He loved the variety of his job, the breaking news stories that came with the territory. Among his most memorable moments: The Challenger explosion in 1986, the Berlin Wall falling in 1989, the 2000 election and more recently, the airplane landing on the Hudson River last year.
“Every day was a thrill and an adrenaline rush,” he said. He said he’ll miss his team, many who have been with him for 15 to 20 years. “I feel like an appendage is being cut off,” he noted.
Here’s the note he sent to colleagues:
I can't leave without saying how much I admire and respect all of you. I'm so grateful for your support and friendship; it was for the most part undeserved. We've created something from nothing. We used to be a punch line. HLN today is a total PLAYER. You made it happen.
Remember, I'll still be there with you. Every pit maneuver that ends a chase on the '101′, and whenever a barricaded suspect prompts a school lockdown, I'll be there. Every time a bombshell starlet checks into re-hab, I'll be there. When a packed airliner lands in the icy Hudson River – and they all get out o-k – you better know I'll be there. It won't be the adrenaline rush of turning three or four known facts into twenty minutes of air, but I'll be there.
Thanks for all you do. And all you're still doing.
Stay thirsty, my friends.
Chuck, I speak for the whole team, you are our captain, you always will be our captain. We love you to pieces, you know, it's been an honor and a privilege to sit with you, to watch you, to learn from you. And, you know, at the end of the day we're all better people for knowing you…I love you, buddy, always with you.
And Roberts’ last words on HLN:
"You know what? It's entirely appropriate to take the half minute we got left on the show to tell you how much I appreciate your decades of support for me and the team," Roberts said at the close of his broadcast. "The people who put this particular block of shows together and on the air are veterans…They're dedicated professionals. I'm in their debt as I'm in yours. So thanks, everybody. Goodbye. Thank you very much."
Roberts was there when CNN2 debuted January 1, 1982. “The paint wasn’t even dry on the set when we started,” he said. That became Headline News and now HLN:
He said Ted Turner in 1981, a year after CNN launched, heard about a competitor starting a rival network focused on a "wheel of news," in which news was repeated and updated every 30 minutes. He hired a bunch of young anchors from markets such as Baton Rouge, Edmonton and in the case of Roberts, Omaha. Among the more notable ones were Bobbie Battista and Lynne Russell. He said the starting salary was less than $40,000 but that was perfectly fine in Atlanta in 1982.
For Roberts, this was an exciting opportunity to go national, even if CNN2, as it was called, only had maybe one million subscribers from day one and would take five or six years to gain enough viewers to make money. (Turner would end up buying out the rival.) Roberts started in the afternoon and never left that shift – until last Friday.
“It was a great deal of fun,” he said. “We were a family.”
Though he admitted early on that they felt like “junior associates” to parent cable network CNN, he said over time, Headline News (as the network soon became) established its own identity. And once the Internet became the breaking news home in the early 2000s and ratings began to erode, Headline News began to pivot at least its mornings and prime time to more personality. The transition worked. And now it’s called HLN and some days beats CNN in ratings during certain time period.
“I’m leaving on a high note,” he said. “HLN’s ratings this summer have been terrific.”
Roberts thinks there is still a place for straight news in a world increasingly partisan. “CNN still has great reach,” he said. “It’s delivered on so many platforms. CNN.com is a leader. CNN International is seen all over the world. When you have a breaking story, people will still gravitate to CNN.”
In other HLN news, former morning host Richard Lui has landed as a dayside anchor on MSNBC, moving from Atlanta to New York. He starts August 30. (Full disclosure: I worked with Richard as an officer in the Atlanta chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association.)
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