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Brian Williams broadcasts live from Cronkite School

November 17, 2009

Brian Williams hosted the “NBC Nightly News” live from the rooftop of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Nov. 17, the day before he was scheduled to accept the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.

Williams hosted the news from the northwest corner of the six-story building in downtown Phoenix with a view of Camelback Mountain in the distance. 

“Water is precious and contentious,” said Williams as he led into a story about water issues in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Williams also covered stories ranging from President Barack Obama’s trip to China to airline fees, taking his cues via an earpiece from the director of the newscast stationed in New York City. 

Broadcasting a network television newscast from a journalism school is “if not unprecedented, certainly unusual,” said Mark Lodato, the Cronkite news director who oversees Cronkite NewsWatch, the school’s student television newscast.

Lodato said an NBC crew arrived at the school early Monday morning to prepare for the broadcast, bringing with them tons of equipment including cameras, lights, monitors, tents, air conditioning units, computers and other electronics.  

The crew also ran about 400 feet of cable from the roof to an NBC satellite truck in the parking lot north of the school, said Jim Dove, the Cronkite School's chief broadcast engineer.

“Essentially, they’re building an outdoor set from scratch,” Lodato said. “It’s taking one of the most high-tech news operations in the world and putting it on the roof of our building.”

Williams promoted the live broadcast throughout the day from the set. The show went live at 4:30 p.m. for the East Coast audience and 5:30 p.m. for the West Coast.

Williams is to receive the 26th Cronkite Award Nov. 18 at the annual Cronkite Awards Luncheon, which each year honors one of the nation’s pre-eminent journalists. 

Williams, the anchor and managing editor of the nation’s top-rated evening network newscast, is the first sitting network news anchor to receive the Cronkite Award.

A 16-year veteran of NBC News, Williams also is the most decorated network evening news anchor. He has received four Edward R. Murrow awards, five Emmys, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award and the George Foster Peabody Award. In 2007, Time magazine named him one of the 100 “People Who Shape Our World.”

Williams became the seventh anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News” in 2004, replacing Tom Brokaw, who won the Cronkite Award three years ago.

Williams and NBC News President Steve Capus took time during the day Tuesday to talk to students, answer their questions and even critique their work. Williams did an impromptu question-and-answer session with Cronkite NewsWatch students in their sixth-floor newsroom, and Capus “went from edit bay to edit bay looking at the students’ work and critiquing it for them,” Lodato said. “They were incredibly generous with their time and attention.”

Lodato said the experience was “a terrific opportunity for students to see what goes into a broadcast of this caliber and to work adjacent to some of the most seasoned professional in the business.”

Senior Lindsey Worthy said having Williams and Capus in the newsroom was “surreal. It was awesome to sit down with one of the greatest news anchors,” she said. “And Mr. Capus personally took time to talk to us and give us advice. It was definitely a very cool day.”

The Cronkite building in downtown Phoenix opened its doors to students in August 2008.

The building features 14 professional newsrooms and digital media labs, two state-of-the-art television studios, nearly 1,000 classroom seats and 280 digital workstations for students. The Cronkite School shares the building with local public television affiliate Eight/KAET.