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Why do ‘Today Show’ anchors say ‘but first, this is ‘Today’ on NBC’?

If you watch NBC News‘ “Today,” you’ll notice that before going to commercial breaks, the anchors sometimes will say “but first, this is ‘Today’ on NBC.” But why?

  • While “Today” is produced by NBC News in New York, it reaches most viewers thanks to one of hundreds of local affiliate stations across the country.
  • These local stations typically access the show’s feed via satellite or a digital feed and then retransmit it via over the air signals, local cable systems or satellite TV providers.
  • When “Today” first started, most stations had a specialized room known as “master control” that was staffed with individuals tasked with making sure the right programs and commercials aired at the right time.
  • Local stations not only would receive network feeds via satellite, but syndicated programming was typically delivered that way too.
  • Sometimes these shows would be sent to the station at the same time they aired it — but other times stations would need to record the feed and broadcast it later.
  • For example, a station might air “Wheel of Fortune” at 7 p.m., but in reality it was fed out over satellite earlier in the day, recorded by the station and played back at the right time.
  • Originally these shows were literally taped onto videotape, but eventually would evolve to use different media formats.
  • Master control used to require hands-on operators — who would quite literally switch between the various sources for video — whether it be network, taped or live programs as well as local commercial breaks.
  • Because of this, local stations needed a reliable way to know when a commercial break was approaching that they would air their locally sold advertising.
  • By agreement with the network, local stations are typically allowed to sell advertising during certain portions of network programming — as well as most or all of any locally produced or syndicated shows.
  • The “but first, this is ‘Today’ on NBC” was conceived as a way to be an audible reminder or cue that gave local master control operators a head’s up that a local break was approaching.
  • The phrase was selected so that it was distinct from other ways anchors might introduce a commercial break but not so much that most viewers would notice.
  • Today, however, most master control operations are highly automated and do not require the on air reminder that a local break is approaching, so the phrase doesn’t serve a purpose for the majority of stations anymore.
  • However, the line has remained a prominent element of the show, partly as a nod to the show’s heritage.
  • It matches the “This is ‘Today'” part of the show’s opens, a phrase that is also used to market the show as well.