Flip Spiceland, CNN weather anchor, reminisces about the early days at CNN, including the first broadcast.
Thursday, May 11, 2000
(CNN) Two decades after R.E. "Ted" Turner dedicated the cable news network to America, CNN will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Viewers will have an opportunity to revisit some of the most momentous news events of the past with the CNN journalists who first brought them to the air.
Flip Spiceland is a weather anchor for CNN, providing weather updates weekday afternoons beginning at 11 a.m. (ET). Additionally, he provides the weather forecasts for the world on CNN International (CNNI), which is seen in more than 210 countries and territories. Prior to joining CNN in 1980, Spiceland served as the weather reporter for newscasts at KNTV in San Jose, California. From 1973-1979, Spiceland reported the weather for the nightly news at WICS-TV in Springfield, Illinois.
Chat Moderator: Welcome to CNN@20 Chat, Flip Spiceland.
Flip Spiceland: Hello to everybody out there in cyber-land! I'm here to talk to you about what it was like that first horrible day at CNN!
Chat Moderator: Do you remember the very first broadcast? Can you tell us about that?
Flip Spiceland: I remember being very tired. We had done a month of rehearsing that literally were 20-hour days. We would sleep four hours, come back and rehearse some more. We had facilities with mud floors, bad lighting and no bathrooms! The very first broadcast was on a Sunday afternoon. The festivities were on the front lawn of the Techwood facility. Those of us who were working were inside the newsroom, so we couldn't participate in the food and drink, or visit with the celebrities. We were doing our best to get a program on the air.
Question from Marlo: About when was the first CNN broadcast made?
Flip Spiceland: It was at 5:00 on a Sunday afternoon, June 1, 1980. First weathercast was at 5:30.
Question from Marlo: It was horrible? How so?
Flip Spiceland: There were particular incidents that came to be to our advantage. Ted Turner had decided we'd go on air at 5:00 June 1st, ready or not. We were closer to "not" than "ready"!
Chat Moderator: When did you join CNN and how did you get your job here?
Flip Spiceland: I joined CNN officially on April 12th. That's the date on my contract. But I was here a couple of weeks prior to that. I got the job because I received a phone call from the talent recruiters. I flew to Atlanta in February, talked with them and took the job. They liked me, and I liked them.
Question from Candyce-CNN: On that day, did you ask yourself, "What am I doing here?"
Flip Spiceland: I had been asking myself "What am I doing here?" for a month or two prior to that first day on the air! If you read the book about the behind the scenes story of CNN, I actually argued with the cab driver that brought me in that I was supposed to be at a television studio. I told him that this couldn't possibly be where I was going to work. He said that he'd brought me where I'd told him. He was right!
Question from Marlo: Do you like the changes that have been made since the good ol days, or do you resent them a little?
Flip Spiceland: Well, some of them, I think have been certainly for the better. I certainly don't have to work as hard! And I have better tools to do the weather. But as the company gets larger, we lose some of that family feeling. We don't know everyone now. We can't have parties where everyone in the company can attend. It's not the same family feeling that it was before.
Chat Moderator: Are there any funny stories that come to mind as you think back over the last 20 years?
Flip Spiceland: There are so many, it's hard to know where to start. I like to say that any mistake that can be made, I've made. I try to make each mistake only once, though! I remember one great blooper, when the lights went out right in the middle of my forecast! I said, "The forecast for tonight is dark, very dark." That ended up on the Dick Clark blooper show! I ended up making $1,500 on that blooper. Every time it ran, I was paid!
I remember once when Don Farmer and Chris Curl were anchoring the news, a backlight (a light hanging over our heads directly) exploded and fell into the wastebasket between them. The basket burst into flames, and we had a fire going on between our two anchors.
It went on and on and on in those early days. Every day was an adventure as to what mistake would be made.
Question from nkinc: Were there any technical glitches on the first day?
Flip Spiceland: No, oddly enough. What happened was, a very few minutes into our first newscast, we went live. The NAACP president, Vernon Jordan, had been shot. Our live hook-up went very smoothly. We used that, and the program that we had been working so hard to produce for that first day went out the window. CNN was, on that very first day, doing what we do so well now.
Question from Marlo: Also, did CNN branch out from another company, or just start out as an independent entity?
Flip Spiceland: Of course, Ted Turner had channel 17, WTBS, which had been on the satellite and cable. And before that, he had the sign company, Turner Billboards.
Question from etsuVol: Should CNN hire more KDR brothers?
Flip Spiceland: A fraternity brother, obviously! Oddly enough, Jim Kitchell, one of the pioneers and developers of CNN, was also a brother from the Alpha chapter.
Question from Candyce-CNN: Flip, can you share another favorite on-air blooper with us?
Flip Spiceland: There was a problem with the lighting on our weather map. I stand in front of a blue screen, there's really no weather map behind me. It's electronically displayed. The problem with the lighting is that the map was not showing up clearly. The solution was that the lights were too high above us. In early CNN philosophy, we did not lower the lights, we raised the floor. So, of course, there was a platform in front of the blue screen, and we had one weatherman who, while backing out toward the west coast, tumbled backwards off of the platform.
Chat Moderator: What are some of the biggest changes in your own job since then?
Flip Spiceland: One word: computers! Actually, many people who are participating here today might be interested to know that CNN was the first computerized newsroom, and all of our newswires, news scripts and communication between ourselves was done by computers. It was the Basys system.
Question from Doris: I know they are predicting more hurricanes for this summer. Is there anyway to predict their paths far in advance?
Flip Spiceland: No. And don't put too much stock in the early hurricane predictions. They'll be updated as the summer goes along.
Question from Candyce-CNN: Are you going to be busy today reporting on the fires out west? Any news from there?
Flip Spiceland: I'm going across the hall to check in on that right now!
Chat Moderator: Do you have final thoughts or observations?
Flip Spiceland: It's been a fun ride for 20 years, and I'm sure CNN will go on long after I'm gone! And now, as I've done for the last 20 years, I have to go do the weather!
Chat Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us today!
Flip Spiceland: Thank you!
Flip Spiceland joined the CNN@20 chat from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. CNN provided a typist for Mr. Spiceland. The above is an edited transcript of the chat.
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