Remembering the start of CNBC, 30 years later

Trader Talk

It was all so damn long ago: CNBC was born on April 17, 1989, the product of a gamble by NBC President Bob Wright and Tom Rogers, President of NBC Cable, both of whom took a whacky bet that a cable television network devoted to the rather nebulous concept of a “Consumer News and Business Channel” might somehow pay off in an era when CNN was just beginning to capture the public imagination.

It paid off, Bob and Tom.

I was offered a contract to be Real Estate Correspondent in July, 1990, a year after CNBC went on the air. I was on as a guest that first year based on a book my father and I had published the month CNBC went on the air. “Investing in Land: How to Be a Successful Developer” was loosely based on the course on Fundamentals of Real Estate Development we had been teaching at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. My father had been a real estate developer in Philadelphia since the 1960s.

Here is where I owe a big “Thank you!” to the two men who took a risk and hired me: Bob Davis and David Zaslav.

It was a slow start: we had no ratings for the first five years. None. It all started to change in 1995 and 1996: we started getting ratings, right in line with the rise in volume on the Nasdaq. It was the rise of the earliest internet stocks (think Netscape, which went public in August 1995) and it created a sensational increase in volume and intense interest from the investment public, a wave CNBC rose right to the top.

I switched to stocks correspondent from real estate correspondent in the summer of 1997, one of the few great hunches I ever had.

After the bust in 2000 came the 9/11 tragedy that cost over 3,000 lives, most of them friends and family of those who worked on the floor. But through that awful autumn, full of fear and bad air, not a single person I can recall at the NYSE failed to come to work.

We started covering other forms of investments in greater depth: wine, artwork, cars, commodities and especially real estate, which started coming back thanks to ultra-low interest rates from the Fed.

The 2008 financial crisis brought back our ratings almost to the levels of the late 1990s, but who needed that disaster? The 2008 crisis was a double whammy: not only did many middle-aged investors feel they had to sell stocks when they were down, they also had to sell real estate.

The 2000s saw us covering the rise of new forms of investments, particularly low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that have enabled millions of investors to dramatically lower their investment cost and invest in large swaths of the market with a few simple instruments.

Is CNBC still relevant? Sure is. Let me tell you why: The baby boomers are in terrible shape. I mean financially. The oldest baby boomer is now 73, the youngest is 55. Half are already in retirement. And they need our help and the help of everyone in the financial journalism community. April is National Financial Literacy Month, and no matter what leg of the retirement “stool” you look at — Social Security, pensions, or personal savings — those baby boomers are woefully unprepared for retirement.

They need more, not less, financial help, and CNBC will be here to provide that.

Thanks to the leadership of CNBC through the years, and especially to the following:

CNBC presidents

  • Mark Hoffman, 2005-present
  • Pamela Thomas-Graham, 2001-2005
  • Bill Bolster, 1996-2001
  • Roger Ailes, 1993-1996
  • Al Barber, 1990-1993
  • Mike Eskridge, 1989-1990

CNBC vice presidents, news

  • Dan Colarusso, 2019-present
  • Nik Deogun, 2011-2018
  • Jeremy Pink, 2009-2011
  • Jonathan Wald, 2006-2009
  • David Friend, 2002-2006
  • Bruno Cohen, 1997-2002
  • Jack Riley, 1993-1997
  • Peter Sturtevant, 1989-1993

And thanks to all the people who made CNBC what it was and what it will be, but especially to those who are still with us from the earliest days: Alex Crippen, Scott Cohn, Bill Griffeth, Angel Perez, Brigid Scire, Chris Maurer, Sue Herera, David Faber, Bob Fasbender, Joe Kernen, Peter Schacknow, Jim Forkin, Matt Quayle, Rob Contino, Debby Perry, John Schoen, Mario Schettino, Mary Duffy, Fritz Mott, Pat Bucci, Matt Cuddy, Victor Calderin, Jerry Frasier, Mike Vaughan and Rich Fisherman.

And special thanks to Mark Haines. The plaque is still by the stairs, old buddy.

A special thanks to my producers through the years: Bianna Golodryga, Nicole Petallides, Robert Hum, Kristen Scholer, Jill Harding and Kirsten Chang, all of whom worked with me in a small room and were (and in Kirsten’s case, still are) unfailingly cheerful despite my long silences and general weirdness.

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