John Chancellor

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John Chancellor
John Chancellor White House1970.jpg
Chancellor at the White House in 1970
John William Chancellor

(1927-07-14)July 14, 1927
DiedJuly 12, 1996(1996-07-12) (aged 68)
EducationUniversity of Illinois
Years active1952–1993
Known for Today (1961-1962)
NBC Nightly News
Anchor (1970–1982)
Editor/Commentator (1982–1993)
Spouse(s)Connie Chancellor [1]
Barbara Upshaw (second wife)

John William Chancellor (July 14, 1927 – July 12, 1996) was an American journalist who spent most of his career with NBC News. He is considered a pioneer in TV news. [2] He served as anchor of the NBC Nightly News from 1970 to 1982 and continued to do editorials and commentaries for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw until 1993.


Early career

Chancellor attended the University of Illinois Navy Pier campus, completing the last two years of instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1949. Originally a copy boy at 14 for the Chicago Daily News and hired in 1947 to be a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times , he started his career in local television in Chicago, eventually turning to national television news in 1950 at the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), which was now four years into expanding its news coverage after two decades exclusively on the medium of radio to reach a nation-wide audience with increasing boom sales of television sets for the home since the network moved into the additional medium of visual media in 1946 after the suspension of World War II (1939/1941-1945). A few years later saw him as a correspondent on NBC's new 15 minutes evening newscast, the Huntley-Brinkley Report with the team Chet Huntley (in New York City) and David Brinkley (from Washington, D.C.), to which he would be linked for the next two decades on the staff of growing NBC News.

Early years, NBC/Voice of America

John Chancellor, Frank Blair and Edwin Newman in The Today Show, 1961. Today show 1961.JPG
John Chancellor, Frank Blair and Edwin Newman in The Today Show, 1961.

Chancellor covered issues of national importance while on The Huntley-Brinkley Report.

Chancellor covered the 1957 racial integration of the Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Chancellor showed the world through the personal enlightenment of the television camera lens that a lone black girl, Elizabeth Eckford, only wanted to attend school, with a white chanting yelling mob around her. After his coverage, a crowd of angry segregationists occasionally threatening and harassing, would follow him frequently when setting up to make his on-site reports. [3]

Chancellor spent a number of years in the late 1950s as a foreign correspondent in Europe, with postings in Vienna, London, Moscow, and Brussels (NATO military headquarters), bringing the world on NBC News television programs to American viewers.

In July 1961, Chancellor replaced Dave Garroway as the second host / anchor of NBC's Today morning news / features program, a role he filled for only a brief fourteen months. Never comfortable with the genial persona required of a Today anchor, Chancellor asked for, and was granted, a release from his contract with the show s year later in the summer of 1962. He left the program in September, and assumed a role as political correspondent for NBC News. He, Frank McGee, Edwin Newman, and Sander Vanocur comprised a team that covered the national presidential nominating conventions of the political parties in the 1960s so well, they were dubbed by industry media observers as the "Four Horsemen."

At the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco / Daley City at the Cow Palace in California, he was arrested on the floor of the convention by city police on special security duty for refusing to cede his spot on that area of the convention hall floor to "Goldwater Girls," supporters of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. When security came to get him, he was forced to sign off while on live TV between two escorting guards saying: "I've been promised bail, ladies and gentlemen, by my office. This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody." to anchor David Brinkley up in the NBC News network overhead booth saying laughingly "Call us, when you can John"!!!!

He later then became the director of the Broadcasting service of the Voice of America of the United States Information Agency in 1965, at the request of 36th President Lyndon B. Johnson,. joining the administration in its promotion overseas internationally of American values and views, a spot he held later until 1967.

Anchor, NBC Nightly News

However, he returned to NBC in 1968 as senior correspondent on the Huntley Brinkley Report and, two years later when Chet Huntley retired, Chancellor stepped in to anchor the broadcast, renamed NBC Nightly News , a spot he held from 1970 to 1982; this job became the defining point of his career. Inaugurating the name and setting the pace of the format of Nightly News, from 1970 to 1971, Chancellor, along with David Brinkley and Frank McGee, was one of three anchors who rotated in a co-anchor duo format, held over from Huntley-Brinkley. NBC arranged the rotation by having McGee always broadcast from New York City and Brinkley continue at his customary Washington desk. If McGee did not anchor on a broadcast, Chancellor did from New York; if Brinkley did not, Chancellor filled in from Washington. NBC did not have separate weekend anchors during this period, as it had just inaugurated a Sunday evening newscast in August 1970, so this format was employed seven days a week.

A perceived lack of stability in this arrangement prompted NBC to go with Chancellor full-time (McGee later moved to The Today Show ). From August 9, 1971 to June 4, 1976, Chancellor became the sole weeknight anchor (Garrick Utley and others took over weekend duties), stationed at the New York NBC headquarters, with Brinkley reduced to contributing pre-recorded commentaries, titled David Brinkley's Journal, about two to three times per week from Washington. Facing the continued popularity of top-rated CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, NBC Nightly News returned to a co-anchor format from June 7, 1976 until October 9, 1979 with Brinkley resuming his old role at the NBC Washington desk; internal disputes within NBC management prompted the network to remove Brinkley from Nightly News, assigning him to occasional documentaries until his departure for ABC in 1981.

Although Chancellor was a respected, well-spoken journalist and noted author in his own right, his broadcast ratings were eclipsed by Walter Cronkite in the 1970s, when CBS Evening News had become the most popular of the three network weeknight broadcasts. Toward the end of Chancellor's tenure, ABC, for the first time ever, became competitive with NBC and CBS with its World News Tonight.

"Red" and "blue" state concepts

Chancellor has the distinction of creating the idea of using colors to represent the states won by presidential candidates in presidential elections. For the 1976 presidential election Chancellor suggested to his network's engineers that they create a large electronic map of the United States and place it in the network's election-night news studio. If Jimmy Carter, the Democratic candidate, won a state it would light up in red; if Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate, carried a state it would light up in blue. Chancellor, when asked about the color scheme, sought to tie the British Labour's red to the American Democrats; British Conservatives using blue as their ribbon color. By 2000, all the traditional broadcast networks had adopted the present model, though with the colors switched; red for Republicans (as both begin with the same letter), and blue for Democrats. [4]

Television career

Later years, post-Nightly News

Chancellor anchored the Nightly News for 12 years, remaining nostalgic voice and example of journalism excellence of the 1970s decade into the 1980s, appearing most daily evenings reporting to millions of Americans, through April 2, 1982, when he was succeeded by a co-anchor team of Tom Brokaw (former Today show host / White House correspondent), and Roger Mudd (formerly reporter and substitute anchor for CBS News).

Chancellor remained on the program, providing editorial commentaries until his final retirement from NBC over a decade later on July 9, 1993. During this time of his commentaries, he defined himself as a "paragrapher", expressing his skill as a "wordsmith" in 1993, just before his retirement. [5]

In 1992, the year before his NBC retirement, Chancellor was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Chancellor was the narrator of Baseball , a multi-part sports historical documentary series by writer/producer Ken Burns, broadcast on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1994. [6]

He also wrote a book, Peril and Promise, which was published in 1991.

The John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism is awarded annually by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. [7] It was established in 1995 and administered by the Annenberg Public Policy Center until 2004. It is now awarded by the School of Journalism at Columbia.


Upon retirement, Chancellor moved to Princeton, New Jersey, enjoying only a brief but productive three years of retirement, where he unfortunately later died of stomach cancer, July 12, 1996, two days before his 69th birthday. Chancellor was survived by the former Barbara Upshaw, his second wife. He had two daughters and a son. His passing was announced and memorialized on all three major TV news networks in America, with obituaries in most major American daily newspapers.


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  1. Gudelunas, David (2007). Confidential to America: Newspaper Advice Columns and Sexual Education. Edison, NJ: Transaction. p. 234. ISBN   978-1-4128-0688-6.
  2. Services, Tribune News. "JOHN CHANCELLOR, 68; PIONEER IN TV NEWS". Retrieved 2019-11-16.
  3. Barron, James (1996-07-13). "John Chancellor, Professorial Anchor And Commentator at NBC, Is Deadat 68". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2019-12-18.
  4. Enda, Jodi. "When Republicans Were Blue and Democrats Were Red". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  5. "N B C N e w s J o h n C h a n c e l l o r VEERY Interview". V E E R Y J O U R N A L. Retrieved 2019-08-25. Interview with Steven Vita.
  6. Full cast and crew for "Baseball" (1994).
  7. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism:Site Map Archived 2008-08-30 at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved on 2012-06-23.
  8. "Paul White Award". Radio Television Digital News Association . Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  9. John Chancellor on the Lincoln Academy site, 1988
Media offices
Preceded by
Dave Garroway
Today Show Host
July 17, 1961 – September 14, 1962
Succeeded by
Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters
Preceded by
Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, The Huntley-Brinkley Report
NBC Nightly News Anchor
August 1, 1970 – April 2, 1982
(with David Brinkley and Frank McGee until August 8, 1971,
solely until June 4, 1976, again with Brinkley
until October 9, 1979, and with Washington sub-anchor Roger Mudd from November 17, 1980 until April 2, 1982.)
Succeeded by
Tom Brokaw and Roger Mudd