Science Service, Up Close: Technology and Political Conventions

NBC news commentator Edwin Newman, 1968 In a Presidential election year, political news coverage can sometimes seem almost too instantaneous and continuous. Thanks to smartphones with cameras and microphones, journalists and citizens can relay images and sound from almost anywhere inside campaign activities. There was a time, however, when live broadcasting from political conventions and rallies was novel.

Starting in 1948, U.S. networks began televising the party conventions, and by 1968, innovations in communications and battery technologies allowed live reports from the convention floor. Journalists could roam around an event, interviewing interesting people, gathering information, and encouraging a sense of vicarious participation among television viewers.

For its pathbreaking television coverage of the August 1968 national political conventions in the United States, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) outfitted four of its top commentators (John Chancellor, Frank McGee, Edwin Newman, and Sander Vanocur) with special backpacks.

In these photographs from the Science Service biographical files, Edwin Newman (1919-2010) modeled the “compact belt-borne” microphone system that he and his NBC colleagues would be wearing while covering the party conventions in Chicago and Miami Beach. Newman had become a mainstay of the network’s political coverage, building on his decades of experience as a print reporter and European correspondent for NBC News and his intelligence and irrepressible sense of humor.

The new microphone system, developed by Cutler-Hammer's Airborne Instruments Laboratory, provided wireless, portable, battery-operated, two-way communication between a reporter and a network director in the booth.

The accompanying press release noted that the unit’s weight was “only” 3-1/4 pounds and that the “over-sized tie clip” was the “transmitter on-off switch” but it did not mention Newman’s characteristically wry addition: what appears to be a candidate campaign button on his lapel is an image of the journalist’s own face.

NBC news commentator Edwin Newman

Related Resources

Collecting political history, from the Iowa Caucus to the national conventions, O Say Can You See? blog, National Museum of American History

Hooray for Politics!, National Museum of American History

Vote: The Machinery of Democracy, National Museum of American History

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