November 22, 1963

November 19, 2013 

I was casually roaming about the kitchen of our family home in Syracuse making a tuna fish sandwich — living room TV droning in the background.

At that exact moment, the most honored newsman in broadcast television was standing next to a United Press International wire machine at CBS headquarters in New York on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, when the first horrifying words clattered into teletype view.

Since there was no adequate time to properly prepare normal telecast logistics for that era, a single slide proclaiming "A CBS News Bulletin" quickly leapt onto TV screens coast-to-coast, interrupting "As The World Turns" at 1:40 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The deep, resonant voice of Walter Cronkite solemnly intoned history unfolding at the speed of light.

"Here is a bulletin from CBS News — In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting."

My heart stopped. Cronkite? Off-camera? Unheard of. There was a shuffling of papers with excited, muted murmurings audible in the background as the newsman then continued: "More details just arrived. United Press says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal."

Everything that followed comes back with astounding clarity in relentless, wrenching, slow-motion recall.

Finally appearing on camera wearing shirt and tie, but without suit coat, Cronkite continued providing additional facts with proper qualification for almost an hour as they chaotically became available. At 2:38 p.m., his powerful delivery finally trembling with deep emotion, viewers heard Cronkite's confirmation of the dreaded truth.

"President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time – 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Vice President Johnson has left the hospital, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th president of the United States."

I had initiated my radio career at WNDR (AM 1260) six years earlier at the — in my case — not so innocent age of 16 — and was by then doing both a morning (6-9 a.m.) and afternoon (4-7 p.m.) DJ show on the highly-rated "Top Forty" station.

As soon as our president's death was confirmed, programming was completely and drastically altered for a three-day period all the way through midnight of John F. Kennedy's state funeral and burial in Washington's Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 25.

Even before the tragic reality of the assassination became finally determined, I responded to a call from WNDR's program director — assembling and delivering to the station a fairly extensive collection of classical music from various sources. The most somber selections were used to provide appropriate interlude between constant informational updates that continued throughout the period. In the absence of a formal network affiliation, I and a dozen other WNDR announcers took turns reading fresh copy from United Press International, the Associated Press and even our old Western Union Telegraph machine that spat forth limited bits of data on yellow ticker tape — the earliest digital electronic communications medium from the time it started transmitting stock prices in 1870. With one letter or symbol at a time, it moved about as fast as Twitter.

We had TV sets tuned to NBC, ABC and CBS. That's all there was. I watched live as Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed that Sunday in the basement of the Dallas Police Department.

Most of us never left the building until late Monday night on the 25th.

When I departed — it was for good.

I had taken it upon myself to cancel several weekend dance appearances ("Sock Hops") which I felt inappropriate to present due to the assassination. One of them involved an important station client, who was furious. Following a loud and fierce shouting match with our WNDR general manager, I resigned on the spot — never to return.

It was then I headed West.

"The West is the best. Get here ... and we'll do the rest." Jim Morrison – "The End" ("The Doors" — 1967).

I did. They have.

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