First Man on the Moon Has TV Networks in Orbit

Apollo 11 Coverage
Central Press/Getty Images

‘The World’s Greatest Single Broadcast’

That 31-hour tv super-special scheduled for next Sunday (20), and lasting through midday Monday (21), will be “the world’s greatest single broadcast,” in the view of Robert Wussler, exec producer of CBS’ coverage. Wussler says that not only will the man landing be “a most historic event, but our own coverage will be up to matching it.” That same sense of pride and anticipation, of course, is shared at the other two tv webs and four radio networks as they firm up coverage plans.

The combined tv and radio webs are spending an estimated $13,000, 000 on Apollo 11 coverage. That figures to $5,000,000 each for NBC and CBS a $2,500,000 production nut plus $2,500,000 more in preemption costs), and a combined $3,000,000 tab for ABC. That’s about what Election Night ’68 cost the networks.

The worldwide audience for the two-and-a-half-hour moon walk, scheduled to begin at 2:12 a.m. Eastern time Monday, is put at between 350,000,000 and 500,000,000 people. As for U.S. viewership, between the landing and moon walk, from 125,000,000 to 150,000,000 Americans are due to tune in. That will make it the most watched event of all time ‘in the U.S., despite the lateness of the hour.

Neil A. Armstrong at Ellington AFB in training for Apollo 11 moon landing, flying lunar training vehicle. photo credit: Lynn Pelham/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images


Sci-Fi & What-Not The tv webs are matching the epochal nature of the event being covered with some precedent-breaking innovations of their own. A unique aspect is the wedding of science fiction with science fact, as CBS and ABC in particular line up leading sci-fi scribes as guest “experts.” On CBS, Arthur C. Clarke (author of “2001: A Space Odyssey”) will serve as a “special consultant” in the same studio as Cronkite, and Orson (“War of the Worlds”) Welles will appear live from London. Welles will narrate a science-fiction film prepared by CBS News.

On ABC, clips from the famous sci-fi flicks will be unspooled, together with commentary by Life movie critic Richard Schickel. ABC’s coverage will also feature a panel of sci-fi writers moderated by Rod Serling. Panelists are Isaac Asimov, Frederick Pohl, and John R. Pierce, who writes under the name of J.J. Coupling.

ABC has also engaged Marshall McLuhan and Bill Moyers to comment on the philosophical implications of the moon flight.

Along with the marriage of science fiction and science fact, tv’s moon coverage will feature a rather unusual mating of entertainment with news. The four-hour NBC “special-within-a-special,” scheduled for Sunday, will be hosted by John Chancellor and Aline Saarinen, and cohosted by Danny Kaye. Actors Van Heflin and James Earl Jones and actress Julie Harris will appear in dramatic readings. Also taking part are Rod McKuen, Marya Mannes, Michael Crichton and James Simon Kunen. Special will air during the astronauts’ rest period, prior to their emergence on the lunar surface.


ABC-TV has engaged the services of Steve Allen, with a repertoire of pop songs of the June-moon-spoon genre. Even more strikingly, ABC has commissioned Duke Ellington to compose and perform an original piece of music to mark man’s landing on the moon. The 10-minute composition, entitled “Moon Maiden,” will be sung by Ellington (in his public debut as a singer), during ABC’s marathon moon coverage.

As in all previous space missions, the seven-network pool (representing the three tv and four radio networks) will play a focal role. The pool budget for Apollo 11 is approximately $1,500,000. ABC is in overall charge of the combo, with NBC handling pickups at the Cape, CBS in charge of Mission Control at Houston, and ABC assigned downrange pickups. As always, Mutual provides the audio from the downrange carrier (the USS Hornet).

Late last week, ABC’s Darryl Griffin, pool producer, was making last-minute preparations. Griffin says that, by the nature of the story, the detailed info needed to intelligently plan coverage was not available until the last three or four weeks, thereby taxing all parties, including the telephone company, “to the nth degree.” For example, no one knew the President would be on the downrange carrier until last week.

Indies Latch On

Griffin says that the number of subscribers to the Apollo 11 pool is a record. Many independent radio and tv stations in the U.S. are hooking up at quite modest expense, thereby enhancing their coverage with a service almost comparable to a network’s.

The Apollo 11 pool, the “largest ever, has 35 cameras spread around the nation. Griffin has set up ICRs—international control rooms—to coordinate for all U.S. networks feeds from Europe and Asia.

The American networks plan extensive use of “remotes” via satellite from overseas as part of their 31-hour marathon coverage. The most exciting “remotes,” of course, will be the ones from the moon. These will be made possible by use of two Westinghouse cameras: a color camera aboard the command vehicle and a black- &-white model installed on the lunar module. The camera on the LEM, similar to those used on Apollo missions prior to 10, is monochrome because the manufacturer did not have enough time to build a color version to fit the LEM’s configuration.

Wotta Travelog!

The path of the signal from the moon to viewers’ homes is itself quite intriguing. From the camera on the moon’s surface it travels to the NASA ground station in Parke, Australia; thence via Pacific satellite to the U.S. ground station at Jamesburg, Calif.; from there by land line to NASA’s Mission Control in Houston, where NASA releases it to the pool and the pool distributes it to the three U.S. networks in Houston and in New York. All that takes place in a fraction of a second.

For broadcasters in Asia and Europe the signal then travels back to Jamesburg, Calif., from where it goes up on the Pacific satellite on its way to a Japanese ground station, and then travels across land lines in Japan to a second ground station; from there to an Indian Ocean satellite and thence to the European Broadcasting Union ground station in Raisting, Germany. All this, too, in just a fraction of a second (a circuitous path necessitated by the trouble that developed recently in the Atlantic satellite).

South American stations would normally take the feed off the Atlantic satellite. At last report COMSAT and INTELSAT were hatching some substitute arrangement for the Latino lands.

Call-in Out

Meanwhile, ABC-TV’s plans to turn part of its coverage into a call-in show may be thwarted by “technical difficulties.” ABC had hoped to enable viewers across the country to phone in space queries to its newsmen and guest experts in Gotham. But AT&T reportedly fears an overload of its equipment, so now it looks like ABC’s call-in show will have to be scrubbed.

A more serious possibility is a postponement of the Apollo 11 mission itself. If launch is postponed from today (Wed.), it could be reset for Friday (18), Saturday (19) or Monday (21). Should some serious difficulty arise, precluding any launch within the next week, the Apollo 11 mission would then be put off a full month—until the morning of Aug. 14.

The networks of course are mindful of these eventualities, including the possibility of an Apollo shot just before the start of the fall season, with all the havoc that would wreck on the best laid plans of mice, men and network prexies. Network newsmen have a different concern: the “battle fatigue” that threatens whenever big events come in twos, threes or fours. The same crews who handled coverage of Prince Charles’ investiture are involved in planning for the lunar landing. Then there’s President Nixon’s scheduled trip to several Asian nations and Rumania, July 24 through Aug. 3. And—assuming a launch and return on schedule—the astronauts will come out of quarantine on Aug. 12-13, at which time quite a celebration is planned. Due at the end of this month are live Mariner pix from Mars, and a new Papal visit is reportedly in the offing.

The 31 hours of moon landing coverage will themselves present something of an endurance test for web newsmen rivalling last Election Night. Anchormen such as CBS’ Walter Cronkite, NBC’s Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Frank McGee and ABC’s Frank Reynolds and Jules Bergman are expected to be on duty during most of those 31 hours, with some occasional breaks for abbreviated slumber.

Germany’s Live Coverage

Mainz, July 15. – Second German TV Net is planning live color coverage of Apollo ll’s excursion to the moon.

Direct programs originate at the start of the space flight tomorrow (Wed.) and continue until July 24. The net is erecting a special studio in Hamburg with a lifesized model of the space ship, and with two specialists following through with details.