It may seem like communication is advancing more rapidly than ever before. But the telecommunications industry is constantly evolving, and broadcast pioneers like retired CNN manager Dan Gannon, now living in Paonia, led the industry.
At the beginning of Gannon’s career, new technologies were changing the dynamics of broadcast television.
In 1957 he began attending college at the University of California, majoring in telecommunications. That same year, he was hired at the ABC affiliate in Decatur, Ill.
“Everybody starts as a page,” Gannon said.
Prior to satellites, television used 16 mm reels of film to show popular programs such as “Bonanza.” That reel of film was distributed to the largest markets first, such as Denver, via Railway Express. Then the film was sent to middle markets, such as Albuquerque, N.M., and finally reached the smallest markets such as Yuma, Ariz., before the film was returned to its original distribution point in Burbank, Calif. The smallest markets often were three weeks behind in viewing the most current episodes.
Gannon’s job was to distribute and keep track of these film reels as they traveled across the country. In 1960 Gannon started working at the NBC affiliate in Southern California. He was quickly promoted to manager of broadcast operations. His job was to coordinate local and national programming, sporting events and commercials throughout the broadcast day.
In the early 1960s satellites began changing the way broadcast stations could communicate with each other. The wait for programming went from weeks to just a matter of minutes.
Gannon, like most Americans, remembers the first significant news event that tested the advancements in broadcast communications.
When President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas on Nov. 23, 1963, the entire nation relied on Gannon’s broadcast feed to explain what had happened.
“I called AT&T and said ‘I need Dallas now,’ ” Gannon said.
“At that instant everybody wanted it,” Gannon explained, as he remembered working with the many NBC affiliates to get a live feed from Dallas to as many major markets as possible.
“It was an easier microwave hop to Burbank from Dallas than from New York,” Gannon said. He was charged with distributing that feed as quickly as possible.
“It took me about an hour to get it to everybody,” he said.
It was the first of what would be many long and stressful days for Gannon over the course of his career. “It was kind of like responding to a horrific accident. You do what you have to do, then you go home and have a nervous breakdown,” he said with a laugh.
In 1975, Gannon decided to move his wife Jacquie, and their children to their family homestead in Paonia. They opened a retail business and tried to settle into life in a small town.
Gannon, however, was a born newshound and had a hard time not being involved in broadcast journalism. He worked as a freelance producer for KREX News Channel 5 in Grand Junction.
In the meantime, cable television was becoming more widely available to subscribers, once again changing the way people received their broadcasts. With that, a wide variety of new television stations were created, which opened new avenues for job opportunities in broadcast. “ESPN was just starting and most of their people were from NBC,” Gannon said.
After selling his business, Gannon left Paonia for a brief summer job in Bristol, Conn., with newly formed ESPN. That led to the opportunity to be the manager of broadcast operations for Satellite News Channel, a start-up cable channel owned by Ted Turner, future founder of CNN and transformer of the cable industry.
SNC was the first 24-hour, all-news station.
“I covered every major news event after that,” Gannon said.
But, as with several other Ted Turner ventures, SNC failed in 1982.
It came as a surprise to Gannon and his staff. They were told the station would be taken off the air that morning. Retired and off-duty police officers watched as the employees were given their belongings and escorted out of the building.
“And that elevator only went down,” Gannon said.
Gannon landed a new job the following week managing the operations of NBC, in charge of getting such widely known shows such as “Dateline” and the “Today” show on air.
In 1986 another major development hit the broadcast industry — portable uplinks also known as PUPs.
The uplinks could be transmitted from satellite trucks, which allowed journalists to broadcast information nearly instantly from remote locations.
NBC wanted to utilize this new technology with their affiliate stations. Gannon volunteered.
They started a new company, Skycom, and offered to pay $150,000 to help any station purchase a satellite truck.
“They gave them five years to pay back millions. It was all paid off in just 14 months,” Gannon said.
Gannon was the manager of NBC News and the field producer for NBC News Skycom until 1993.
His job required him to travel, on a moment’s notice, wherever major news was happening. He coordinated the uplink for national broadcast. It meant working with local officials, blocking space for the truck, contacting AT&T for multiple phone lines, and helping local talent.
Within two hours of arrival, an event such as Hurricane Hugo would be broadcast live on 70 stations, with feeds into Australia and Japan.
Hurricanes, political primaries, space shuttle launches and the Daytona 500 are memorable events for Gannon.
“The part I liked the best was seeing part of the country that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen,” he said. “I liked to go to the scene, get it running and then just meeting all the people.”
NBC moved Skycom headquarters to North Carolina in 1993. Gannon took a job at CNN in New York City.
Eight years later, one terrible day essentially ended his career in broadcast.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Gannon was in the CNN control room of the Union Trades Building just blocks from the World Trade Center. He watched from the 23rd floor as the second plane hit the tower.
The newsroom broke into a chaotic scene.
Gannon rallied his reporters, directing them to gather as many particle masks as possible, and began routing the broadcast signal feed, which had been on top of the towers, to the Empire State building.
“It was exceedingly hectic,” Gannon said.
For three weeks, Gannon lived in the office. “We slept under our desks,” he said.
He described the city as resembling a “war zone.” It was intense and emotional. It was an event that encompassed the worst and the best of human behavior, he said.
He recalled the day he finally took the train back to his home in Derby, Conn. The train driver was elated to see him. “God, we thought we lost you,” he said to Gannon.
“It’s times like that when the intense personal touch overrides all the other evil,” Gannon said.
“9/11 was the most significant event for me. It was just this ongoing, greater catastrophe and I was done,” he said.
Just five months later, Gannon ended his 47-year career in broadcasting.
Gannon drove four U-Haul trucks to a newly constructed house in Paonia.
“Oh, it was wonderful,” Gannon said, remembering the feeling of being embraced by the small town again.
Gannon has a new outlook on life and is enjoying the quieter pace of retirement.
He’s written three novels and one screenplay. He’s the senior Grand Warden for Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Colorado. With a little luck, he’s hoping to become Grand Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is a Shriner.
Old habits are hard to break though, and most days Gannon has an all-news station on quietly in the background.
He admits to still getting fired up when a large news event happens.
“I’m always going to be a news junkie.”