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Douglas Edwards, 73; TV Pioneer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Douglas Edwards, television’s first and longest-term anchorman and a broadcaster for 56 years, died Saturday in Sarasota, Fla., of cancer. He was 73.

The veteran CBS newsman began working for a Troy, Ala., radio station at age 15 and anchored CBS news shows from 1948 until 1988, when he retired because of the bladder cancer that eventually took his life.

“I guess he’s really been ill most of the two years since his retirement,” said his wife, May, who was with Edwards when he died at 10:40 a.m. in their retirement home.

Edwards, who preceded the only other two anchors of the “CBS Evening News,” Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather, wrote lightly in a Los Angeles Times article of his 40-year television tenure when he retired.

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“That’s a TV record that, with a buck, will get you a ride on the subway,” he said, “but I’m proud of it and it just might stand for a while.”

His biggest stories, he recalled for interviewers, were World War II, the sinking of the Andrea Doria, and the introduction of the Salk polio vaccine.

Among the most memorable people he had encountered, Edwards said, were Adlai Stevenson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Edward R. Murrow, Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Born July 14, 1917, in Ada, Okla., Edwards moved as a boy to Silver City, N.M., where his widowed mother taught. There, he reminisced years later, he discovered radio with a little crystal set that could bring in Denver and California and even Pittsburgh and Atlanta stations through the clear, mountain air.

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“It was a fascinating, mesmerizing new world,” he wrote in 1988. “The little voice inside me said, ‘That’s where you belong, on the radio one of these days.’ ”

Moving to Troy, Ala., Edwards was hired as a junior announcer when he was 15. For $2.50 a week--movie and hamburger money--he spun records, read poetry, and even sang songs such as “Night and Day” and “My Buddy.”

“Not well, mind you,” he recalled, “but I got by, got fan mail, and the ego was nourished.”

He began a pre-med course at the University of Alabama, but had to abandon college for lack of money during the Depression. Instead, Edwards went to work at WSB in Atlanta, broadcasting news and editing a radio column for the station owner, the Atlanta Journal.

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On March 13, 1938, he listened to CBS’ first “World News Roundup,” with Murrow in Vienna, William L. Shirer in London, Pierre Huss in Berlin and Bob Trout in New York.

“It was one whale of a broadcast, neatly integrated, technically perfect, full of meaty reporting . . . a clear first, inspiring, stirring,” he recalled 50 years later after helping the program, to which he frequently contributed, celebrate its anniversary.

“The inner voice said, ‘Go there. Go to CBS.’ ”

After four more years on local stations in Atlanta and Detroit, Edwards did move to the network in 1942.

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He began with CBS radio’s “Report to the Nation,” and “The World Today,” then served as chief of CBS News’ Paris Bureau. In 1947 he became the first major newsman to make the transition to television.

He anchored “CBS Afternoon News” and, beginning Aug. 15, 1948, “Douglas Edwards with the News,” the forerunner of today’s “CBS Evening News,” and remained in the anchor chair until Cronkite succeeded him in 1962.

Edwards continued anchoring various daytime news programs for CBS television, and continued contributing to radio as well, until the end of his career.

“It’s been a wonderful, sometimes daunting, always challenging 46 years (with CBS),” he wrote when he retired. “I shall miss it dreadfully, I’m sure. But I have loved it (and the pay ain’t bad, either) and consider myself among the more lucky mortals who got the chance to ride this way.”

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In 1987 Edwards was honored with the National Assn. of Broadcasters’ annual Radio Award for lifetime achievement.

Shortly after his retirement, he participated in a remake of the 1938 landmark broadcast “War of the Worlds,” posing as a commentator on “the end of civilization.” Nobody questioned the qualifications of that easily recognized voice.

In addition to his wife, Edwards is survived by three children from a previous marriage.

Services are planned Wednesday in Sarasota.

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