In 10 Years, Turner's Cnn Has Redefined Television News

Going back to the beginnings of CNN is a little like Ted Baxter's tale on ``Mary Tyler Moore'' about how ``it all began at a 50,000-watt station in Fresno.''

In the case of CNN, it all began on June 1, 1980, in Atlanta, when Ted Turner launched his 24-hour news channel - the Cable News Network. There were plenty of communications analysts convinced viewers wouldn't be interested in obtaining news around the clock. They thought the habit of watching the network news at 6 p.m. was too strongly ingrained.

Turner sold his new channel to some cable systems but failed to get the 3 million charter subscribers he hoped for. News stories written later in 1980 point out that three months after operation began, CNN was reaching only 2.6 million cable subscribers.

Today CNN is available in 50 million American homes and has spread around the world until it is received in 89 countries.

What is more important than statistics is how CNN has changed how millions view the entire process of getting news. In a decade CNN, has established itself as the network that will be reporting whatever is happening while it is happening. Newsrooms all over the world are tuned to CNN - permanently - and when the massacre began in Tiananmen Square, viewers immediately tuned to CNN. You can also bet that CNN will be covering this week's Gorbachev-Bush summit in detail.

In addition, ordinary viewers have learned there's no reason to wait until 6 o'clock to get the news. CNN's schedule includes a variety of newscasts that are presented around the clock.

A news story dated 1980 talks about a working staff of approximately 250. The staff of CNN in 1990 is roughly 1,700!

CNN has not only redefined how we look at news but made us think more clearly about the very meaning of news. CNN's broadcast days (and nights) include reports on every aspect of life, from politics and show biz to health and fashion and business, half-hour reports that punctuate the regular newscasts. In addition, continuing reports that have been spread out during daily newscasts are repackaged into half-hour specials for those who may have missed them.

Instead of trying to cram everything in the world into 23 minutes once a day, the world of CNN makes it possible to explore all aspects of life on the grounds that everything that happens is news to someone. And by having reporters all over the globe, CNN becomes the repository for reports on everything that's happening, reports that can eventually be reworked into specials.

A good example is CNN's ``Newsroom,'' a newscast drawn from CNN's coverage that is specially prepared for students. Just last week CNN launched ``Earlyprime,'' a newscast aimed primarily at senior citizens (and which airs at 2 p.m. weekdays).

In the course of the past decade, CNN has not only picked up a large audience, but has garnered a great many awards, while making such individuals as Bernard Shaw and Larry King into familiar faces. In a decade CNN has become as much a household word as ABC, CBS and NBC, often beating them at their own game. In the last election, there was a great deal more special programming dealing with the election, the candidates and the issues on CNN than was to be found on the three commercial networks.

Now CNN is being paid the ultimate compliment - Hank Whittemore has written a book about it: ``CNN: The Inside Story,'' to be published this Friday by Little, Brown ($19.95). It's an informative, readable book that not only tells about the growth of CNN, but also about Turner's battles with the networks, his buyout of ABC's competing news project, the battle to get CNN correspodnents credentials that matched those of the three networks' reporters, Turner's attempts to take over CBS and his acquisition of the MGM film library (the basis for the TNT cable system) and the battles within the organization.

Some called Turner's idea of a round-the-clock news channel ``Turner's Folly'' when it was launched in 1980 - but Turner is having the last laugh. It's impossible to imagine TV in the 1990s without an all-news network. If CNN didn't exist, somebody would have to invent it.

Video notes: KTPS-TV airs the finale of the powerful ``Shoah'' at 8 tonight. . . . The fourth segment of PBS' fascinating ``Skyscraper'' series airs at 9 tonight on KCTS-TV. . . . Cable's C-SPAN is bringing radio to cable TV this week in a series called ``A Week in the Life of Talk Radio'' and a program airing from 3 to 7 p.m. today focuses on Mike Siegel and KING-AM with Jim French's talk show on KIRO-AM featured tomorrow from 9:30 a.m. to noon.