On this day in 1981, 25 million viewers tuned to CBS Evening News to watch Walter Cronkite’s final telecast as anchorman of the “CBS Evening News.”
The program started out as usual, with Cronkite introducing the big news of the day - a report on President Reagan’s press conference. But viewers had to wait until the final minute or so of the broadcast to hear Cronkite’s farewell message.
“This is my last broadcast as anchorman of the ‘CBS Evening News’,” he said. “For me, it’s a moment which I long have planned but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness - for almost two decades, after all, we’ve been meeting like this in the evenings and I’ll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure I’m afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. A great broadcaster and gentleman, Doug Edwards, preceded me in this job. And another, Dan Rather, will follow.
"And anyway" Cronkite Continued “the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists - writers, reporters, editors, producers. And none of that will change. Furthermore, I am not even going away. I’ll be back from time to time with special news reports and documentaries. And beginning in June every week with our science program, ‘Universe’.”
Cronkite ended his farewell with an update on Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s favorite line. “Old anchormen, you see, don’t fade away, they just keep coming back for more. And that’s the way it is Friday, March 6, 1981. I’ll be away on assignment and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.”