving his definition of "straight reports" of the news to Marie Torre (New York Herald Tribune TV critic) Huntley explained, "I don't mean simply reading a bulletin which says 'Senator So-and-So declares that farmers do not want a Congressional bill that will arbitrarily jack up farm prices.' Given alone, that statement can mislead. It doesn't give any insight into the whole issue. After I tell what the Senator said, I'll relate what the opposition had to say and, to the best of my ability, give latest developments in the matter" (New York Herald Tribune, March 29, 1956).

He objects to being termed a "crusader" or a "commentator," and expressed his attitude toward his work in this statement for Current Biography: "If a judgment were ever rendered on all the multi-million words I have spoken into microphones, I might hope something like this could be said: 'He (Huntley) had a great respect, almost an awe, of the medium in which he worked. He regarded it as a privilege, not a license. He acknowledged, with regret, that for some reason or other he was not endowed with sufficient wisdom to permit him to tell others how to vote, whom to hate, whom to trust, or in what to invest…Perhps the best I might hope is that by some accident of voice tone or arrangement of words I did, on a few occasions, excite, exhort, annoy, or provoke a few of my fellow human beings to think—and to think with their heads, not their viscera."

On January 3, 1955 Huntley offered a set of New Year resolutions for a journalist-particularly a radio-television journalist-on ABC radio (reprinted in the Reporter, January 27, 1955) among which were: "Resolved: To stop and think at least thirty minutes before offering one of my own opinions in a broadcast; that if my own opinion must be used, to label it as just opinion with the biggest verbal sign or billboard;…and to remember that some citizens don't deserve silencing—just answering…to face the East each morning and thank Mr. Sulzberger for the New York Times."

Interested in many civic and philanthropic activities, from the Boy Scouts to the United Nations, Huntley does not consider it "such a severe indictment" to be called an "insufferable do-gooder." The professional organizations to which he belongs are the Overseas Press Club, Association of Radio News Analysts and the San Francisco Press Club.

Chet Huntley married Ingrid Eleanor Rolin on February 23, 1936 and they have two daughters, Sharon Lynn and Leanne. The blue-eyed, brown-haired news analyst is six feet one inch tall and weighs 190 pounds. His recreations are watching baseball and football games, fishing, reading and music.

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