John Chancellor

John Chancellor
John Chancellor White House1970.jpg
Chancellor at the White House in 1970
John William Chancellor

(1927-07-14)July 14, 1927
DiedJuly 12, 1996(1996-07-12) (aged 68)
EducationUniversity of Illinois
Years active1952–1993
Known forToday (1961-1962)
NBC Nightly News
Anchor (1970–1982)
Editor/Commentator (1982–1993)
Spouse(s)Connie Chancellor[1]
Barbara Upshaw (second wife)

John William Chancellor (July 14, 1927 – July 12, 1996) was an American journalist and who spent most of his career with NBC News. He is considered a pioneer in TV news.[2] He served as anchor of the NBC Nightly News from 1970 to 1982 and continued to do editorials and commentaries for NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw until 1993.

Early career[edit]

Chancellor attended the University of Illinois Navy Pier campus, completing the last two years of instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1949. Originally a copy boy at 14 for the Chicago Daily News and hired in 1947 to be a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, he started his career in local television in Chicago, eventually turning to national television news as a correspondent on NBC's evening newscast, the Huntley-Brinkley Report.

Early years, NBC/Voice of America[edit]

John Chancellor, Frank Blair and Edwin Newman in The Today Show, 1961.

Chancellor covered issues of national importance while on The Huntley-Brinkley Report, such as the 1957 integration of the Little Rock Central High School. He spent a number of years as a foreign correspondent in Europe, with postings in Vienna, London, Moscow, and Brussels (NATO Headquarters).

In July 1961, Chancellor replaced Dave Garroway as host of NBC's Today program, a role he filled for fourteen months. Never comfortable with the genial persona required of a Today anchor, Chancellor asked for, and was granted, a release from his contract with the show in the summer of 1962. He left the program in September, and assumed a role as political correspondent for NBC News. He, Frank McGee, Edwin Newman, and Sander Vanocur comprised a team that covered the national political conventions in the 1960s so well, they were dubbed by industry observers as the "Four Horsemen."

At the 1964 Republican National Convention, he was arrested for refusing to cede his spot on the floor to "Goldwater Girls," supporters of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. When security came to get him, he was forced to sign off: "I've been promised bail, ladies and gentlemen, by my office. This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody." He then became the director of the Voice of America in 1965, at the request of President Lyndon Johnson, a spot he held until 1967.

Anchor, NBC Nightly News[edit]

However, he returned to NBC in 1968 as senior correspondent on the Huntley Brinkley Report and, two years later when Chet Huntley retired, Chancellor stepped in to anchor the broadcast, renamed NBC Nightly News, a spot he held from 1970 to 1982; this job became the defining point of his career. Inaugurating the name and setting the pace of the format of Nightly News, from 1970 to 1971, Chancellor, along with David Brinkley and Frank McGee, was one of three anchors who rotated in a co-anchor duo format, held over from Huntley-Brinkley. NBC arranged the rotation by having McGee always broadcast from New York City and Brinkley continue at his customary Washington desk. If McGee did not anchor on a broadcast, Chancellor did from New York; if Brinkley did not, Chancellor filled in from Washington. NBC did not have separate weekend anchors during this period, as it had just inaugurated a Sunday evening newscast in August 1970, so this format was employed seven days a week.

A perceived lack of stability in this arrangement prompted NBC to go with Chancellor full-time (McGee later moved to The Today Show). From August 9, 1971 to June 4, 1976, Chancellor became the sole weeknight anchor (Garrick Utley and others took over weekend duties), stationed at the New York NBC headquarters, with Brinkley reduced to contributing pre-recorded commentaries, titled David Brinkley's Journal, about two to three times per week from Washington. Facing the continued popularity of top-rated CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, NBC Nightly News returned to a co-anchor format from June 7, 1976 until October 9, 1979 with Brinkley resuming his old role at the NBC Washington desk; internal disputes within NBC management prompted the network to remove Brinkley from Nightly News, assigning him to occasional documentaries until his departure for ABC in 1981.

Although Chancellor was a respected, well-spoken journalist and noted author in his own right, his broadcast ratings were eclipsed by Walter Cronkite in the 1970s, when CBS Evening News had become the most popular of the three network weeknight broadcasts. Toward the end of Chancellor's tenure, ABC, for the first time ever, became competitive with NBC and CBS with its World News Tonight.

"Red" and "blue" state concepts[edit]

Chancellor has the distinction of creating the idea of using colors to represent the states won by presidential candidates in presidential elections. For the 1976 presidential election Chancellor suggested to his network's engineers that they create a large electronic map of the United States and place it in the network's election-night news studio. If Jimmy Carter, the Democratic candidate, won a state it would light up in red; if Gerald Ford, the Republican candidate, carried a state it would light up in blue. Chancellor, when asked about the color scheme, sought to tie the British Labour's red to the American Democrats; British Conservatives using blue as their ribbon color. By 2000, all the traditional broadcast networks had adopted the present model, though with the colors switched; red for Republicans (as both begin with the same letter), and blue for Democrats.[3]

Television career[edit]

Later years, post-Nightly News[edit]

Chancellor anchored the Nightly News through April 2, 1982, when he was succeeded by a co-anchor team of Tom Brokaw and Roger Mudd. Chancellor remained on the program, providing editorial commentaries before retiring from NBC on July 9, 1993. During this time of his commentaries, he defined himself as a paragrapher in 1993, just before his retirement.[4]

In 1992, Chancellor was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Chancellor was the narrator of Baseball, a documentary by Ken Burns.[5] He also wrote a book, Peril and Promise, which was published in 1991. The John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism[6] was established in 1995 and administered by the Annenberg Public Policy Center until 2004. It is now awarded by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.


Upon retiring, Chancellor moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where he died of stomach cancer in 1996. Chancellor was survived by the former Barbara Upshaw, his second wife. He had two daughters and a son.



  1. ^ Gudelunas, David (2007). Confidential to America: Newspaper Advice Columns and Sexual Education. Edison, NJ: Transaction. p. 234. ISBN 978-1-4128-0688-6.
  2. ^ Services, Tribune News. "JOHN CHANCELLOR, 68; PIONEER IN TV NEWS". Retrieved 2019-11-16.
  3. ^ Enda, Jodi. "When Republicans Were Blue and Democrats Were Red". Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
  4. ^ "N B C N e w s J o h n C h a n c e l l o r VEERY Interview". V E E R Y J O U R N A L. Retrieved 2019-08-25. Interview with Steven Vita.
  5. ^ Full cast and crew for "Baseball" (1994).
  6. ^ Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism:Site Map Archived 2008-08-30 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 2012-06-23.
  7. ^ "Paul White Award". Radio Television Digital News Association. Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  8. ^ John Chancellor on the Lincoln Academy site, 1988

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Dave Garroway
Today Show Host
July 17, 1961 – September 14, 1962
Succeeded by
Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters
Preceded by
Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, The Huntley-Brinkley Report
NBC Nightly News Anchor
August 1, 1970 – April 2, 1982
(with David Brinkley and Frank McGee until August 8, 1971,
solely until June 4, 1976, again with Brinkley
until October 9, 1979, and with Washington sub-anchor Roger Mudd from November 17, 1980 until April 2, 1982.)
Succeeded by
Tom Brokaw and Roger Mudd