Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

HUNTLEY, CHET (1911-1974)

Chester Robert Huntley, the national news broadcaster and commentator, was born on December 10, 1911, in Cardwell, Montana. His father, Percy Adams "Pat" Huntley, was a railroad telegrapher; his mother, Blanche Wadine Tatham, was a former schoolteacher whose relatives had crossed the Plains in a covered wagon. His early life on a northern Montana ranch near the small town of Saco and in a succession of railroad towns in southern Montana greatly influenced his outlook on life and his reporting style, instilling in him a work ethic and an independent stance.

Huntley's broadcasting career began early. His father copied down play-by-play reports of World Series baseball games as they came over the wire. Huntley announced the action out the depot window to the assembled fans. He graduated from Whitehall High School in 1929 and studied at Montana State College at Bozeman and the Cornish School of Arts in Seattle, Washington, before transferring to the University of Washington at Seattle, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1934.

While still a student, Chet Huntley worked at radio stations in Seattle and Spokane before transferring to kgw in Portland, Oregon. He then worked in Los Angeles for NBC (1937– 39), CBS (1939–51), and ABC (1951–55). In 1956 he moved to New York City, where he did a ten-minute radio commentary (Chet Huntley ), a Sunday afternoon television program, and a Saturday evening news program. Huntley's reporting style included commentary, although he was quick to note he was not interested in advocacy journalism.

Also in 1956 Huntley was teamed with David Brinkley, NBC's Washington correspondent, to broadcast the national political conventions. They worked so well together that NBC placed them on a fifteen-minute evening newscast, with Huntley in New York City and Brinkley in Washington DC. They did their first program on October 20, 1956. The newscast expanded to half an hour in 1963. NBC executives hoped that Huntley's solemn demeanor, serious tone, and rich voice would help compete with CBS's Edward R. Murrow.

The Huntley-Brinkley Report was an instant success. The show's closing signature ("Good night, Chet. Good night, David. And good night for NBC News") became familiar to the 20 million viewers they reached at the peak of their popularity. Their ratings remained high up to Huntley's departure July 31, 1970. The partnership helped mold the nightly national newscast into the principal daily news source now enjoyed by many Americans. The Huntley-Brinkley Report won every major news award, including seven Emmy Awards, four Peabody Awards, and two Overseas Press Club Awards.

Huntley had left cbs in 1951 because his bosses were unhappy with his liberal commentary and because he refused to sign a loyalty oath. One of his most controversial moves came on March 29, 1967, when he crossed picket lines set up by striking members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). His coanchor, David Brinkley, honored the strike. Huntley said at the time he did not think newsmen belonged in a union with singers and dancers.

Huntley stayed active in retirement. He broadcast commentaries, advertised for American Airlines, and got the company to sponsor a television series, The American Experience. He also joined an advertising firm, Levine, Huntley, Schmidt, Inc. Chet Huntley died March 20, 1974, three days before the opening ceremonies for his twenty-five-million-dollar recreational complex called Big Sky near Bozeman.

Peter E. Mayeux University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Chet Huntley Papers (1911–74), Montana State University Library, Bozeman.

Huntley, Chet. The Generous Years: Remembrances of a Frontier Boyhood. New York: Random House, 1968.

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