Friday, September 6, 2013

Dallas November 22, 1963


 Kennedy  seriously wounded

This section of my blog will be difficult.  Even as I contemplate what I will write about Dallas on that November day I get emotional.

I was in the newsroom at WMEX Boston...looking at the UPI ticker when this “bulletin” printed around the world.

“Three shots were fired at the Kennedy motorcade in downtown Dallas today.”

        Then...everything stopped...except the rock record Melvin X Melvin was playing in the control room.
We had a process for news break-ins and I shoved a sounder in the machine and pulled the pot up and broke in on the record being played.
All I had was the first bulletin...and I read it into the mic and to the people of Boston and I am sure to this day I was the first to break the news in JFK’s hometown to hundreds of thousands of listeners that those shots were indeed fired.  But next came the brutal three words I will never forget....

In my broadcasting career I had seen only one or two “flash”  messages on the UPI or AP machines. 
Flash was reserved for the most extreme breaking the attempt to kill President Truman as he resided in the Blair House (renovations at the White House forced that) and the shooters in the House of Representatives in the Capital.

Mac rushed into the newsroom with a “doubting” look on his face until I showed him the wire copy.  Melvin(Jim) was into another record...waiting on us for some guidance but it wasn’t going to be up to us.
We had the UPI audio news service...where at specific times they would feed news stories for taping and later use.
Mac and I were startled to hear a standby alert tone UPI reserved for important breaking news but this time it was so loud it actually forced us to stop and listen.
At the same time the teletype was sounding it’s alarm and these words were being printed incessantly...
get off...get off...get off...and stay off.
UPI had what is called a local service break or local "feed"...when the wire was used by their Boston, Washington, Chicago, etc bureaus to send several stories for local consumption by radio stations.
    The wire service was right in the middle of one of these local breaks and they were trying desperately to get the whole teletype net back into New York’s hands.
    On the air...I had repeated the earlier bulletin and then the flash...a couple of times.
      Mac took charge....ordering no more music....go to UPI audio. 
I brought the UPI audio pot up just as they were beginning their broadcast of the Dallas news.
     From that moment on...Boston's highest rated rock and roll station became a news/talk station.  It would be that way for about three or four days.
Talk host Jerry Williams (one of the best) was already on his way in...other news personal were showing up...DJ’s became newsmen and talk hosts...all stunned by what we had heard.  Thank goodness we had UPI Audio.  We had very little to relate on the air and they did a good job.

After holding the fort about twenty minutes Mac ambled in and took me by the arm and said I had done a good job...but ordered me to take a break.  Another newsman then took over.
UPI audio made the sorrowful announcement that the President was dead......and I took my break.  

WMEX was at Fenway Park home of the Red Sox and at times we could hear home run balls bouncing off our rooftop.   We actually took our lunch break in the stadium watching ballplayers working out.  There was a bar down the street and I found myself walking toward it...I entered and sat at the bar as the bartender stood watching one of the networks broadcast of the events.  
He took my drink order...which didn’t surprise him...Jack Daniel's black label...double shot.  It had been a long time since the Beverly Hills days with Nick  Clooney but that was the best to have under these circumstances.
I was numbed by the news...just like everyone else.
I had a refill..on the house...and tried to gather myself together to go back to work.  
As I entered the station and climbed the long stairs I notice a couple of the secretaries with handkerchiefs...they were feeling the pain...then I bumped into Jerry Williams who just said “shit” ...not about bumping into me but about the events in Dallas.  He had been a fairly big JFK follower on his nightly talk program.  
Jerry was a pro and although nobody but nobody could be prepared for what was happening and how to respond to it on and off the air...Jerry was THE guy.    He was basically the anchor for our Boston coverage for the next few days...talking with Boston and Washington officials on the air and interviewing guests in the studio. He was the rock that held us together.
I returned to the newsroom and after assurances to Mac that I was ok...went back to work.  While sipping my drink in that bar I got an idea that might or might not work.  I outlined it to Mac and he said...go with it.
I needed the phone numbers for NBC, CBS and ABC News.
"You want what????"
It was simple...your permission to broadcast your tv audio for the duration of this crises coverage.
The first couple of guys I talked to in New York thought I was crazy....but I left my number in case they had second thoughts and came to their senses.
Within about four or five hours the guy at NBC News called me back and said...”you can have anything you want. Just go ahead and carry the TV audio on your station.” He faxed the authorization directly to the newsroom.
Then Mac and Jerry and I discussed it.  There WERE pros and cons and we kicked them around and we left it up to Mac to decide.
    He finally said "no" to the idea.  It had merit and was historically important as it had never been attempted before...but there could be ramifications down the line with UPI audio with which had a contract...and what about the local NBC-TV would they react to WMEX carrying a signal specifically meant for them?  All good questions and although it was my idea and I accomplished getting NBC to approve...I could see Mac had a point.  I folded and we went with round the clock UPI Audio who was doing good job utilizing their well known reporters all over the world and instantly turning them into radio correspondents.
     They say “it’s an ill wind that blows no good”.
     Almost everyone had...for a few days...put the Boston Strangler business on the back burner.  However, I think the officials later discovered another body that had been done-in during the events in Dallas.

“You can’t get Cardinal Cushing on the phone” I was told by a co-worker. 
“You might as well call the Pope!.”
 So of course I went to work to do just that and I did get his Eminence, Boston Cardinal Cushing, on the phone...with a statement of sorrow about the tragic death of his very good friend, John Kennedy.
We fed that to UPI audio and they fed it around the world.  Another’ve got to be positive in this business...or nothing gets accomplished. After his statement I asked him why no church bells were ringing the sad news.  That changed shortly.

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