In 1929, the Columbia Broadcasting System began making regular radio news broadcasts—five-minute summaries taken from reports from the United Press, one of the three wire services that supplied newspapers with national and international news. In December 1930 CBS chief William S. Paley hired journalist Paul W. White away from United Press as CBS's news editor. Paley put the radio network's news operation at the same level as entertainment, and authorized White to interrupt programming if events warranted. Along with other networks, CBS chafed at the breaking news embargo imposed upon radio by the wire services, which prevented them from using bulletins until they first appeared in print. CBS disregarded an embargo when it broke the story of the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932, using live on-the-air reporting. Radio networks scooped print outlets with news of the 1932 presidential election.:485–486
In March 1933, White was named vice president and general manager in charge of news at CBS. As the first head of CBS News, he began to build an organization that soon established a legendary reputation.:486
In 1935, White hired Edward R. Murrow, and sent him to London in 1937 to run CBS Radio's European operation.:486 White led a staff that would come to include Charles Collingwood, William L. Shirer, Eric Sevareid, Bill Downs, John Charles Daly, Joseph C. Harsch:501 Cecil Brown, Elmer Davis, Quincy Howe, H. V. Kaltenborn, Robert Trout, and Lewis Shollenberger.
"CBS was getting its ducks in a row for the biggest news story in history, World War II", wrote radio historian John Dunning.:487
Upon becoming commercial station WCBW (channel 2, now WCBS-TV) in 1941, the pioneer CBS television station in New York City broadcast two daily news programs, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. weekdays, anchored by
Richard Hubbell. Most of the newscasts featured Hubbell reading a script with only occasional cutaways to a map or still photograph. When Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, WCBW (which was usually off the air on Sunday to give the engineers a day off), took to the air at 8:45 p.m. with an extensive special report. The national emergency even broke down the unspoken wall between CBS radio and television. WCBW executives convinced radio announcers and experts such as George Fielding Elliot and Linton Wells to come down to the Grand Central studios during the evening and give information and commentary on the attack. The WCBW special report that night lasted less than 90 minutes. But that special broadcast pushed the limits of live television in 1941 and opened up new possibilities for future broadcasts. As CBS wrote in a special report to the FCC, the unscheduled live news broadcast on December 7 "was unquestionably the most stimulating challenge and marked the greatest advance of any single problem faced up to that time."
Additional newscasts were scheduled in the early days of the war. In May 1942, WCBW (like almost all television stations) sharply cut back its live program schedule and the newscasts were canceled, since the station temporarily suspended studio operations, resorting exclusively to the occasional broadcast of films. This was primarily because much of the staff had either joined the service or were redeployed to war related technical research, and to prolong the life of the early, unstable cameras which were now impossible to repair due to the wartime lack of parts.
Douglas Edwards on the CBS news set in 1952.
In May 1944, as the war began to turn in favor of the Allies, WCBW reopened the studios and the newscasts returned, briefly anchored by Ned Calmer, and then by
Everett Holles. After the war, expanded news programs appeared on the WCBW schedule – whose call letters were changed to WCBS-TV in 1946 – first anchored by
Milo Boulton, and later by Douglas Edwards. On May 3, 1948, Edwards began anchoring CBS Television News, a regular 15-minute nightly newscast on the CBS television network, including WCBS-TV. It aired every weeknight at 7:30 p.m., and was the first regularly scheduled, network television news program featuring an anchor (the nightly Lowell Thomas NBC radio network newscast was simulcast on television locally on NBC's WNBT—now WNBC—for a time in the early 1940s and the previously mentioned Richard Hubbell, Ned Calmer, Everett Holles and Milo Boulton on WCBW in the early and mid-1940s, but these were local television broadcasts seen only in New York City). NBC's offering at the time, NBC Television Newsreel (which premiered in February 1948), was simply film footage with voice narration.
In 1950, the name of the nightly newscast was changed to Douglas Edwards with the News, and the following year, it became the first news program to be broadcast on both coasts, thanks to a new coaxial cable connection, prompting Edwards to use the greeting "Good evening everyone, coast to coast." The broadcast was renamed the CBS Evening News when Walter Cronkite replaced Edwards in 1962. Edwards remained with CBS News with various daytime television newscasts and radio news broadcasts until his retirement on April 1, 1988.