Frank McGee (journalism)

Frank McGee (September 12, 1921—April 17, 1974) was a television journalist.

Born in Monroe in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, McGee began his broadcast news career at WKY-TV (now KFOR-TV) in his hometown. In 1955, the owners of WKY purchased WSFA-TV in Montgomery, Alabama, and sent McGee there as news director. WSFA was an affiliate of NBC. As the civil rights movement gained national coverage, McGee's work came to the notice of NBC, who offered him a position with the network.

McGee was a floor correspondent for the political conventions of both parties in 1960, 1964, and 1968. In 1960, he hosted the second debate between presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. At that time, the debates were considered by the news media to have swung the election in favor of Kennedy.

McGee had a great talent for descriptive language, often giving viewers a vivid word picture of the day's events. When NBC News's Chet Huntley broke the news of John F. Kennedy's assassination, McGee appeared in the studio with Huntley and Bill Ryan. Correspondent Robert MacNeil reported by telephone from Dallas, but the flash studio in New York was not equipped to put telephone calls on the air. This was eventually accomplished, but for the first hour, MacNeil spoke to McGee over the telephone, and McGee then repeated MacNeil's report to the viewing audience. During MacNeil's report that the President had died, his comments were finally heard over the air, but McGee, unaware of the change, repeated them anyway. The veteran journalist remained on duty for 45 hours with little rest, reporting without a script. McGee was also on the air in 1968 when word came that Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the late president's brother, had been shot following the California primary, and he calmly anchored the network's breaking news coverage.

In the early 1960s, he also served as a news reporter and host on the NBC weekend radio show Monitor. He is most noted for his interview on that program with the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for asking him specifically how he felt about being targeted for assassination. King responded calmly and told McGee he had given serious thought to the possibility.

In 1967, McGee lived with members of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam for almost a month to report a well-received documentary, Same Mud, Same Blood, about black soldiers in Vietnam. McGee was perhaps best known in the middle and late 1960s for hosting The Frank McGee Report, seen early Saturday and Sunday evenings. The half-hour program generally gave more attention to one or more topics than a regular newscast, sometimes employing a full documentary format. In 1969, NBC began a traditional Saturday evening newscast, and in 1970, a Sunday version, both of which replaced The Report. McGee, however, often anchored those weekend newscasts. For several months in 1970, McGee also anchored WNBC-TV's local 6 p.m. newscast.

In 1970, after Huntley's retirement ended the Huntley-Brinkley Report, McGee became one of a platoon of three anchors on the newly-renamed NBC Nightly News, along with John Chancellor and David Brinkley. When the network settled on Chancellor as permanent anchor the next year, McGee moved to The Today Show in 1971, replacing Hugh Downs, who had hosted the program since 1962. McGee moved Today into a more serious news presentation, insisting on opening and closing the show by himself while sharing other duties with co-host Barbara Walters. He also insisted that he, and not Walters, ask guests the first two or three questions if both of them were doing an interview.

He last appeared on Today days before his death on April 17, 1974, at the age of 52, from complications from bone cancer. He was succeeded by another Oklahoma native, Jim Hartz, who co-hosted the show with Walters until 1976.

While McGee was born in Monroe, his broadcasting colleague, Howard K. Smith of CBS and later ABC, was born in 1914 some eighty miles to the south in Ferriday in Concordia Parish, Louisiana.


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