. . . on the afternoon of November 22, 1963?
Of course, that is 50 years ago this week and, as you’ve likely been reminded of by all the specials appearing on television … that is when President John F. Kennedy was shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas.
I received word while sitting in the office of a bank executive in Philadelphia. I had moved back to the Philadelphia area six months earlier to become Station Manager and Program Director of a brand new FM radio station. While the majority of my work was inside the station, I would occasionally make a sales call on a business that I felt could benefit from advertising on our station … which is where I pioneered the musical format that was not a whole lot different than the one I’m responsible for on Escape, which is found just “four doors up” on Sirius XM Channel 69.
Back to that afternoon fifty years ago … while discussing our station and my proposal for the small bank in question, the gentleman’s telephone rang and he asked my permission to answer. After just a few seconds of listening to what the caller was saying, his expression turned quite glum and as he hung up, he stated: “the President’s just been shot … do you need to call your station?”
I called the afternoon announcer, the only person in the station at the time. He had just received a call from the morning announcer, who had heard the news and was on the way back to help us get the information on the air. I quickly returned to the station and began re-programming the music to a more appropriate sound and determining the approach – including the reporting on events – we’d follow over the following few days.
The 1963 calendar was identical to this year’s … the 22nd was on Friday and the day of his funeral was Monday, the 25th. During this period, most television and radio stations changed their programming to fit the mood of the nation and few, if any, aired commercials. We turned to playing light melodies that weren’t particularly familiar along with lighter symphonies by the likes of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s classical music station turned to religiously-oriented oratorios, commonly known as “funeral dirges.”
This is likely more detail than anyone cares to read or needs to know. However, I’ve been urged by a number of folks to share my “story,” to tell about the many twists and turns my road has taken since I began working in radio nearly 60 years ago. Yes, while my nine years of programming Southern Gospel has been significant, it only encompasses a small portion of the many years that I’ve been privileged to use my God-given talents to bring people joy through the medium of radio and, hopefully, make some small difference in their lives.
Oh, how things have changed over the past 50 years. In the 1960’s, there were still stations – including ours – that observed the Noon to 3 P. M. period on Good Friday. Whereas, today … I wonder how the broadcast media, including the thousands of radio stations and hundreds of cable television channels … would handle and treat such a calamitous occurrence such as the assassination of our president. In the last couple of years, we’ve had mass shootings and other major incidents that have been covered in depth, both nationally and locally, by news-oriented TV stations and cable TV channels. However, for most other radio and TV outlets, it was business as usual. But, would it be any different if a major national or world leader died or were killed?
We live in a different time now. Fifty years ago, there were far fewer television and radio stations in operation. And, cable television was nothing more than systems in rural areas that picked up the over-the-air TV station signals and relayed them to homes that weren’t able to pick up a decent signal directly. Of course, satellite transmission of television or radio signals wasn’t even thought about back then, even for sending programming to TV stations across the country.
As a final thought, I might note that – should something of the magnitude I’ve discussed here occur – Sirius XM Master Control has the ability to instantly take all our channels to one source such as an announcer in a studio.
As I asked at the outset … were you alive in 1963 and old enough … do you remember where you were when you heard the news of President Kennedy’s assassination?