Part 26: A K/MEN Flashback: November 22, 1963

"Memories of nearly 50 years in the Biz"

Part 26: A K/MEN Flashback: November 22, 1963

Postby Brian Lord » Sat May 01, 2010 8:18 am


A K/MEN Flashback: Nov. 22, 1963

I had teased at the end of the last posting that I was going to explain all the crap I went through with booze starting in the late 60's but I realized I had missed a very relevant story which occurred while I was at K/Men in San Bernardino: The Assassination of John F Kennedy. This was an event that outdid the coverage of all previous media stories because media had grown. Things were never quite the same after November twenty-second, and it was television that changed the most. Of course I was in radio but it was a very emotional day for those of us who worked on that story. Reporting what had happened in Dallas to the audience. But I'm not going to pontificate, I'm just going to tell what it was like for me. I should first mention that most of the K/Men DJ's in those early years pulled double duty. We did a three hour stint in the newsroom and a three hour radio program. My newsrun usually started at 3PM.

At around 11AM PST that day I was sitting in the back room reading Billboard magazine when I heard the teletype machine across the lobby and through the Newsroom door, ring. Six times. Five bells indicated a bulletin and drew a lot of attention but SIX was a Flash and that topped a bulletin. One of the K/Men, William F. Williams was manning the news desk. He signaled Jim Mitchell, the DJ on the air, that he had a Flash and to kill the record he was playing: "Big John" by Jimmy Dean (honest) and then went on the air and said that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas Texas. William F. was from Tennessee and had never lost his southern accent although he had a well modulated voice. He would be the first to admit that he did not possess a good news delivery. The Program Director, Bill Watson, shouted 'Where's Lord" and I yelled back and he yelled "Get in the Newsroom, NOW".

It wasn't a slight at Willie, it was just that I had more experience doing news in my short career than Williams and Watson didn't think Willie's accent was going to stand up to this story. When I went to the teletype I saw the first flash from United Press International. It was garbled because the person at UPI was stunned. The second time it came over the wire it was correct and properly worded and stated that President Kennedy's motorcade in Dallas , Texas had been fired upon and the president had been hit.. Subsequent bulletins came across the wire saying his car was en route from the Dealey Plaza to the Parkland Memorial hospital with a full police escort at top speed. The president's condition was not mentioned. Jim, the DJ had found an instrumental LP from the Production Library and was playing it on air while I read the bulletins as they came in.

It seemed like very little time had gone by when the wire sent the announcement that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States was dead. He had been shot by an assassins bullet.

There was a pause; the teletype went silent for perhaps a minute or so and I looked at these colleagues of mine and it was apparent that nobody had any idea of what to say or do. The fact that I was a Canadian never entered my head. This was bigger than anything I had ever known. I was basically struck dumb following the announcement I had just read on the radio. I saw the female staff crying and the telephones were ringing off the hook as people called us to confirm what they were hearing. But there was that pause. That one-half minute of my life I shall never forget -- by which I mean every last detail. The machine gone silent, the attitude of the staff and the sounds around me and in that time I acquired full realization that this was so completely unexpected and awful -- and my thought was simply "why?"

The wire fired up and as the machine spat out more information I signaled Jim that I would alert him if I had something. And I did. The names of Dealey Plaza, Texas School Book Depository, Parkland Hospital, a few names of doctors, the fact that Texas Governor John Connolly had been shot but not killed, the condition of Mrs. Kennedy and the swarming secret service agents seemingly everywhere. It was pure and real drama but the mind kicks into gear and I just read in a very flat delivery, everything I could piece together as it came across UPI's machine, one of those old fashioned things that were in use in all news centers in the early 60's. Bulky and noisy.

I completely lost track of time, not that it mattered. New pieces of information were coming in from the Plaza and it wasn't long before a report surfaced. A man had been seen firing a rifle out of an upper floor window in the School Book Depository building. Within a few minutes this report stabilized and the Dallas Police had broadcast a bulletin to apprehend the individual. It was becoming apparent that The United States had been terribly shaken and that much had to be done. From a garbled message an hour or so ago, news began to flood in. Much of it may have been accurate, much of it hysterical but it was not long before it was known that a suspect was lose and the Dallas police, at full strength, were on the case. The huge, gruesome tale had just begun to form a cohesive news story and slowly a rather shaky focus took form.

We did have one full-time experienced newsman and he came in about 1 PM and relieved me. The PD mentioned that we would have to come up with some kind of appropriate music because rock 'n' roll didn't cut it. We drove up to the big supermarket a mile away and bought some soft, mellow LP's to serve as a collection of the "appropriate" music to accompany a presidential assassination. There is no such thing in a music store as an 'assassination section' so I picked out stuff that Mantovani might have chosen and we recycled that for three days with news bulletins aired at the newsman's discretion, that and the Elevator music. It was eerie in that big supermarket which also sold appliances, etc. much like today's Wall Mart stores. There was a bank of television sets. Nobody was shopping, they were all standing, most appearing horror-stricken, in front of the TV's. There was practically no traffic at all on the streets.

The full-time newsman (AM and PM drive-split shift) asked me if I could assist him that afternoon so we worked in the newsroom together until 11 PM pacing one another and eventually got into an ad lib situation without trying to offer any suggestions, just recaps and oddities and the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald had been captured but not before he had shot and killed a young Dallas policeman by the name of J.D. Tippit. A lot of time was spent by the media trying to find out what the J & D stood for. They stood for nothing. Oswald was apprehended, placed under heavy guard and the story of the assassination began to bulge in every direction as material kept coming in from witnesses and police as well as the FBI and the White House. Vice President Lyndon Johnson was sworn in aboard Air Force One, everybody has seen the picture.

I came in at noon the next day, Saturday, and began to get a bit creative. I called the Dallas Police Station and asked to speak to someone who could tell me about Oswald. To my amazement I was transferred to a sergeant who was only too pleased to talk. I set up a deal with him. I'd call every hour and check on what was new. Then I asked him to describe Oswald: his attitude, his demeanor, his clothing, everything about the man that this sergeant could think of. I hadn't heard until that moment that Oswald had been treated very roughly. Regardless of the Kennedy shooting, this man had killed one of their own. An hour or two later there was news that a gun had been found but it was not the gun which had reportedly killed Kennedy, it was a hand gun. It was actually insignificant information but sounded important. (This contact was of the opinion he was speaking to the entirety of the city of Los Angeles and was up for the job.)

Later on I ran across a name somewhere, Joe Molina, who apparently knew Oswald. The Dallas Directory Information gave me a number, I called it and got lucky. Joe was eating his dinner, his kid answered and I heard him say "Dad it's some news guy agin". Joe indeed had worked with Oswald and answered all the questions one would be expected to be asked of someone who had known the man who had allegedly assassinated the president of the United States. I guess I spent a fair amount of the stations money on Long Distance phone calls, and worked a lot of overtime which I didn't put in for -- but I never lost sight of the fact that what I was doing was working on something that would go down in history. I guess there were a lot of others, thousands, who were doing the same thing and it was not pleasant but it had a warped sense of "disaster stimulation" attached to it.

Sunday, the LA Rams played football at the Coliseum after Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner allowed Sunday's games to proceed in some areas but with no frills, no cheerleaders, just a solemn colour salute. A few of us went to the game. Jack Ruby had shot Oswald that morning before a huge TV audience. Monday the president was buried in Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. before a huge TV audience. Beginning at midnight, we returned to our regular programming. The immediate story was over but the full force of this event will probably never be completely satisfied. There was the Warren Commission and CBS anchor Walter Cronkite. Both the commission and the network did exhaustive investigations and came up with Oswald as the culprit. Not everybody believed them.

Back up to date next time.
Brian Lord
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Re: Part 26: A K/MEN Flashback: November 22, 1963

Postby Steve Sanderson » Sat May 01, 2010 9:08 am

Reading this .....Left me speechless, with that hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It took me back to when I was a kid sitting in front of the T.V. wondering what happened
to my regular programming, and wondering why my Mom was crying as she was watching
the news story unfold ......
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Re: Part 26: A K/MEN Flashback: November 22, 1963

Postby jon » Sat May 01, 2010 11:17 am

sandclan wrote:Reading this .....Left me speechless, with that hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It took me back to when I was a kid sitting in front of the T.V. wondering what happened
to my regular programming, and wondering why my Mom was crying as she was watching
the news story unfold ......

The years have dulled the feelings I had at the time. But our teacher at Second Street Elementary School, Jack Taylor, didn't pull any punches. He was Vice Principal and the "two years from retirement" Principal, Mr. Wallace, came in two or three times with updates as he was listening to CKNW in his office. I still remember hearing one word as he whispered in my teacher's ear: "Fatal". Mr. Taylor explained to our class what had happened.

All the students were sent home at or just before lunch and told not to come back. It was Friday, so that meant Monday morning. The next time I saw the school, the flag was at half mast, where it stayed until JFK was buried.

I spent my day glued to the coverage on television. I dug through the last few days of Vancouver Provinces that hadn't been thrown out yet, to try and get some feeling for "normal" coverage of JFK before the event. One was on his penchant for doodling. I also suddenly remembered a Candid Camera epiosde I'd seen in the last year. Allen Funt asked the question: "Who is Lyndon Johnson?" And he went through hundreds of New Yorkers in his on the street interviews. And no one knew he was Vice President of the country they lived in.

But mostly I want to speak to how Canadians felt about the U.S. at that time. At least in Greater Vancouver. Although there was certainly a lot of Protectionism in terms of trade, there wasn't any malice that I could find, at least among the adults and children that I knew, and what I read in newspapers and heard on the radio and television. Either just before or after the death of JFK.

Canadian University graduates generally gave equal weight to job offers from the U.S. or Canada. In my own case, my father's U.S. job offers came a few years after he graduated, when I was already on the scene. He and my mother decided that they didn't want to risk me being drafted when I hit 18. But many of his friends did take those offers and did very well for themselves.

Companies didn't necessarily group their offices along national borders. My father's New Westminster employer was grouped with the larger Seattle plant, and I think there was also a smaller Portland office in the grouping, too. My father spent a lot of time on trips to Seattle, even being asked to help out on Washington, Oregon and perhaps Idaho customers from time to time. Most company picnics were combined affairs held in Birch Bay.

As Brian says, no one at KMEN cared whether he was a Canadian when it was time to pick someone to work on the JFK coverage. Of course, Vancouverites disliked certain attributes of some Americans. But they also disliked some attributes of some folks from Central Canada.

Perhaps the best way to explain how Vancouver folks felt about the U.S. is to relate it to the large numbers that identified with San Francisco, feeling that Vancouver was the San Francisco of Canada. That is perhaps best demonstrated by the words of Bill Bellman at the time, which takes us back to Radio. When promoting CHQM-FM publicly in those years, he often talked about those Vancouver radio listeners who bought themselves an FM receiver and good quality outdoor antenna, and listened to FM stations from San Francisco. Even more telling, Bellman didn't hide the fact that he had modeled CHQM AM & FM after KABL San Francisco.
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Re: Part 26: A K/MEN Flashback: November 22, 1963

Postby Mike Cleaver » Sat May 01, 2010 3:31 pm

Brian's story brings back memories of that day.
I was still attending high school in Kelowna but my attendance in classes had become sporadic because of my interest in radio and working at CKOV.
I happened to be in the closet off the main hall called "The Radio Room."
This housed the school's PA system and it was where the daily announcements were read by students and other announcements were made by the principal.
I was playing around with the radio receiver seeing what I could pick up at that time of the day and managed to hear an American station (can't remember which) reporting that President Kennedy had been shot.
I quickly dailed over to CKOV and heard nothing but regular programming.
I tried calling the control room number but no one picked up.
I remember dashing out of the room, down the hall and running the four blocks to the station dashing into the control room and yelling at the jock (don't remember who was on) "HIT THE NET, HIT THE NET!!!!
We were a CBC Basic station at the time and when he threw the key, CBC already was well into the story.
How anyone missed the bells on the BN teletype was never explained but the newsroom wasn't exactly staffed 24/7 in those days.
Usually only one person was on at the time and he could have been in the can or getting coffee.
Ironically, the same thing happened in Lethbridge at CJOC when Kennedy's brother was shot.
It happened just after sign off.
A couple of us were in my car going out to get something to eat and dailing around to find a rockin' US station.
All we heard was news and the fact another assassination had taken place.
We raced back to the station, fired up the transmitter and threw on the CBC.
Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to go 24/7 and CJOC began an all night show.
Back to Brian.
His stories are fantastic.
This is what I'm concerned about.
How much of this history will be lost if we don't start working on preserving it.
Brian is doing an excellent job in print.
But I'd love to get him in front of a mic, telling them in his own amazing style.
Mike Cleaver Broadcast Services
Engineering, News, Voice work and Consulting
Vancouver, BC, Canada

54 years experience at some of Canada's Premier Broadcasting Stations
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