Live Network Television
by Michael R Dougherty
Apollo 11 Tranquility Base
On Sunday, July 20, 1969, at 6:56pm, Anchorage experienced a remarkable event, right along with the rest of the world.
It was the very first, satellite delivered, live television event ever broadcast in Anchorage.
It was the day Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. At 6:56PM in Anchorage, his foot first touched the surface of the moon and Neil Armstrong uttered those now famous words, “That's one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind.”
My brother Tom and I will never forget that moment.
We were both working at KTVA channel 11, the CBS television Network station in Anchorage, and we had both been assigned to work in the Master Control Room for the moon landing.
The broadcast, hosted by CBS News anchor, Walter Cronkite, was carried live by all the television stations in Anchorage, and was achieved with the use of a mobile military satellite ground station.
If you've ever wondered what was the first actual live network television broadcast in Anchorage, the 1969 moon landing was it. The moon landing was not the typical two-week delayed broadcast, or even a “quick turn around” on videotape. The 1969 moon landing was seen live.
On that day in Anchorage, if you drove around town, you saw people watching the moon landing on TV sets everywhere. Even service stations had TV sets on in their offices and in their garage work bays. It seemed that everyone in Anchorage was glued to a TV set.
There were three astronauts on Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin. Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon, followed by Buzz Aldrin. You may recall that astronaut Michael Collins remained in the Apollo 11 capsule as it orbited the moon.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were in the small capsule called the Eagle. The very first moment that they touched down on the surface of the moon, the world heard Neil Armstrong say “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed”.
Later, when one of the video cameras outside on the Eagle began broadcasting those black and white pictures of the surface of the moon back to earth, everyone in Anchorage was seeing it live, just like everyone else in the world.
My brother Tom and I couldn't take our eyes off the TV screens in front of us. We were mesmerized, like everyone on planet earth who had access to a TV set. People from inside the Northern Television Broadcast Center (located in Spenard) kept coming into Master Control to see how the moon landing was going.
When the moment finally came and astronaut Neil Armstrong began climbing down the Eagle's ladder, we held our breath and waited for the coming moment right along with the rest of the world.
Then, at 6:56 pm, Neil Armstrong dropped from the last rung on the ladder of his spacecraft, to the waiting surface of the moon. Just a moment later, Neil Armstrong uttered the following words and everyone in Anchorage, heard them at the same time as the rest of the world. “That's one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind”.
It was an incredibly emotional moment. My brother and I both had tears in our eyes, and we knew we had just witnessed an astonishing moment in history. As we looked around at the other people in the Master Control room who had come in to witness that historic event, many of them had tears in their eyes as well.
Of all the events that could have been the very first live network television broadcast seen in Anchorage, this one was all the more special because it was the Apollo 11 moon landing.
And now, oh so many years later, we remember that Sunday on July 20, 1969, when Anchorage television brought us something we would never forget.
What are your memories of this historic and amazing television event?