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Sig Mickelson

Sig Mickelson, who helped build CBS News during the early days of television and helped make Walter Cronkite a national news figure, died March 24 of natural causes in San Diego. He was 86.

Mickelson, the first president of CBS News, began working for CBS Radio in 1943, then was put in charge of news and public affairs at CBS Television in 1951.

He founded the Radio and Television News Directors Assn. and was its president from 1948 to 1949.

“Sig was undoubtedly one of the pioneers of television news,” Cronkite said. “Much of what we accomplished can be traced to his leadership in the founding days of this incredible medium.”

Mickelson reshaped news coverage from showing standard newsreel footage to hiring journalists to report and produce the news. Under Mickelson’s direction, CBS covered television’s first big news event — the plenary session of the United Nations on Sept. 4, 1951.

His accomplishments also include arranging the first commercially sponsored TV broadcast of a political event, the 1952 conventions; he assigned Cronkite to anchor the broadcasts.

“It is for his selection of Walter Cronkite that Sig will be remembered forever,” said Don Hewitt, who directed coverage of the conventions and went on to create the news magazine “60 Minutes.”

Mickelson also hired Fred Friendly to collaborate with Edward R. Murrow on “See It Now,” a documentary series famed for a piece that led to the downfall of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1954. Friendly later became president of CBS News.

In 1953, Mickelson oversaw the first same-day U.S. broadcast of a foreign event: the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Mickelson later taught at Northwestern U., San Diego State U. and Louisiana State U., and wrote seven books, including “The Decade That Shaped Television News,” published in 1998.

Mickelson is survived by his wife and two children.

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