Television Goes to the Moon

Walter Cronkite and others share stories about television coverage of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing

By Loomis DeanLIFE Photo Collection


Since 1997, the Television Academy Foundation’s The Interviews: An Oral History of Television (formerly the Archive of American Television) has been conducting in-depth, videotaped oral history interviews with television professionals, including actors, writers, editors, and journalists. These interviews explore the lives and careers of the interviewees, and often touch on important historical moments and movements.

Gathered here are stories from broadcasters and other television professionals reflecting on the Apollo 11 moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969.

Walter Cronkite on the 1969 moon landingThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Anchor/reporter Walter Cronkite talks about his longstanding interest in aviation and space exploration, and how that contributed to his reaction to the moon landing on July 20, 1969:

"Man landing on the moon was the great story of our century, I believe. The great single story of the century was man escaping his earthly environment and landing on a distant orb in that fashion. I had just as long to prepare for that as NASA did. At the moment when it came, I found myself speechless. 'Oh, golly,' was all I could say."

Watch Walter Cronkite's full interview to hear him tell the stories behind his legendary career.

Julian Goodman on the 1969 moon landingThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Executive Julian Goodman shares his memories of the 1969 moon landing, and NBC's coverage of the history-making event:

"NBC’s coverage was excellent as always, but I don’t know anything especially that I can brag about. I believe Brinkley did the coverage on that one... And although that’s not his cup of tea normally, he did that very well. Walter Cronkite [on CBS] did some of his normal things on it. Walter is Walter and David is David. And our coverage was, as always, splendid."

Watch Julian Goodman's full interview, which chronicles his rise to President of NBC and his role producing news coverage of the pivotal events of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Sanford Socolow on the 1969 moon landingThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

News producer Sanford Socolow shares the behind-the-scenes story of CBS's coverage of the 1969 moon landing, including a push by his boss to get commentators on the air who questioned the goal of sending a man to the moon:

"Gordon Manning came rushing around to me. ... He said, 'We've got to get somebody on here who’s going to say this is nonsense. Call Gloria Steinem.' ... Two o’clock in the morning and we send a limousine to pick her up and bring her in. Somebody else at Gordon’s behest had got Kurt Vonnegut to come in. And so there we had a panel of Kurt Vonnegut and Gloria Steinem telling us how there were so many more important problems on earth and what are we doing going to the moon?"

Watch Sanford Socolow’s full interview, where he discusses his many years at CBS News.

Danny Epstein on the 1969 moon landingThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Music director Danny Epstein describes the programming that NBC had prepared for the night of the moon landing, which was meant to be aired after the astronauts landed on the moon and slept before stepping onto the surface. However, the events did not unfold as NBC had planned:

"We rehearsed for days. We orchestrated and arranged and copied for days. They land on the moon and were too excited to sleep. They’re coming down the ladder. The program was scrapped."

Watch Danny Epstein's full interview to hear stories from his career, including his decades working on Sesame Street.

James Wall on the 1969 moon landingThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Stage manager/performer James Wall describes one aspects of CBS's coverage of the 1969 moon landing, which included setting up a replica of the moonscape in an airplane hangar:

"They had me piped in to the transmission from the moon, so I could hear everything that was being said on the moon. And so, all of the different experiments that were being laid out...each time an astronaut - whatever he was doing, we duplicated in this hangar. And that was just in case we lost transmission to the moon."

Watch James Wall’s full interview, which spans his career from acting and stage-managing on Broadway to being a stage manager for news programs and his work on Captain Kangaroo.

Lewis Gomavitz on the 1969 moon landingThe Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Director/producer Lewis Gomavitz talks about his time working for North American Rockwell, the company that manufactured the Apollo command and service module. Gomavitz worked on a team producing videos that were distributed within and outside the company to inform engineers about the specifications for the equipment needed to get them to the moon. But when he first arrived at the company, he wasn't so sure that that mission would actually become a reality:

"When I was hired, the 'three men to moon' project was nothing but a map that was lying on a table...It was a hand sketch of what the vehicles would look like and what not. And I remember saying to myself, 'These men are crazy, they’ll never put three men on the moon.'"

Watch Lewis Gomavitz's full interview to hear stories from his career, including his years working on Kukla, Fran & Ollie.

Credits: Story

The Television Academy Foundation's The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

Jenni Matz, Director
Adrienne Faillace, Producer
Jenna Hymes, Manager & Exhibit curator
Nora Bates, Production Coordinator
John Dalton, Cataloguer

Credits: All media
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