Fox News Channel celebrates 25 years on the air

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By Brian Flood , Joseph A. Wulfsohn | Fox News

Fox News Channel launched exactly 25 years ago on October 7, 1996 and the network will celebrate the milestone throughout Thursday. Check back throughout the day for more clips marking the anniversary.

“It was a bold innovation, everybody laughed, nobody thought it would be successful. Not only did we very quickly become No. 1 but we’ve been able to maintain that No. 1 position for a long period of time,” Sean Hannity said on “FOX & Friends.”

 

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Sean Hannity, Steve Doocy and Fox Corporation chairman and News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch played key roles in the launch of Fox News. 

Sean Hannity, Steve Doocy and Fox Corporation chairman and News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch played key roles in the launch of Fox News.

When Rupert Murdoch announced his vision for Fox News Channel only nine months before it launched, FOX had seen phenomenal growth in entertainment programming, children’s content and in sports offerings, but the company lacked a relevant news organization.

While Murdoch expected success for the costly venture, critics weren’t exactly confident the upstart network would succeed. Some cable providers initially refused to even carry Fox News and reporters openly questioned if there was an appetite for another all-news station.

Rupert Murdoch announced his vision for Fox News Channel a few months before it launched in 1996. 

Rupert Murdoch announced his vision for Fox News Channel a few months before it launched in 1996.

“Very few people thought we would succeed,” Brit Hume said, noting that New York Times writer Bill Carter once mocked Fox News as Murdoch’s “imaginary friend.”

 

However, a quarter-century later Fox News has a lot to celebrate and recently finished the third quarter of 2021 as the most-watched network in all of basic cable among both total day and primetime viewers. It has now topped cable news for 79 straight quarters.

“25 years ago today, FOX News Channel went live for the very first time. After months of hiring and construction, and weeks of rehearsals, we had our first show at 6:00 AM ET. Critics didn’t give us much of a chance. After all, we were going up against Microsoft, GE and Time Warner, and were available in fewer homes. They predicted we’d give up within months and quickly flop,” Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott told staffers in an email on Thursday.

“It’s true, the beginning was a bit bumpy. But we persevered. And with unwavering support from Rupert Murdoch and his brilliant vision, we were able to take chances. We were able to try new shows, test new technologies, and ultimately shake up the entire news landscape,” Scott continued. “And if you ask those who were around back then, they’ll tell you it was a lot of fun. We became a team in those early months, with a common purpose: to become the best and to prove the critics wrong.”

Hume feels Fox News quickly gained popularity because of its unique coverage of three significant stories: The Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, the 2000 presidential election, and the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

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“I think we did a good job on 9/11, of covering that story, but in the aftermath we looked at it differently than other media. When the dust had cleared, after that story, we were No. 1 and I guess we’ve been No. 1 ever since,” Hume said.

“We became number one, and never looked back. And most importantly, we never grew complacent, and we stayed hungry and nimble. Today, we still fight as if we are the underdog, which is a major component of why we keep winning and are remarkably going on 20 years at number one in cable news and six years as number one in all of cable,” Scott said. “25 years later, our team is as strong as it’s ever been thanks to all of your hard work and thanks to Lachlan Murdoch’s extraordinary leadership of Fox Corporation, which makes all of this possible.”

Fox News Channel unveiled a series of short-form vignettes from network favorites, celebrities and regular guests to commemorate the milestone. The short video messages will air on Fox News Media platforms for the month of October as more than 50 Fox News personalities and founding employees reflect on their time with the network, offering a personal look at the stories behind the headlines from the past 25 years.

Hume, Hannity, Trace Gallagher, Jon Scott, Neil Cavuto, Steve Doocy, Arthel Nevel, Eric Shawn and Lauren Green have been with the network since it launched, while stars including Ainsley Earhardt, Brian Kilmeade, Greg Gutfeld, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Jesse Watters, Dan Perino, Chris Wallace, Bill Hemmer and Harris Faulkner have joined along the way.

“I remember reading about the launch of this channel in the trades and thinking to myself, ‘I got to find a way to get in here,'” Kilmeade, who joined the network in 1997, said.

Green, who was the first on-air talent hired for Fox News, admitted she was initially hesitant to join a cable channel. Doocy, who was the last hire among the initial batch of anchors, started off as a weatherman to get his foot in the door before finally landing “FOX & Friends.”

“I had fun with it, because we realized pretty early people like the news, but they like it with a little sense of humor,” Doocy said. “We were the little engine that could, but we hadn’t quite made it.”

Gallagher hardly thought he’d be still be employed 25 years after joining the network.

“Some of the stuff was so bad, so many mistakes in production, we never thought the channel was going to make it,” Gallagher said.

The “Hannity” namesake has been one of the network’s biggest stars since day one and his show regularly finishes as one of the most-watched shows in all of television, but he feels it took a lot of work to achieve success.

“There was trepidation … having done radio for a longer time, and it was certainly a learning curve for me. My first shows were atrocious, they’re humiliating, they’re embarrassing,” Hannity said.

Hannity showed a montage of his career at Fox News beginning with highlights from “Hannity & Colmes” with the late Alan Colmes, his world travels from London to Jerusalem and his visits to the Oval Office during the Bush and Trump presidencies.

“It’s like a blur, 25 years,” Hannity reacted. “But I will be always forever grateful to all of you, to all my partners here at Fox News. They let me be me. And I’m grateful for that.”

“Tucker Carlson Tonight” averaged 3.2 million viewers to finish the third quarter of 2021 as the most-watched show on cable news, but 25 years ago he was a young print reporter assigned to shadow Bob Dole’s campaign when the presidential hopeful conducted one of the first interviews on Fox News.

“I remember thinking, ‘That’s not going to work,’” Carlson said. “One of the many things I’ve been wrong about.”

On his show, Carlson praised FOX Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch, Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott, and Fox News Media President Jay Wallace for their commitment to “the freedom of speech.”

“Do they agree with everything we say on this show or other shows? We have no idea, they never told us. What we do know is that they have a bedrock, unshakable belief that the First Amendment is real and that we are the living embodiment of it,” Carlson said. “You can tell the truth on Fox News. Period. It’s not easy to do that. It takes enormous toughness and we’re grateful to them every day for that.”

Current “Special Report” anchor Bret Baier began as an Atlanta-based reporter in 1998 and joked that most people initially assumed Fox News had something to do with FOX hit “The Simpsons.”

On Thursday’s “Special Report,” Baier showed clips from his 24 years at Fox News from taking over the newsdesk from his “mentor” Brit Hume in 2009 to interviews of him grilling Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as well as then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

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Neil Cavuto, who was one of the very first faces to ever appear on Fox News 25 years ago, closed “Your World” offering a timeline of interviews with the biggest names in the finance world.

“Greatness, I like to think, is defined not necessarily by the compliments you get, but how you deal with the criticism that invariably comes your way. Greatness is also defined by those who take chances, those who buck the system… The great ones, the great leaders, they get that. That’s what makes him iconic. That’s what makes them great. That is what has defined Fox News,” Cavuto said.

Shawn, a Fox News original, had a similar experience.

“I remember being in Amman, Jordan, I was covering the president’s visit. I go to the White House pool, I go to feed my tape and they say, ‘Where you from?’ I said Fox News. They’re like ‘Fox News? There is no Fox News, hey, Bart Simpson’s here,’” Shawn said.

Greg Gutfeld kicked off “The Five” with a monologue looking back at how Fox News Channel was “roundly mocked” when it first launched but “within months,” critics saw the channel “rise to the top.”

“How did this happen? First, it was necessary, it had to happen. The mainstream news not only refused to serve most Americans, they felt they didn’t have to,” Gutfeld said. “They controlled the narratives and you had little choice but to take it. They abused your trust. They lied to you. They thought you were stupid.”

“You stuck with us through all the great stuff and not so great stuff. Fox didn’t speak down to you like the pompous gasbags at other networks. We spoke directly to you. We assumed you were as smart as us if not smarter. We didn’t see religion or family as a joke. We celebrated the American ideal,” Gutfeld continued. “But the real thanks goes to you, the viewers, who trust us and let us into your homes. And thanks to everyone who came before us who made this happen against seemingly insurmountable odds. To another 25.”

Donatebalance of naturee="embed">'The Five' celebrates 25 years of Fox NewsVideo

Jesse Watters hailed the “true believers” of Fox News and expressed his goal as a host to “give the people of the country a voice they didn’t have before.”

“So when you see an audience member approach you, they treat us like family and that connection is so strong,” Watters said. “None other broadcast professionals have the connection that we have to the audience and I can state that as a fact.”

Judge Jeanine Pirro added, “Thank goodness for Fox. That we’re are allowed to say what we want. We are who we are. We have distinctive personalities.”

“The Story” anchor Martha MacCallum shared highlights of her 17 years at Fox News that included interviews with then-Congressman Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh and now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, telling viewers “the ride has truly been unforgettable every step of the way.”

“When Fox began, it only took five years to beat our competition. Think about that!” MacCallum exclaimed. “From nothing to five years later being Number One. And now we’re going on 20 years at Number One in what we do in cable news. I think that’s an amazing record, but we have you to thank for supporting us all the way. And we thank the whole country, the places that many media organizations ignore, we did not. We hear you, we are here to tell all sides of the story of what the country is talking about and to make sure all voices are heard. And we are going to continue to work to earn your trust every single day on this program at this network as we begin the next 25 years of Fox News.”

Ingraham joined Fox News in 2007 but realized long before that something special was taking place.

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“It became pretty apparent to me, pretty quickly, that it did not have an identity crisis which a lot of the other outlets had,” she said. “Fox knew what it wanted to be and stayed true to its mission. That’s the key.”

While staying true to its mission, FNC finished No. 1 in basic cable for the seventh straight quarter. It topped both CNN and MSNBC during every hour of the day in the news-heavy third quarter as Americans frequently turn to Fox News for information and analysis.

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Alicia Acuna didn’t even know what Fox News was when her agent approached her about leaving local news for the cable network 24 years ago.

“I go out to Los Angeles, meet the bureau chief there, and he says to me, ‘We’re gonna go after CNN and they’re gonna kill us, but we’re gonna go after them anyway,’” Acuna said. “Something about the idea of this little guy going after this big guy spoke to me and I was in. Think about it, a brand new cable channel going after CNN, it sounded absurd.”

Fox News is on pace to finish 2021 as the most-watched network across all of basic cable for the sixth straight year. Since FNC started being rated on March 31, 1997, it has topped CNN by 68% among total viewers and 31% among the key news demographic of adults age 25-54.

MSNBC, which also launched in 1996, trailed Fox News viewership by a staggering 104% over the past 25 years among total viewers and 74% among the demo coveted by advertisers. During the primetime hours of 8-11 p.m., Fox News has outdrawn CNN by 86% and MSNBC by 110% since March 1997.

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Scott, FOX Corporation CEO Lachlan Murdoch and Fox News Media President Jay Wallace attended a ribbon-cutting last week for the state-of-the-art, all-digital newsroom in the newly renovated Washington, D.C., bureau. Earlier this week, Scott and Wallace were joined by several founding anchors to ring Nasdaq’s Opening Bell as part of ongoing anniversary festivities.