First Reports

Driving the President’s limousine is Bill Greer, the Secret Service agent who routinely chauffeurs the president. Sitting to Greer’s right is Assistant Special Agent in Charge Roy Kellerman. Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie, are in jump seats just in front of President Kennedy and the First Lady.

With police motorcycle escort, Greer rushes to Parkland Memorial Hospital.

The Press pool car, provided by AT & T, follows a few cars behind the President’s limo. As it is impossible to accommodate the entire White House media, reporters from print, the wire services and broadcast news rotate. The rest of the reporters ride in two buses at the rear of the motorcade. Appropriately, the press car is outfitted with the latest modern covenience, a telephone.

As TV in Dallas presented JFK’s speech at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast and the arrival of Air Force One at Love Field, the rest of the country was served the daily TV fare of game shows, reruns and, daytime dramas. Depending on where you lived, ABC offered the game show “Seven Keys” or a rerun of “Father Knows Best”.

In the east, many NBC stations show a rerun of “Bachelor Father”, the John Forsythe sitcom. CBS airs the popular soap “As the World Turns”.

AstheWorldTurns
The first report of something wrong runs over the United Press wire at 12:34 Dallas time, 1:34 in the east. Merriman Smith, the UPI reporter in the pool car picked up the phone and dictated: Dallas, Nov. 22 (UPI) – THREE SHOTS WERE FIRED AT PRESIDENT KENNEDY’S MOTORCADE TODAY IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS.

At 1:36 eastern, Don Gardiner announces the news on the ABC radio network. At 1:40, CBS breaks into the daytime drama with a CBS News Bulletin slide and an announcement by Walter Cronkite. Similarly to Cronkite and CBS, announcer Don Pardo reports the news on NBC from a radio booth for WNBC-TV New York.

CBSBulletin“Here is a bulletin from CBS News,” Cronkite begins. “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.” There is a pause, and it is soon apparent someone is handing Cronkite more pages. “More details just arrived. These details as previously, President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called ‘Oh, no!’ the motorcade sped on. United Press says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS News, President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS for further details.” As Cronkite was making this announcement, CBS technicians are moving a heavy, bulky studio camera to the newsroom, outfitting Cronkite’s desk with a microphone and warming up the lights.

66CBS cuts from the bulletin to a commercial break for Nescafe instant coffee. Then there is a station identification and promotion for that evening’s episode of the drama “Route 66”. As “As the World Turns” is about to resume, CBS News breaks in again.

cassenAfter Cronkite’s second announcement, As the World Turns resumes. In this scene, Bob Hughes is at a restaurant meeting with Dr. Cassen, their conversation punctuated with dramatic pause and cigarette smoke. As the waiter brings menus, the scene fades for another commercial break. Back-to-back ads for Friskies dog food are followed with a third bulletin. It is now 1:47 eastern time.

The newsroom at NBC was no more active than any other Friday afternoon, with some just back from lunch. When a production assistant sees the report on the wire service teletype, he calls out for a reporter. Across the newsroom at his desk, correspondent Bill Ryan was writing copy for the hourly network radio newscast. Ryan stands up and calls back; “What do you need?” “Get back to TV right away!” the news hand said. “The president has been shot!”

Ryan heads to Studio 5HN, the NBC “Flash” studio. A small, bare facility with cheap wood panel walls and a studio camera, it exists for just such a day. Chet Huntley, half of the network’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report” and Frank McGee soon join Ryan.

It took until 1:53 for NBC to clear its local stations and get the network on the air. It is not until 1:57 that someone starts a videotape recording.

Bill Ryan NBC

Bill Ryan
NBC

Don Goddard was first on the air for ABC. After reporting from the anchor desk, Goddard moved to the floor, where he could relay news from Bill Lord, a reporter at ABC’s Dallas station. Lord was reporting via telephone from the Sherriff’s department opposite the scene of the shooting. While Goddard relays the news, stagehands struggle to provide a backdrop as he stands before a bare wall.

Don Goddard

Don Goddard

Goddard was soon replaced by anchorman Ron Cochran, who was tracked down at a restaurant lunch when the story broke. Ed Silverman joins Cochran on the set to handle the phone.

cochran2

Robert MacNeil, covering the presidential trip for NBC, is seated in a press bus at the end of the motorcade. When he hears the shots, he bolts and heads to the nearest building, looking for a pay phone. His first report is from the Texas School Book Depository. It is later established that was the very building from where the shots were fired. Following that report, MacNeil makes his way to Parkland Hospital. There, reporters gather in a hospital classroom for announcements or, roam the halls for a pay phone.

In what must have been a television first, Frank McGee accepts a collect call from NBC’s Robert MacNeil on live national television.

For NBC, left to right; Frank McGee, Chet Huntley and Bill Ryan.

For NBC, left to right; Frank McGee, Chet Huntley and Bill Ryan.

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