CNN was the brainchild of broadcasting executive Ted Turner as part of his Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), allegedly because industry professionals had told him it could not be done. After four years in development, CNN signed on the air at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on June 1, 1980.
After an introduction by Ted Turner, the husband and wife team of David Walker and Lois Hart anchored the channel's first newscast. The top news story of the night was then-President Carter’s arrival in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he was visiting civil rights leader-turned-adviser to Bill Clinton Vernon Jordan, who was “in serious but stable condition” following an assassination attempt on May 29. Gun violence got additional coverage with a story about Reggie Jackson, who had managed to duck a few shots following an argument over a parking space.
Also on the agenda was the upcoming Super Tuesday, four incidents of airliners running out of fuel just seconds after landing, “the first live satellite transmission to the Cable News Network” (from Jerusalem), increasing oil prices in Saudi Arabia, the first day of the 1980 hurricane season, and the kid who played Timmy on Lassie getting busted on cocaine charges.
The first hour wrapped up with a fairly awkward sign-off, courtesy of Hart, who audibly stumbled with how to “sign off” a 24-hour news network: "Stay with us. We’re going to have all kinds of news, sports, weather, and special … special features coming from now on and forever.
In its first years of operation, CNN lost money and was ridiculed as the Chicken Noodle Network. However, Turner continued to invest in building up the network’s news bureaus around the world. CNN eventually came to be known for covering live events around the world as they happened, often beating the major networks to the punch. The network gained significant traction with its live coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the network’s audience grew along with the increasing popularity of cable television during the 1990s and well into the new millennium.
You can watch the first hour here: