Chuck Roberts blew into Omaha the same day as the May 6, 1975, tornado that spread death and destruction. Covering the infamous storm was the newsman’s introduction to his new job as a KMTV reporter/anchor.
“We were wall to wall on that story for a couple of weeks working 12 hours a day,” he recalls.
Viewers may remember Roberts anchoring Today Show cut-ins and noon news. Later he was promoted to weeknight news co-anchoring with Jeff Jordan.
KMTV news director Mark Gautier, who hired him, had a good eye for talent. Gautier also hired Tom Brokaw, who went on to a national stage with NBC News. Roberts also ended up with a much wider audience after seven years in Omaha.
It started when Ted Turner took a liking to Roberts. The media mogul was launching the country’s first 24-hour cable news station, CNN2, which was renamed CNN Headline News one year later.
Turner sent scouts across the country to find talent to anchor his news. They found Roberts in Omaha. “They told me ‘Ted fancies you,’” Roberts explains, “and that I was a finalist. They said: ‘Can’t offer you a contract. Can’t pay what you’re making now,’” says Roberts of his soon-to-be pay cut.
He packed up a U-Haul and drove 1,000 miles to Atlanta and a new life.
Roberts became the first anchor on the first 24-hour national news network and his was the first face seen on camera when the station went live. The paint was still wet on the CNN set when the cameras rolled.
“We were told our job was threefold: look plausible, stay sober, and read the lines you’re given. Those were our marching orders.”
Roberts anchored four-hour weekday newscasts on CNN Headline News. He also was CNN’s election anchor. “I would drive to the Birmingham (Alabama) library and isolate myself and prep for election night. Election night 2000 was the most memorable. Went on the air at 6 p.m. and off air at 7 a.m.” the following morning.
In 2010, Roberts left CNN and an international television audience of 160 million viewers. After 28 years, he was the longest-serving anchor among all the CNN networks. He then spent three years carrying out media training sessions in eight provinces in China for his alma mater, the Missouri School of Journalism.
“We so-called experts were sent to teach media training to start up provincial-level news operations,” says Roberts. “It was a slow process. Everything had to be translated.”
The newsman’s enthusiasm for a broadcast career began near a Nebraska farm his family owned. “There was a radio station in the basement of a hotel in Falls City. I was fascinated by that as a 9-year-old.”
Roberts has high praise for the quality of broadcast news in this city. “Omaha is so much better than its market size and a great place to start a career. I learned my craft in Omaha.”
Because of his many acheivements, Roberts was inducted into the Omaha Press Club Journalists of Excellence Hall of Fame in June.