The show, originally titled "What's New in Saskatoon?", was introduced in 1968 as a reverse call-in show—rather than having the public call in, the reporters at As It Happens called newsmakers and pundits for their opinions.
In its history, the show has had many notable interviews, including:
The show has also interviewed a wide array of presidents, prime ministers, terrorists, inventors, and authors.
Despite the gravity of many of its stories, As It Happens is also known for being lighthearted and carrying news of the obscure and bizarre. For instance, during the early 1990s there were updates for several years on the battle over a large fibreglass fish that annoyed a neighbour in England. The show is also well known for noting how far each city in the UK is from Reading. Former host Barbara Frum also once interviewed Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.
Another well known and amusing interview was with a hard-of-hearing British farmer. It is frequently played on the programme as an amusing interlude.
The show is broadcast each day from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. (half an hour later in Newfoundland) throughout Canada, though sometimes the show ends at 7:30. It used to be widely accessible to much of the northern United States, but as the CBC switched from powerful AM signals in urban centres to FM stations, it became harder to receive CBC content further away from the border. As It Happens can be heard on satellite radio provider Sirius, on Radio Canada International and on the Internet via streaming audio at the CBC's website Older broadcasts are available as a stream from the CBC's website, but without the music.
American stations that carry As It Happens do not air the final half hour (7:30 to 8:00 p.m.) of the program. Currently, the CBC also ends the program at 7:30 on Mondays, followed by the documentary series Dispatches.
During the 1970s, the program produced 54-minute long segments called "As It Happened, (insert year)", covering the major events of years past, particularly the 1930s and 1940s. During the CBC technicians strike in 1981, after a few weeks of music, the As It Happened segments were played each weeknight in chronological order as repeat filler material until the strike was resolved.
The late Alan Maitland lives on somewhat under the guise of Fireside Al, his story-reading alter ego, repeats of which are still played on the show, particularly his Christmas readings of Frederick Forsyth's The Shepherd and O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi".
In 2005, the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada honoured Barbara Frum's As It Happens.