Jennings, Peter (1938-2005)
Peter Jennings in 1965 became the youngest national network news anchor ever appointed in the U.S, when he was invited to join ABC. He was 27. Unfortunately, an expected audience increase didn’t materialize. Critics blamed his Canadian background, youth and lack of worldly experience.
But in 1983 Peter was appointed anchor and senior editor of World News Tonight and went on to gain international acclaim.
Peter was born in Toronto, son of Charles Jennings who was the first Canadian news announcer to broadcast nationally and later became a CBC vice-president.
By the age of nine, Peter had his own half-hour weekly children’s radio show on CBC, called Peter’s People. On leaving school, he started work in a bank but followed his father into broadcasting in 1959, joining radio station CFJR Brockville, Ont. He provided CBC with coverage of a train wreck and as a result was offered his first TV job – at CJOH-TV Ottawa when it went on-air in 1961. Michael Nolan, in his book CTV-The Network That Means Business, noted that Peter first became popular as host of a teenage dance program called Club 13.
Peter moved into news and in 1963 became co-anchor of the CTV National News. CTV was new and at that time its national news was broadcast from CJOH-TV.
Peter was noticed by ABC and moved to New York in 1964 to anchor a segment of ABC-TV’s evening news, jumping the following year into the national slot.
The ratings were disappointing, with Peter competing against figures like Walter Cronkite on CBS. After three years ABC made him a foreign correspondent. In 1971 he received an award for reporting on the civil war in Bangladesh and at about that time he was appointed head of the ABC News Middle East bureau in Beirut, where he established the first U.S. news bureau in the Arab world. A profile of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat won him a Peabody Award in 1974. The same year he was in Washington briefly as correspondent for ABC’s A.M. America, but in 1975 he went to London as chief foreign correspondent for ABC-TV. There he anchored the international section of ABC’s World News Tonight until he moved back to New York and assumed leadership of the entire show.
During the Gulf War, Peter’s experience in the Middle East gave him a leg up on other U.S. network anchors, and in 1991 ABC-TV became recognized as the U. S. network with the most popular national newscast.
Among his numerous awards were more than a dozen Emmys. The Boston Globe said in 1995 that Edward R. Murrow had passed the torch to Peter Jennings.
Robert Goldberg and Gerald Jay Goldberg wrote a biography called Anchors: Brokaw, Jennings, Rather, and the evening news. Peter’s books include The Century and The Century for Young People, co-authored with Todd Brewster, an ABC colleague. He also co-authored In Search of America with Todd Brewster.
Peter Jennings died August 7th, 2005 after a short illness. A few days before his death, it was announced that he had been made a Member of the Order of Canada. In February 2006, the City of New York renamed a section of West 66th Street (near the ABC headquarters) Peter Jennings Way, in his honour.
Written by Jerry Fairbridge – December, 2002