How ‘Nightly Business Report’ defined daily business coverage on television

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Linda O'Bryon, Paul Kangas and Merwin Sigale on the set in 1979 when "NBR" launched locally on WPBT.

On Friday, Dec. 27, the final chapter closes on Nightly Business Report, the weeknightly series that invented daily business news coverage not just on public television but for all of television.

Presenting station WETA in Washington, D.C., announced last month that CNBC, owner of the series, had decided to end production. Its cancellation brings an end to a 40-year run on public TV. As someone involved in its creation, this brings back a flood of memories from a time when the media landscape was vastly different from today.

I’ve been reflecting on NBR’s long history and its startup during the early years of public broadcasting. We identified an audience need and created a program that uniquely informed and educated viewers across the country for decades. This could have only happened in public media, where support from stations and viewers, and advances in technology, aligned to make it possible.

With NBR, a small team at WBPT in Miami pioneered the genre of daily business news coverage on television. We launched the program Jan. 22, 1979, as a 15-minute news summary of local and national business news. At that time, there was no CNN or CNBC, no satellite television or broadband internet access. People who followed stocks or tracked business trends had to rely on their morning newspapers to find out what had happened on Wall Street the previous day.

From our newsroom in Miami, we used typewriters and carbon paper to create scripts for the program. We wrote the rundown each night on a white board in the back of the newsroom. We had limited access to the AP wire service, so every day we phoned trusted financial sources to collect additional closing market data.

I was privileged to work on NBR from the start at WPBT, the program’s original producing station. Several members of the station’s board, including James McLamore, the co-founder of Burger King, came up with the idea of creating a daily business news program and pitched it to George Dooley, then-president of the station. As astute business leaders, they all realized a need for this type of program.

As WPBT’s news director at the time, I was asked to work up a concept for the program. I drafted a two-page typed memo for the senior programming executive, John Felton. Senior management gave it the green light.

WPBT had produced local and national programs, but we had never undertaken a daily program. The rigorous deadlines and constant work flow challenged every single department — from production to engineering. A small team of staff produced a pilot of the program every night for a month before the 15-minute version debuted on WPBT. Financial commentator Paul Kangas was involved from the very beginning. His larger-than-life personality made business news anything but boring.

In those early days, we broke all the television rules to create a program that experts outside of public broadcasting said would not work. Business news was “too dull for television,” they said. The naysayers also reminded us that the nation already had The Wall Street Journal. And, they asked, how could anyone produce a business news program based in Miami anyway?

O’Bryon, left, with Del Frank and Paul Kangas in the “NBR” newsroom in 1981, when the show went national.

Our group of dedicated staff members set out to prove them wrong. And we did. One reporter later would call NBR “the little engine that could.”

The notion of a business news program delivering stock quotes, business news and analysis just two and a half-hours after the closing market bell resonated with millions of viewers.

After six months on WPBT, NBR grew into a half-hour weeknightly program. By 1981, the series went into national syndication.  Interregional Program Service, the public media network that later became known as American Public Television, distributed the series. IPS President John Porter had visited Miami to watch us produce the live broadcast, and he immediately recognized how NBR could be crafted for a national audience. He encouraged us to expand our concept and offer the program to stations across the country.

NBR was devoted to a topic that was far from the mainstream of the time, and station leaders in major markets took risks in picking it up. The program debuted nationally on 125 public stations in October 1981. Carriage expanded very quickly to more than 250 stations.

How could a little-known series that originated from Miami grow into the most widely-watched program of its kind, and maintain that enviable position for decades?

I see four characteristics in public television and media technology of that time that helped open NBR’s path to audience success and longevity:

1. Early support from public television stations and programmers — A weeknightly show devoted to business news would have never made it past the pitch stage in commercial broadcast television, where the concept of creating programs for a niche audience wasn’t considered viable program strategy. Yet public TV stations already knew that shows for underserved audiences could work well. By the late 1970s, public television had built a large audience of preschool children with its educational programs Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Following the success of The French Chef, featuring Julia Child, stations recognized that series devoted to specialized topics could be very powerful in attracting viewers. Public stations had to “vote” with their limited programming dollars to syndicate NBR through IPS, and local programmers supported it from the start.

A number of stations also served as NBR “bureaus” by assigning their reporters to produce segments periodically for NBR. Their coverage provided the program with a true national footprint, while showcasing local stories that would otherwise never reach a national audience. Stations in Kansas City, San Diego, Houston, Cleveland and other cities stepped up and provided much needed resources for the program. In later years, NBR would take a crew on the road, and dedicate a week of coverage to cities such as Chicago, Portland, Philadelphia and Cleveland. Stations provided production support for the remote, live broadcasts, and hosted events with their donors to welcome the NBR crew. With this coverage, NBR presented fascinating stories about business news and trends far away from the daily drumbeat of Wall Street.

2. Reduced costs of national distribution — In 1978, when PBS became the first network to adopt satellite delivery in a big way, we no longer had to pay for the old and very expensive AT&T landlines. Without satellite technology, a daily news program, which relied on access to a network of bureaus and correspondents, could not have made it on public television’s limited budgets.

3. Emergence of electronic graphic systems — These production technologies, which were becoming available when NBR went national, made it possible to visualize complex business concepts, which are not intrinsically visual, for television. A segment on a merger or acquisition would come alive on screen with moving graphics showing company logos. Without the graphics, it would have been tough to create compelling visuals.

4. Response to audience needs — Most importantly, NBR’s reporting on business and finance filled an important gap in broadcast news coverage across the country. No other program on television covered business and finance in the way that we did. We frequently heard from viewers who said they depended on our series for their own personal finance or investment decisions. I still run in to viewers who say they learned about personal finance and how to invest for education, retirement and other needs from NBR.

For nine years, the global news organization, Reuters, was our editorial and production partner. At the program’s peak, NBR drew reporting from bureaus in London, Tokyo, New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and other media centers. Regular commentators included economists and analysts Alan Greenspan (before he became chair of the Federal Reserve Board), Art Laffer, Alfred Kahn and Charles Schultze, among many others.

I resigned from NBR and WPBT in 2006 to become chief content officer at KQED in San Francisco. It was difficult to say goodbye to so many colleagues, but I knew I left NBR in very capable editorial hands. I worked from afar to support the program, and I was proud that we were able to establish a West Coast bureau at KQED for a brief time.

O’Bryon, center, appears in a 2006 send-off program with “NBR” co-anchors Suzie Gharib and Paul Kangas.

In 2010, WPBT sold NBR to a privately held company. The production went through another ownership change before CNBC began producing NBR for public television in 2013. Along with APT and WETA, CNBC has done fine work bringing this series to public television viewers and keeping the sensibility and mission consistent with the original program. Veteran anchors Bill Griffeth and Sue Herera, along with their colleagues at CNBC, have brought additional worldwide resources to the production.

Times have changed, and there are many ways viewers can access business news — via smartphones or the several cable TV channels dedicated to reporting business news around the clock.

It’s heartening to know that our original concept for business news on television started as a homegrown offering of a local public station. We didn’t have a network-scale budget of R&D funds and investments. With an idea and very limited resources, the show took off and kept going five nights a week, 52 weeks a year for more than 40 years.

Its staying power is a tribute to a dedicated team at WPBT and the public television stations that took risks with it in those early years. NBR took root locally and grew on our mighty belief in public television’s power to make a difference in the lives of Americans.

In addition to her roles with NBR and KQED, Linda O’Bryon was president of South Carolina ETV from 2010 to 2017. She received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in business and financial reporting from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2009. She now operates her own company, O’Bryon Media LLC.

69 thoughts on “How ‘Nightly Business Report’ defined daily business coverage on television

  1. Thank you for your program. l already sent a thank you at the Bill and Sue post.
    l saw the first nat’l syndication program and easily over a thousand more to tonight’s last.
    The biggest benefit l got from NBR is that many times they covered subjects l didn’t read about, or reported news l didn’t notice or was unaware of from the print media. The finance pages on the lnternet are mostly sales pieces or just cold numbers. l’II miss NBR.
    Thank you again.

    • Still am not accepting this decision. This program caused me to donate to PBS for many – many years. In my opinion, this terrible decision that must be reversed. PBS and untold numbers of viewers are now big losers.

  2. I’ve enjoyed NBR for years. I always looked forward to watching it. Hopefully someone will pick it up or start a similar program

    • Same here. I will miss this show. Being provided information on the business/equity world was a distinct advantage in managing my own portfolio.

      • Still am not accepting this decision. This program caused me to donate to PBS for many – many years. In my opinion, this terrible decision that must be reversed. PBS and untold numbers of viewers are now big losers.

        • PBS has been/is a beneficiary of our trust. We may reconsider this position, as we feel strongly about the benefits that it provided…..cultural, entertainment, educational…..and most important, a strong, believable business base for many of our investment positions. I hope that we can “trust” PBS to listen to the will of the people.

  3. It was a part of my daily routine and it was a great shock when Bill Griffith announces it was the last show today. It was a great summary of the days financial events and the guest recommendations were the best. A job well done.

  4. It’s a shame this program is going off the air. It was a crisp, concise update from around the world that you cannot get on current business shows (unless you watch for hours). No where else can you get what NBR gave you in 30 minutes. It will be missed.

    • This is a true loss. Fully agree with these comments and the others. Many in the country benefitted from the information and advice found on this show. Nowhere else can such reliable and concise information be found. With many relying on stock investments for retirement or as supplement to Social Security, an informed citizenry is critical. We need this program back.

  5. Sorry to see NBR will be no more. I have watched the program since the Toledo Market picked it up. I really got in to Paul (SK ) and Susie. This show will be missed ! I have over the air TV and now will have to look elsewhere for my business news.

  6. I have watched this show for over 30 years. It was so nice to get everything I wanted in 30 min. I hope CNBC brings the show back even on CNBC. I DVR it and watch after dinner. Very sad day

  7. I also was a devoted fan for 30 years. The suddenness of their being taken off the air is very strange. There was no advanced notice and we couldn’t believe it. What was behind the sudden cancellation?
    We really enjoyed the anchors. What a shame.

  8. CNBC and PBS, how could you cancel one of your best shows? Sue, Bill, Tyler, and Sharon were GREAT, and it was one of very few good shows left on your networks. Poor decisions such as this are the reason so many people are turning away from your networks and flocking to other media…not the other way around. You have let down millions of older generations who remained loyal “TV” watchers and cherished established programs such as this. Just as you did with the Brian Williams incident, you will drive millions more viewers away from NBC/CNBC/PBS and back to CBS, ABC, and the like.
    Whatever happened to corporate executives who made GOOD decisions for the right reasons, listened to their loyal customers, and didn’t always put profit first!?!
    Please ask GOD for forgiveness, and reconsider your decisions to pull NBR from our lives.

  9. I would love to know the backstory on why the longest running business television show was cancelled.

    Obviously it was a business decision but the reasons would be very interesting. Was it other forms of business video news that we’re competing? Which ones?

  10. I have watched NBR since they went national. I loved Paul and Susie. Bill and Sue were ok. I will miss this show BIG TIME. I am retired and have only Over-The- Air TV.. Paul has passed, but could you other two or three put a plan together and go on YouTube as National Business Review ? Their would be 10’s of thousands who would watch it on the computer !

  11. I have watched NBR since the early 1980s along with “Wall Street Week” until that was discontinued probably understandably. These two programs were instrumental in educating me about investing. Loss of a business type program is very disappointing. With PBS as an educational system and no longer having a business broadcast, I would go so far to say this seems like “educational negligence”. PBS can expand the News Hour?

  12. This show come on when I was in business school. Paul Kangas and company educated me to the point I did so well in the financial markets that I was able to retire early. I can not thank you enough for the passed 40 years. You will be missed.

  13. I am so very disappointed to see that NBR is ending. I have been a loyal fan and follower for many years and hope someone else picks it up or a similar show replaces it. It was truly my favorite show, I learned a lot and always recorded it to share bits and pieces with others.

  14. So incredibly disappointed to see this show come to an end. I haven’t felt like this Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser went off PBS years ago.

    It was so nice to sit down and get a half hour of quality, concise business information without the sound effects, the guys with a ponytail behind their bald head and breathless reporting on breaking news.

  15. This is one of the most devastating things to happen to me this year. Or any time. I have loved Lynda, Susie, Sue, Paul, Bill and all. I have used their 30 minute reviews as my news source since 1981. Who is the executive that took this away from us all? He should be ashamed of himself, and replaced.

  16. What a total shame!
    I also was a devoted fan for 30 years. The suddenness of their being taken off the air is very strange. There was no advanced notice and we couldn’t believe it. What was behind the sudden cancellation?
    We really enjoyed the anchors. What a shame.

  17. This show rounded out my daily evening news routine. It’s the only show where I actually began to understand business issues. The sudden departure was a bit of a shock – hopefully someone else will see the error of CNBC’s ways and pick up this gem.

  18. I’m so upset..
    I watch this thing every night; and only to be SHOCKED the night when Bill announced it was the LAST Show!!!!; I almost fell OFF the Chair I was sitting on!!!! (as I hadn’t a CLUE that a Decision was made to END this pgm)..

    I’m upset; no words to express!!!

  19. I’m now TOTALLY ‘LOST’ at 6:30pm!!!

    This evening, I literally tuned the Tele on to 13 at 6:30pm, stupidly STILL thinking, No, maybe it’s a mistake, it will be on..

    I seriously honestly caN’T believe it; I’m really Pissed; and Sad..

    Tyler was Great (I was Pissed when he left (as he and sue had such a rapour))..
    I then warmed up to Bill; and loved both of them; and now only to have this rug moved from under my Feet..

    I’m Truly Pissed!!!
    (and Shocked; and Disappointed)..

  20. Over the past two years, the change in focus from thoughtful, long term business analysis to daily “upgrades and downgrades” and pundits opining about what caused the market to go up or down on any given day changed NBR’s content from educational programing to just another entertainment offering of CNBC. It became painful to watch. I cannot imagine how the anchors felt presiding over the demise of the former quality programming.

  21. A sad loss! NBR provided support to my investment portfolio that I can only get by hours of research on the Internet which even then lacks the personality and valuable interpretation of all the NBR hosts and presenters. I support Public Broadcasting but NBR and Nightly News Hour were major reasons for my interest and now I have lost a key contributor.

  22. My wife and I were devastated when we watched Bill Griffith give the eulogy. We have sat for years and watched while we ate dinner. Sometimes, the market turns give us both indigestion as well as elation. We have done very well through research because of the show and secured a very good retirement. We hope Bill, Sue and others have a great future. Thanks for your service to all of us who appreciated you wit and knowledge.

  23. What a sad end to the decade. I have watched this show since the 80s. This program and Wall Street Week really helped me to successfully handle money through my investing life and were a large influence that allowed me to retire at 49 with two kids at home while many of my coworkers are still toiling away 10 years later! As all other news and shows moved toward promoting social agendas, it became the last network TV show that I watched. I will now have to find something else useful to do for 27 minutes every day! Many thanks to all of those involved in sustaining the program for all these years.

  24. I was pleased to know others feel the same about the loss of this program, I too watched the last show unaware it to be the end of four decades of a quality show. This show provided concise reporting without bias and the anchors, the guest speakers and staff around the country were great. Wishing Bill and Sue, and the entire production staff the best of tomorrows….on this first day of 2020.

  25. I JUST started watching about six months ago. Coming from a minority family that was more concerned with putting food on the table than investing I had zero absolutely ZERO concept of how “markets” worked. In a short time my confidence had grown to the point that I’m just now ready to start investing xonly to have my chief educator depart unceremoniously. Where do I turn now? PBS you have let me down.

  26. I am an overseas Podcasts subscriber of the show. Thanks for the wonderful show but it’s really sad to see that NBR is ending.

  27. WOW
    This show with its host and guests has been a premier in business news and insights.
    With all the loving comments on the cancellation it is clear that this show has the audience to support it. How much would a yearly membership cost a person to bring it back on the air?
    I am ready to subscribe now! How many tens of thousands of faithful viewers are ready to subscribe NOW? I watched every night with my family for over 30 years. My family enjoyed this program together and we had fun learning together. This show is too great to just go quietly into the night. Let’s start a list of viewers ready to subscribe right now. With social media we can permanently bring this show on the air. We can do it.

  28. Sadly I have to ‘admit’ that ‘Alan’ (at December 31st ), and as painful as it is, DOES have a Point!!! (about the ‘change’ in the program over the past few yrs)..

    BUT, BUT, NEVERTHELESS, I STILL MISS and LOVED my program!!!

    I so looked fwd to watching it, then right after, foll-ed by Judy (PBS Hour), with Yamish, Sheilds & Brooks, etc etc..

    Still ‘crying..

    It’s now 6:30pm, got home, and now lost, not knowing ‘what equivalent’ program on, to watch..

    Guess I’ll now have to stick with ‘CRAMER’..

  29. Yep! Sad indeed. We started with Linda and Paul, then Suzie came along and was such a delight. CNBC came and the familiar faces of team Bill, Tyler and Sue continued the tradition of interesting concise business reporting. A program unlike any other for solid business information. What a bad way to start the year without our NBR.

  30. I am so sad to hear that NBR is gone. I watched it every night. It provided the information I needed to manage my portfolio in a concise manner. It was unlike the other business shows.

  31. Holy cow…

    I was wondering why this show wasn’t on, so I started digging.

    Now I know.

    It’s a great opportunity for someone else to bring the show back.

    I recommend PBS put some info out there about how much they are willing to spend for it, and invite pitches. See what you get.

  32. I was shocked when my biking/investor buddy asked if I was aware that NBR was canceled this past week.
    I started with the show while in Miami in the late ’70s. The program, hosts, and reporters were the best…concise, accurate and dependable. This program will be missed. This hurts as much as Wall Street Week being canceled with Louis Rukeyser and his weekly guests. Perhaps someone will take this business concept and start another version.

  33. Too bad! Was a great show that summed up the day’s business news in a concise manner. I taped it every day and watched it after Lester Holt. I watch CNBC when I can but relied on NBR mostly. Bummed.

  34. I have watched NDR from the beginning and was shocked to see it die with no explanation. The decision to remove this program is unforgivable. Another poor management decision without even a decent reason provided.

  35. So disappointed that my favorite daily business program, the Nightly Business Report, has been canceled. NBR did a great job summarizing and explaining the daily business issues. For me It spotlighted and clarified information I needed to make financial decisions. I hope that CNBC reconsiders or provides a quality replacement.

  36. My wife and I have watched this show faithfully for the last thirty + years, and were devastated to learn that it has been dropped. In an era of increasing bad news coverage reported by talking heads that are recruited and paid to tell viewers what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear, this was the last straw. No where now to turn to get insightful and useful, as well as timely and accurate information that affects us all on a daily basis. Very, very sad. Please reconsider offering this program again as penance for all the crap you broadcast every day to sell ads.

  37. Promise never to watch any program connected with CNBC again..NBR format should be taken up by another media company. Bloomberg news here I come.

  38. Nightly Business Report was the most-looked-forward-to part of our evenings. We watched it during dinner, making notes on ideas and tips to pursue. It was the right concise blend of business news and related features pertinent to our lives. It was unbiased. Will be watching for NBR’s return or relocation.

  39. Why don’t you set up a petition on social media and get the ball rolling. There would be many many many people to sign such a petition

    We want our show back on the air !!! We desperately need this type of information. How do we get CNBC attention ? Suggestions are welcome.
    Thank you !

  40. NBR was the best show of its kind. We watched it every night. So bummed it’s gone, and there is really nothing on PBS or CNBC that is even close. It was objective and straightforward. Very hard to find on TV

  41. Because of taking off NBR with B.Griffith and Sue Herrera, I will not give another nickel to public television, and i gave $5000 per year for years. I hope others will call and tell them as I have done. Stupidity at it’s finest!!!!!!!!

  42. Value Line has a daily market summary. Better yet, Briefing.com has a daily stock market summary as well as a daily bond market summary. When combined with a business news feed, this is actually better than NBR, except that there isn’t anyone to read it to you. I found myself having to agree with an earlier poster, Alan (above – Dec. 31), regarding NBR recently compared to what it used to be. If anyone finds anything better, please post it.

    • Thanks for your suggestions.

      However, they do not replace the features and discussions that were part of NBR. We enjoyed NBR during our dinner hour. NBR was an welcomed alternative to the biased programming televised elsewhere in the time slot.

  43. My favorite 30 minutes of news is now gone! What is the alternative? I’m searching for a replacement, but this format was sure one I liked!

  44. Again today I tuned in as if NBR would be there and again I was mad that it wasn’t there. I assume that someone somewhere decided that the internet offers the same content so it was expendable, but not so. The anchors over the years have given us detailed information based on reality and authentication put to us in a way that was most useful. I made some of my best stock decisions based on NBR. Now I’m just mad! NBR will be sorely missed after watching it for 35 years.

  45. I am crushed. I watched it every night I could, but missed the announcement it was going off the air! Thought the program was on an extended holiday leave!
    Any way to revisit the decision??? It’s about the money, I’m sure….wish more decisions were based on quality! Lizzie Washington DC.

  46. I accessed these comments in hopes that someone had received a miracle that NBR would somehow be revived. Now….some two weeks later, I miss my friends every single evening.

    • A petition would call more attention to the number of viewers unhappy with the cancellation of NBR. We would sign it. Many others would sign it.

  47. Very, very disappointed that this program has been cancelled! Cane back from holidays overseas, turned on the TV at the appointed time and saw some sort of news show about what’s going on in France!?!?! I learned a l lot over the years from watching and would take notes on the Weekly Market Monitor would recommend. Came up with some nice winners that way. Can’t believe this is gone. Will be sorely missed!

  48. I am stunned at the loss of NBR.

    TOTAL fail, CNBC — your credibility just took a major hit — like, by *half*.

    Total, total, TOTAL fail.

    And dumb. And COSTLY FOR YOU!
    “Silly” has a new birthday: December 27, 2019.

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