Friday, November 22, 2013

The Day Kennedy Died

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Florida, November 22, 1963 - This sunny but crisp autumn day started like most others. Betty was screaming at the kids to get up, get dressed, "...eat your breakfast." That was my alarm clock, so I got up, got dressed and ready for work.

Work wasn't really work. I was an announcer, disc jockey, copy writer, news reporter, and assistant to the chief engineer at WSCM, Tall Tower Town and Country Radio, 1290 on the right side, the bright side of your radio dial. As a country music radio personality on what was eventually called the Redneck Riviera, you could say I was something of a celebrity. The talents of a young stud radio man were always in demand - if you get my drift.

As a consequence I most always looked forward to going to the station and getting The Jolly Jon Show on the air. There was no telling what the day might bring. Well, this day brought something that I don't believe any of us in America could have imagined.

WSCM was a little tea-pot of a radio station tucked into a tiny strip mall next to the Holiday Lodge Resort right next to the marina. The studio and office were the only two rooms. We shared a bathroom with everybody else who visited the marina. Our newsroom was a broom closet with a United Press International (UPI) teletype machine and was probably eight feet at most away from our mixing board.

There is no way I could tell you what was playing on the turntable when the teletype went wild around 12:30 that afternoon - ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding - and it kept going. Normally if there was a news bulletin the machine would ding three times and then quit. This time the damn thing wasn't quitting. I figured it was broken. I didn't want to open the mike and talk over that damn bell so I segued into another record.

When I opened the door to the broom closet, or rather newsroom, I was startled to see that UPI machine spewing paper. I ripped off the lead story.

PRESIDENT KENNEDY HAS BEEN SHOT

SHOTS WERE FIRED AT KENNEDY'S MOTORCADE IN DALLAS

KENNEDY SHOT AS LIMOUSINE ENTERED DEALEY PLAZA

GOVERNOR CONNALLY ALSO SHOT

KENNEDY RUSHED TO PARKLAND HOSPITAL

And, a half hour after 1 p.m. CST:

PRESIDENT KENNEDY IS DEAD

When I realized the gravity of the situation, I quit even trying to play records. I left the mike open. Listeners could hear the teletype bell constantly dinging. I would race to the machine, rip off new copy and race back to the board to read the news.

I think I changed the roll of teletype paper at least once. I kept running, ripping, and reading. Not too long after President Kennedy's death was announced the UPI machine fell silent. The only sounds you could hear were the tears falling from the eyes of a heartbroken America.

Our station manager, Hal Cunningham, wrote a very moving eulogy honoring President Kennedy that I read on the air with The Battle Hymn Of The Republic by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir playing in the background.

Mr. Cunningham kept the eulogy, but we still have the choir.


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