In a frightening reminder of how fast time passes by, CNBC is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its launch this week.
It was on a Monday - April 17, 1989 - that CNBC made its debut. I'd been hired in February as an associate producer, based mostly on an off-the-cuff remark I made to Peter Sturtevant, the VP of business news, during my interview.
He said, "So, what can you do for us?"
And I said, "I can get a lot of material on the air fast with no money, no time, no resources, and no people."
And he said, "you're hired!". True story.
20 years later, I can tell you I have no idea how we ever got on the air. We literally made the whole thing up out of thin air through a series of meetings, rehearsals, random suggestions, and many dinner-and-drinks sessions.
The fun part is that ANY idea you had was considered fair game. There was no "gee, we don't usually do it that way" because no one had done anything ANY way! I had a particularly good time during rehearsals because I was tapped to play the role of our guests - all of them. Someone would produce a segment on any topic, and I'd be the guest and literally make up the answers. I was pretty good at it, too. Thankfully, we were able to get real guests to come on once we launched.
It wasn't pretty at first. Truth is, we really didn't know what we wanted to be, but since they'd saddled us with the name Consumer News and Business Channel - we figured we'd try to make that fit. That explains why we would have a market segment followed by a demonstration of how to cook a chicken properly. People who've heard this story think it's an urban legend. I was there. It isn't. The chicken was very tasty, by the way.
I also remember that we somehow managed to forget some important details along the way. Like when - three days before our launch - someone said, "So, how do the right video tapes get to the playback area again?" The answer was .... "um ....... oh my gosh we need a tape desk!!". No one thought of it. One of our ace assignment editors, Judy Block, literally invented one on the spot - constructed of a stack of cardboard boxes and a chair. Improvisation was very much a key to our early days.
Somehow, we managed to get the ball rolling and slowly but surely, we created something that worked. And had a great deal of fun in the process. The 1991 acquisition of Financial News Network was a crucial turning point, giving us the cable penetration we needed and many talented new staffers as well.
As one of the lucky ones who was there then and now, I'm still in awe of how big it's become. I'm still astounded that Page Six cares enough to gossip about us. I still get a kick out of how much viewers are into what we do and the people who appear on our air. I even get a kick out of how passionately we get criticized, especially remembering back to the days when no one gave a hoot what we did - or even knew we existed.
No matter what you think of CNBC, I can tell you this: it's the best place I ever worked. Having left for 7 years and come back, I appreciate it more than I ever did. It's a wonderful, supportive group of people - both co-workers and bosses - and I hope I'm lucky enough to spend the rest of my career there.