- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2001

NEW YORK For most of his long life, Walter Cronkite was not big on celebrating New Year's. "This hype that New Year's Eve has always had I could never quite get on board with it," the veteran newsman says. "You get all set up for that big party, and then it's kind of a disappointment."
He pauses a moment, thinking back in amusement.
"You know, up to the time I was 10, Halloween was the same way," he says. "You planned all these naughty tricks, and then it kind of fell apart."
Long ago, trick-or-treating ceased to be an issue. More recently, his other issue has resolved itself, too.
"I've had more fun the past 18 years," Mr. Cronkite says, "than almost any other way of celebrating New Year's Eve."
Better yet, it again can be shared by viewers when PBS airs "From Vienna: The New Year's Celebration 2002" live at 2:30 p.m. tomorrow, then again at 8 p.m. (WETA-TV, Channel 26)
With Mr. Cronkite as host, Seiji Ozawa conducts the Vienna Philharmonic through a 90-minute program of Strauss waltzes, polkas and marches from the Musikverein, Vienna's premiere concert hall.
In addition, Mr. Cronkite serves as local tour guide, taking viewers to sites of interest, including the vast palace of Schoenbrunn and one of Vienna's oldest, most venerated showplaces Theater in der Josefstadt.
A standing date for Mr. Cronkite for nearly two decades, the celebration reaches back even further on radio, before TV as a holiday custom throughout Western Europe and beyond.
"I had friends over there who never did understand what I did in life," the former CBS anchorman says with a chuckle. But when he snagged this assignment, "suddenly, I got very important in their eyes."
Asked what kind of music he listens to the rest of the year, Mr. Cronkite is typically discreet: All kinds, he says, although the modern stuff leaves him cold.
This worries him a little.
"I remember that my father-in-law would get up and snap Bing Crosby off the radio and say, 'I'm sorry, but I can't stand that caterwauling.' Now I feel like snapping off the television or radio for the same reason: I know it's just old age."
As he looks ahead to his 86th New Year's, Mr. Cronkite is polishing off a hasty lunch of cottage cheese and iced tea at his desk in the handsome corner office he occupies at CBS headquarters.
He is feeling grateful. The Vienna program is "a great way to start another year," he declares, "to know that I'm still accepted in front of the cameras, that I'm still out there doing my job."
Not that he is scrambling for work. Since retiring from the "CBS Evening News" 21 years ago, Mr. Cronkite has kept busy, visible and the nation's ear. He doesn't sit behind the anchor desk, but nothing has unseated him as "the most trusted man in America."
For instance, who but Mr. Cronkite to size up TV's contributions in this troubled year? "Television, the great common denominator, has lifted our common vision as never before," he told millions at the start of November's Emmy broadcast.
Of course, ever the newshound, Mr. Cronkite will readily acknowledge his longing to be in the thick of things on a day like last September 11.
"But every big story, I think about it," he says. "I'd hardly stepped down when the Reagan assassination attempt took place [in March 1981]. I was in Moscow doing a documentary, and here this great story breaks. I realized right away I'd made a mistake: I shouldn't have gotten off that desk." Not quite ruefully, he laughs.
The anchorman who upon the death of President Kennedy set the tone for a nation comporting himself on the air with evident grief yet calm resolve Mr. Cronkite is able to identify with his successors covering the terrorist attacks of September 1.
"It was a terribly tough story to handle," he says. "You've got everybody seeing the same picture you're seeing, and you don't have much more information to impart than what they've got just by looking at the screen themselves. And what information you do get you've got to be exceedingly careful about, because rumors breed so rapidly.
"From what I saw, I think the anchors did exceedingly well."
But as Mr. Cronkite pointed out in his Emmycast opening remarks, TV after September 11 did more than dole out information. It also served as a reminder "that entertainment can help us heal."
All the more reason to join Mr. Cronkite waltzing into 2002.
"The music is all light and airy," he promises, "and not meant to get anybody pondering the past or the future.
" It's a relief, and such a pleasant way to start the year: Let's everybody start in three-quarter time."


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