photo by Frank Okay
“Nightly Business Report” originated on Florida’s WPBT (my current local PBS affiliate) in 1978 and went national one year later.
I often watched “Nightly Business Report” in its early years, along with its fellow business news program “Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser,” which had gone national in 1972. As a journalist, and later as a financial adviser, I found both shows’ anchors an inspiration – especially “Nightly Business Report” anchor Paul Kangas.
Kangas, who died last week at the age of 79, was widely respected by both his peers and his viewers for his warmth and intelligence. Producer Wendie Feinberg Fisher fondly remembered that his delivery was so smooth, rapid and fact-filled that typists attempting to provide closed captions for his reports had trouble keeping up. Her description of Kangas as “a consummate professional, smooth and clear and understandable and just terrific on the air” is representative of the many tributes offered by those who worked with him.
The media landscape looked quite different when “Nightly Business Report” and “Wall $treet Week” arrived in the mid- and late 1970s. Back then, business news tended to focus excessively on daily stock market movements, which were (and are) unimportant to everyone but professional traders. Yet these two programs, especially “Nightly Business Report,” successfully placed these moves in the context of the news of the day and the changes happening in the world.
There was plenty of change to go around, especially as the 1980s progressed. The decade began with interest rates soaring into double digits, even for bank accounts and money market funds, as the Federal Reserve tried to break the inflation of the late 1970s. Oil prices had spiked for the second time in a decade and then crashed to as low as $10 a barrel in 1986. A major tax bill in 1981 and an even bigger one in 1986 together changed the economic underpinnings of many industries, especially real estate.
Through all this upheaval, Kangas and Rukeyser (who died in 2006) avoided partisanship. Unlike many of the business gurus who would follow them, especially on cable, they never pretended to be the experts themselves, or even to know more than their audiences, despite the fact that both were seasoned journalists and that Kangas had a background as a stock broker. When these anchors interviewed guests, the idea was always to learn something. They asked good questions and followed up on the answers. Viewers felt they were watching two knowledgeable people having a calm, intelligent discussion of the matter at hand. How often do you see that on TV today?
Even when Rukeyser joked about his “elves” and their predictions of stock market movements in the weeks or months ahead, the tone remained light. Such predictions were, of course, guesswork, but at least the presentation was entertaining. Like Kangas, Rukeyser was an acknowledged pioneer of talking about business and economics on television, combining humor with impeccable journalism and fairness.
I eventually stopped watching “Wall $treet Week” and “Nightly Business Review” – not because I lost interest, but because marriage, career and life in general intervened. But I have never stopped being grateful to Kangas and Rukeyser for helping to teach me how to conduct useful and substantive discussions about money and business. I still apply their lessons today.
Kangas’ signature sign-off was “wishing all of you the best of good buys.” While no one will be able to replace him, Kangas’ good wishes – and his legacy – will linger for years to come.