Olympics on CBS

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The Olympics on CBS logo from their Winter Olympics coverage during the 1990s.

The Olympics on CBS was a sports telecast that aired on CBS Sports. The last airing of the telecast was for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.


1960s coverage[edit]

The first telecast of the Olympics on American TV[1] was from the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. It was shown on CBS, which paid just $50,000 for the privilege.

Walter Cronkite[2] was host, anchoring on-site from Squaw Valley. With Squaw Valley connected to the network lines, some events were broadcast live while the remainder of the network's coverage was of events shown on the same day they took place.

During the games, officials asked Tony Verna, one of the members of the production staff, if it could use its videotape equipment to determine whether or not a slalom skier missed a gate. Verna then returned to CBS headquarters in New York City and developed the first instant replay system, which debuted at the Army–Navy football game in 1963.

Squaw Valley was the last time CBS would carry a Winter Olympics until 1992.

Later that year, CBS showed the 1960 Summer Olympics from Rome. The network showed about 20 hours of coverage of track and field, swimming, and other sports.[3] Because communications satellites, which would have provided direct transmissions between the United States and Italy, were not yet available, production staff members fed footage from Rome to London, re-recorded it on tape there, and then the tapes were flown to CBS headquarters in New York (or a mobile unit parked at Idelwild Airport in New York, to save time that transporting videotapes into the city would take) for later telecast. Despite this, at least some of the events, especially those held in the morning and early-afternoon (local time in Rome), actually aired in the United States the same day they took place (often during a half-hour late-night show that aired from 11:15 to 11:45 P.M. Eastern Time). Jim McKay, then a relatively unknown radio and TV personality, was the host, anchoring not from Rome, but from the CBS studios in New York City.[4]

The 1960 Rome Games would remain the only time CBS television has ever broadcast the Summer Games.[5]

1990s coverage[edit]

Although CBS bid on the rights to several Olympics in the 1970s and 1980s, the network lost the bidding to rivals, usually NBC and ABC. When the 1990s rolled around, CBS won the rights to three consecutive Winter Games:[6] (1992,[7] 1994, and 1998).

The 1992 Games in Albertville, France had some live coverage on weekend mornings and afternoons, but most of the CBS broadcast (and all of the prime time coverage) was on tape, owing to the time difference between the United States and Europe. A similar television format was used two years later in 1994 when the Winter Games adopted a new schedule, midway between the four-year Summer Games cycle, instead of in the same year as the Summer Olympics.

The 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway saw the nights with the highest ratings in the history of American Olympic telecasts, as a result of the scandal in which associates of Tonya Harding attacked Nancy Kerrigan and the media frenzy that followed. The short program in women's figure skating, which aired on February 23 is, as of 2008, the sixth-highest rated prime time TV program in American history. It had a rating of 48.5 and a share of 64 (meaning 48.5 percent of all television sets in the country and 64 percent of all television sets turned-on were tuned into CBS). The long program two days later had a rating of 44.1 and another 64 share; it ranks 32nd.[8] Both the short and long programs were shown on tape during prime time about six or so hours after the events had taken place.

Also contributing to the huge ratings in 1994 were a surprise gold medal by American skier Tommy Moe, as well as Dan Jansen's speed skating gold medal win, and, on the final morning (Eastern time) of the Games, a dramatic championship game in men's hockey between Sweden and Canada (the last such tournament in the "pre-dream-team" era for men's hockey), won by Sweden in a shootout. It should also be noted when the construction of the Lysgårdsbakken jumping hills started in 1992, the hills had to be moved some meters north so CBS could get the best pictures available from their pre-chosen location.

The 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan did feature some live prime time coverage in the Eastern United States (the Opening Ceremonies and some alpine skiing events), since these events were being held in the morning local time in Japan, which was prime time in the United States. Much of the men's and women's hockey action was held in the early afternoon (late at night on the East Coast of the United States, allowing again for live television broadcast at 12:30 AM EST), but figure skating was shown about 20 hours after the competitions took place so they could air in prime time.

Each telecast had a different prime time host(s): Paula Zahn and Tim McCarver[9] in 1992, Greg Gumbel[9] in 1994, and Jim Nantz[9] in 1998. CBS' theme music for their Olympic coverage was composed by Tamara Kline.[10]

In 2011, CBS Sports president Sean McManus said the option to bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics or 2016 Olympics "is not a priority of ours right now."[11]

Hours of coverage[edit]

Year Host Hours of Coverage
1960 Winter Squaw Valley, United States 15[12]
1960 Summer Rome, Italy 20[12]
1992 Winter[13] Albertville, France 116[12]
1994 Winter[14] Lillehammer, Norway 119.5[12]
1998 Winter[15] Nagano, Japan 123.8[12]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Television Obscurities - 1960 Winter Olympics – The First Televised Olympic Games
  2. ^ "CBS at 75". Retrieved 2010-01-06. 
  3. ^ Sanders, Dusty (24 July 2012). "Dusty Saunders: NBC's coverage of London Summer Olympics starts with Bob Costas". Denver Post. Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Maraniss, David (2008). Rome 1960: The Olympics that Changed the World. New York: Simon and Schuster. 
  5. ^ Summer Olympic Games on CBS - Google Search (timeline)
  6. ^ Winter Olympics on CBS - Google Search (timeline)
  7. ^ Johnson, William Oscar; Taaffe, William (December 26, 1988). "A Whole New Game". Sports Illustrated. 
  8. ^ "All-Time Top Rated TV Programs". ESPN Sports Almanac 2008. 2008. p. 602. 
  9. ^ a b c "CBS at 75". Retrieved 2010-01-06. 
  10. ^ 1992 Winter Olympics theme--Tamara Kline
  11. ^ Barron, David (February 8, 2011). "McManus dropping news duties at CBS". Houston Chroniclel. Retrieved 2011-02-11. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Hiestand, Michael; Martzke, Rudy (April 22, 2003). "Bidding for the Olympics on TV". USA Today (USAToday.com). 
  13. ^ "Albertville 1992: XVI Olympic Winter Games" (1992) ... Distributor (1992) (USA) (TV)
  14. ^ "Lillehammer 1994: XVII Olympic Winter Games" (1994) ... Distributor (1994) (USA) (TV)
  15. ^ "The 18th Olympic Winter Games" (1998) (TV series)

External links[edit]