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If you like Dan Rather's story, you might also like:
George H.W. Bush,
Sam Donaldson,
Nicholas Kristof,
Charles Kuralt,
Peggy Noonan,
Neil Sheehan
and Mike Wallace

Dan Rather's recommended reading: The Holy Bible

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Dan Rather
Dan Rather
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Dan Rather Interview (page: 7 / 9)

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  Dan Rather

Before you were 25, if I read correctly, you had worked for AP and UPI and radio stations. You really went after it the same way you went after a football scholarship.

Dan Rather: I did. I went after it hard. One, because I was driving for my dream, and by this time I was very much aware of it. I was only 19 or 20 years old. I think I graduated from college when I was 21. Number two, I needed the money to stay in school.

I worked for AP, and worked for UP, and worked with the old INS, the International News Service. Later I worked at a radio station. I was the sports information director at the college, which paid, I think, eight dollars a week. I did the statistics for the college teams. But this was a very strong learning curve period for me that I didn't realize at the time, but I was really soaking up a lot of education, skills that I could later use at the radio station. I did everything at the radio station. I was a disk jockey. I did live programs at night for the local funeral home. I sang with them when they sang the gospel choir. I did play-by-play football, basketball, baseball, track. Whoever heard of doing play by play track? I did it. And I did it all. Football? I did junior high school football on Wednesday. I did the black high school football games on Thursday. This was a segregated society in the 1940s. I did the high school football games -- white high school games -- on Friday, and I did the college games on Saturday. That's a lot of air time. A lot of time to be ad libbing. And I didn't realize at the time but I was in the process of making myself a very strong ad libber. I don't mean that in any conceited way but just -- you can't do that much live broadcasting and not develop the ability to ad lib. And under Hugh Cunningham's tutelage I was reading great books because he demanded that we do that, and also putting a newspaper together. So this was a busy time. It was a tremendous learning curve for me.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

Did you ever have any self-doubts?

Dan Rather: Oh sure. I had all kinds of self-doubts. I had a lot of doubts about how I was going to make it, but I never doubted I was going to make it. I think I got that from my mother. I knew I was going to make it if there was a way to make it, and I thought there was but I didn't exactly know how.

At what point did you realize your calling might be broadcasting and not newspapers?

Dan Rather: That came late. All through college my intention was to be a newspaper man, and that was my dream. I was at the radio station but I wasn't thinking of a career in radio. Radio and radio broadcasting was a way to keep myself in school. It was kind of fun after I got the hang of it, but I didn't think of being in radio.

Dan Rather Interview Photo
The Korean War started in the winter of 1950, and I got to Sam Houston at just about that time. I wasn't smart enough to realize what was happening to tell you the truth. We had no ROTC, there was no reserve unit, and our campus fairly quickly got decimated with young men who were either in reserve units in their hometowns or were being drafted. I'm a child of World War II and I was at the most impressionable age during World War II. Partly because of that, I had a strong sense of patriotism that had to do with military service. That was very common then. It was very real to me. It sounds crazy now, but I was afraid the Korean War would end and I wouldn't get into it, that I wouldn't have a chance to serve.

I talked to my mother about going to the service and I do not exaggerate that with great tears she just said, "Look, you got into college. You've got to finish." I said, "Listen, I'll go to the service and I'll come back and-- " but she wouldn't hear of it. She just said, "Look, you got there, you've got to finish." And she also said, "The war will go on forever if that's what you're worried about. It'll go on forever." I talked about it the first year I was at college. I talked about it with Hugh Cunningham. The war dragged on. I wasn't scheduled to graduate until 1954 but graduated in the summer of '53 and volunteered for the Marines. I graduated early because I wanted to go in the service.

The Korean War was at that stage where they were having peace talks. It was on and off, on and off, and the Marines didn't take me until the start of 1954, although I had graduated in '53 from college. I taught journalism in college that semester while I was waiting. I had already volunteered for the Marines but I was waiting to actually go. I went in the Marines, had one of the shortest and least distinguished careers in the whole history of the Marine Corps and came out.

There was a kind of recession on and I had a very hard time finding a job. In answer to your question, you know, when did I know broadcasting was going to be the way, I interviewed for a lot of jobs when I came out of the Marines and got none, and I was beginning to get desperate. You know, I was working odd jobs to keep my head above water. I got what -- looking back on it -- amounted to a tryout with the Houston Chronicle. This was the big thing. The Chronicle was the biggest newspaper. And here I was within spitting distance of the dream at the Chronicle, but the Chronicle owned a radio station, a big 50,000 watt radio station. Looking back on it, they quickly figured out -- I think partly because I was such a poor speller -- that I wasn't going to be a newsroom star at the Houston Chronicle. But I had worked at the radio station in Huntsville for three years so I went to work, if you will, at the Chronicle's radio station. And when I got to the radio station -- this was not my dream job, it was just -- it was a full-time job, full-time work. A guy named Bob Hart was the news director there, and he gave me a break. He put me on and I loved it from the second I got into it. I mean, this was a real reporting job! I covered city hall, police beat, local courts. It was real reporting. Real beat reporting.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

I basically wrote newscasts for Bob Hart, the news director, but he also let me do some on-the-air work. Looking back on it, he shouldn't have done that because I was terrible. Yes, I had all this radio experience and I thought I was good, but I had worked at a 250 watt radio station. Now I was in big time radio -- certainly for Texas. But frankly, I loved it so and Bob Hart gave me enough leeway that I became pretty good at it. So I thought I'd found my home. No longer did I dream of being a newspaper person. Once in a while I'd say, "I'm going to hitchhike to San Francisco. I'm going to work in San Francisco." But in my heart of hearts I knew I wasn't. I had a good, steady job. It didn't pay much but it was a good job. From that time on, this would have been about 1954-55, 55-56, I was hooked on radio and I loved it. I broke stories about hurricanes, did murder cases. It was pretty exciting stuff. I became the news director at the radio station.

Dan Rather Interview Photo
That led eventually to being offered a job, which I almost did not take, at the television station in Houston, KHOU. I had been at the radio station five or six years. I was making, I think, $9,200 a year, which was not good but I was making it. The television job paid about the same but it was guaranteed. The radio wasn't guaranteed so I shifted to television more or less by accident. The television station in Houston that I went to work for was the third station in the market but it was trying to build a news reputation. It was a team effort. We took the station from third to first in the ratings, which even then was a big deal. We covered the big hurricane fairly well. Somebody at CBS saw and heard it and they hired me at CBS.

Do you remember what they saw and heard?

Dan Rather: This was the largest hurricane on record, Hurricane Carla in the fall of 1961. I had taken our operation to Galveston Island, which was in the path of the hurricane and we eventually became marooned on Galveston Island, and we broadcast around the clock from there. We were a CBS affiliate and because it was such a huge hurricane, CBS began monitoring what we were doing. That's about as much as I know about it. The hurricane was my great break. It was the break from a local affiliated station to coming to the network.

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