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The Foote Files: How Television Covered A National Tragedy

THE FOOTE FILES (CBSDFW.COM) — In 1963, television had only been viable in the United States for 17 years — once World War II was over.

For radio, they could listen for the latest news from Europe and the Far East, either through the CBS Radio Network or the NBC Radio Networks.

Now, it was television's opportunity and challenge to cover a national crisis.

Shortly after 12:30 p.m. CST Nov. 22, 1963, CBS News broke into "As The World Turns" with the initial report of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Since no TV cameras back then were ready to go on immediately, CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite had a producer put up a full screen slide through the network control room "CBS News Bulletin" and he went into an audio booth to report what was known.

Shortly thereafter, all three networks went with wall-to-wall coverage, but it was a lot harder back then with the technology that was available at the time. There was no satellite transmission yet — mostly phone lines — and no internet like today.

I was a fourth grade student then. It was sunny in Dallas that day but cold and windy. I was in a library class when our principal announced that Kennedy had been shot and passed away. We were then sent home and were told that there would be no school until Tuesday, Nov. 26.

When I got home from school, all regular programming on the local network stations was pre-empted through Monday. As a 9-year-old kid, I really wasn't sure what to think. But our parents kept me and my brother assured that we would get through this.

Dan Rather had just been hired by CBS News in 1962 as a result of his excellent coverage of Hurricane Carla while working as a reporter at Houston's KHOU, the CBS station there.

At the time of the assassination, Rather was based in Dallas. Charles Collingwood, one of the Murrow Boys from WW2, was also seen a lot as well when Cronkite needed a break. Harry Reasoner, who later anchor the ABC Evening News and then returned to CBS as a correspondent for "60 Minutes," was also seen frequently as a CBS News correspondent.

Finally, Bob Schieffer, later a long time CBS News correspondent, was at that time a reporter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and earlier with KXOL Radio, who received a call from a lady needing a ride to the police station on that fateful day. Schieffer replied that the paper was not a taxi service, to which she responded, "Well. I think it's my son who shot President Kennedy." Schieffer moved on this one quickly to his credit and that put him on the national map.

While American presidents had died in office before this, such as Franklin Roosevelt, there had not been a presidential assassination since President William McKinley on Sept. 14, 1901. But there was only newspapers, telephone and telegraph back then, no radio or TV.

Here's a clip remembering this day.

JFK assassination: CBS News coverage as it happened by CBS Mornings on YouTube


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