Stories and insight in the world of showbiz and beyond.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

NOVEMBER 22, 1963 - STAY TUNED

As I told you many times, my morning routine rarely changes. Up at about 6 AM, I pour myself a cup of coffee, pop a Tart into my 70-year-old toaster (that's a another story), and completely devour the Los Angeles Times, front page to back. One of my favorite columnists is Steve Lopez. In this morning's article he ended his story on the presidential races with the same signature I always use, "Stay tuned."

Most people who were around in the 60s have been asked this question, "Where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?" And, most people can recall it in full detail. On that fateful November 22, 1963 day, I not only remember where I was, but I remember exactly what I said, "Stay tuned."

There are actually two things that bring that day to mind. Besides me saying, "Stay tuned," the word "BINGO" comes to mind. It's quite a story and you know I'm going to tell it.

In 1963 I was staff announcer at KCOP in Los Angeles. At the time I was also producing and hosting The Lloyd Thaxton Show. I had been doing both because I refused to quit my "day job." Even though I had a local hit show on my hands, one never knows. It wasn't until 1964, when my show went into syndication across the country, that I had the nerve to give it up. For over a year I wrote the show in the announce booth, located in a windowed room looking down on one of KCOP's TV studios.

KCOP had recently given the order telling the staff announcer on duty to check the news wires constantly. If the announcer found a news item deemed worthy of broadcasting, he should go to the booth and inform the staff director on duty that he had a "special announcement." The director would then interrupt the program that was playing at the moment and the staff announcer would cut in with "We interrupt this program to bring you this special news bulletin."

Now 99 out of a 100 of these "special news bulletins" were not very special at all and many were just plain stupid. However on that November 22 morning while scanning the news machine I came up with this.

(ACTUAL BULLETIN)

The first part of the bulletin was mistyped and garbled. But, the words "SERIOUSLY WOUNDED IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS TODAY...PERHAPS FATALLY," came through in chilling detail. I stood there breathlessly as I waited for more. Who was it that was "PERHAPS FATALLY" wounded? And then, after waiting through several minutes of agonizing silence from the news teletype machine, I watched as the following words were oh-so slowly typed out.

"ZA SNIPER SERIOUSLY WOUNDED PRESIDENT KENNEDY IN
DOWNTOWN DALLAS TODAY ... PERHAPS FATALLY"

Note that the obviously distraught typist still blew the first word by adding a Z. Wouldn't you, if you had to type out that message?

There was no one else in the halls at KCOP as I made my way back up to the announce booth. When I got there I flipped the switch putting my mike in contact with the director ("UP" to the director. "DOWN" on-the-air). The director said, "Lloyd, this better be a good one. We are interrupting a live show, you know." I looked down from my booth window into the studio below. There was a live Bingo game going on in front of a small audience. I said to the director, "Trust me. This is the one."

And then I pushed the switch down and said, "We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin." I read the bulletin and ended with, "Stay tuned to KCOP for further information." There it was: "STAY TUNED." At the time it was a wasted phrase. I knew right then and there that every set that was watching KCOP at the time would switch to a network station for the latest news and for the next week or so we would be a non-watched station.

The Bingo show had to go on anyway because it had nowhere else to go. There was no KCOP news "Department" at the time, and our regularly scheduled programing had to continue. The last thing I heard as I was picking up the phone to call our local news "person" to ask for instructions was, "The next letter is a 'G.'" I never heard anyone yell "BINGO!" The game was over (in more ways then one).

Where were you on November 22, 1963?

Stay tuned.

18 Comments:

Blogger Gary said...

I'll never forget it, either. I was 7 years old and in the 2nd Grade at Stowe Elementary School here in Duluth, MN. We just had our lunch and were coming back to our classroom when one of the students in my class came running into the room crying and yelling "The President's been shot!" Most of us who knew Joanie well thought she was a know-it-all and a teacher's pet, so we just ignored her and I remember somebody saying "Yeah, right!" But then.....our teacher came in and she was crying. We knew something was wrong. She was having a hard time telling us, but she said "It's true, kids. The President's been shot." A minute or two passed before the announcement by the Principal came over the loudspeakers in the school and he said all classes were dismissed. Well, since it was shock to us, we were still more than happy to leave school and go home! I remember walking home with a couple of friends (yes, it was safe to do back then and it was almost a mile to my house) and we were talking about what happened, not knowing if the President died or was just hurt. All we were told was he was shot. I also remember watching the TV when they interrupted my cartoons to show Lee Harvey Oswald being transferred from the jail and seeing Jack Ruby come out of the crowd and shooting Oswald. I've NEVER seen anything like that before! This 7 year old was STUNNED! "Hey mom, did you see that!?" I don't remember if she shut the TV off then or if she just shooed me and my brothers off to go outside to play.
NEXT!
Gary

7:19 PM

 
Blogger Jake Hollywood said...

I remember exactly where I was on 22 Nov '63: Montreal, Canada eating crepes at a cafe (the name of which escapes me for the moment). Right after my first bite, the French waiters in the cafe suddenly went crazy. They burst into tears and started yabbering and one or two just slumped to the floor.

And oddly enough, years later, when Bobby Kennedy was shot, I was in Quebec. And earlier when MLK was murdered I was in Halifax, PEI.

The three biggest events of the sixties and I was not even in the country. Odd, especially considering I'm not Canadian.

8:25 PM

 
Anonymous timbobtom said...

9th grade, 3rd period English class taught by Brother Frances at Crespi High School in Encino...

10:04 AM

 
Anonymous Stan said...

I was in 11th grade at Millikan H.S. in Long Beach Ca. We were at an assembly watching a performance of Barber of Seville.. Our Principle stepped onto the stage stopped the show and announced the news.

4:45 PM

 
Blogger daniel said...

I was only 3 and too young to recall where i was when i found out about the assassination...But my mother has told me that i sat still on her lap for the entire broadcast of the funeral on TV...Which is notable because i've never been known to ever sit still...I guess i absorbed all the sadness and it affected me too.

5:22 AM

 
Blogger Music Before the Money said...

Hi Lloyd,

Am I ever glad I found your site! Your show was the best!

Gary's experience was an amazing parallel to mine except I'm 3 years older and it was in the Rockies just 60 miles north of the Idaho border. I'm not An American but it didn't matter. JFK was everyone's president and even people in communist countries felt the loss.

Keep up the great work, Lloyd. Right now I'm going through your archives!

Cheers,
Kim

11:30 AM

 
Blogger Mike Barer said...

I was getting ready to go to Kindergarten and was in the kitchen on our house in Walla Walla on Leonard Street.
Soon people will talk about where they were when they heard the twin towers were struck.

8:40 PM

 
Anonymous katie said...

Oh probably in my crib! I was 3 -- don't remember. I remember RFK but not JFK.

But I loved your recollections, and everybody else's!

Nice to see a "Crespi critter," ha, that's what we called them in my days at Corvallis High!

10:15 PM

 
Anonymous DanaC said...

I was walking across the campus on my way to gym class at Canoga Park High School. I heard words here there like "oh no!" "shot!" Groups were gathering together and people were crying. I had no idea what happened until I got to the girls gym.

There was an announcement in the lockerroom for all students to go immediately into the gym. That's when I heard what happened - that the president was shot. We all just sat there in shock. I don't remember exactly when and how the president's death was confirmed. I probably didn't know until I got home & turned on the TV - or maybe it was my transisiter radio on the way home?

Who could ever forget where they were when they heard this news!!!

1:33 AM

 
Blogger Lloyd Thaxton said...

Mike Barer poses a a new question for the "naughts," as the British call the 2000s. Will the non-baby boomers have clear memories where they were during the events of 9-11?

For the record, here's my memory of that infamous day and time.

I was set to head to New York to meet with publishers for the John Alston-Lloyd Thaxton book, ironically (at the time) titled, "STUFF HAPPENS-And then you fix it." We put off that trip for several months as we didn't want to give the impression we were taking advantage of a terrible event.

To add to the dilemma, the book was published and we had our first book signings a week before the invasion of Iraq.

Five years later, we still have not "fixed it."

Lloyd

9:04 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was on a fourth grade field trip to Olvera Street, in Los Angeles. Many vendors were crying and listening to their radios. The chaperones tried to comfort them, wondering exactly what happened. I saw the flags flying at half staff on our way home in the bus and wondered why? Our classroom flag had a piece of black cloth hanging on it for a month. I also remember my cartoons being pre-empted by the news coverage and not liking it one bit!

I remember watching Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald well. It didn’t register to me that this was real, not actors on a show.

I also remember the confusion of the 1960’s as RFK and MLK were assassinated and wondering who would be next, the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the riots, Kent State killings, Sharon Tate/LaBianca murders, drug use, and being terrified of cops. After all, in my young mind the cops were killing us students.

Does anyone else get younger people asking what the ’60’s were like, as though it was all sex, drugs and rock ’n roll? It was that, and whole lot more, wasn’t it. Hard to explain, unless you were there. What do you tell them?

2:59 PM

 
Blogger Lloyd Thaxton said...

Dear anonymous:

Good question!

Lloyd

11:25 PM

 
Blogger Mike Barer said...

I started Tom Brokaw's book "Boom". He does a good job prefacing the era. Both Bob Costas and Tom Brockaw are excellent historians as well as journalists.

12:35 PM

 
Blogger daniel said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:53 PM

 
Blogger daniel said...

I was doing a brief interview segment at the end of the 7 o'clock hour on my radio show...Talking to a local woman about a festival that was coming to my town...When I saw the news bulletin on the MetroSource news monitor...There were reports that a plane had hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center...I did not think it was an earth shaking event at the time...Just a week or so earlier some kind of powered balloon had got stuck on the Statue of Liberty...So i thought maybe someone had attempted to recreate that stunt...or perhaps a small propeller driven plane had crashed in the the tower...

After the interview segment ended i immediately turned on the control room TV to see that the tower was indeed in flames...It was a very serious event...When the second plane hit the other tower i had no doubts that it was a terrorist act...I stayed on the air live talking about the tragedy and reporting the latest news about it until the noon hour...Then i finally gave way to the local news...I have never spent a shift on the air like that one...I hope i never have to again...But in today's world...I am almost certain that i will.

(corrected version of original comment)

7:55 PM

 
Anonymous shortgirl said...

I was in 5th grade in a very small town in rural Kansas when the announcement was made over the PA system saying President Kennedy & Gov. Connelly were shot. The principal had it wrong who had died. When he corrected it later, we were too young to really absorb why the teachers were all crying in the hall. My parents bowled that night while we kids played pinball and tried to figure out why our parents were so upset. We were just happy that there would be no school. I remember the silence on the day of the funeral. No cars on the highway that ran by our house. No kids out playing. Just the sobs of my mother when John John saluted.

I lived in Memphis when Elvis died and was waiting to be discharged from Baptist hospital when suddenly you couldn't find a nurse on the floor. Shortly after (while watching a black & white rerun of Maverick) the news crawl announced his death. When I was discharged several hours later, my sister & I drove down by Graceland and it took 2 hours to move 1 mile. It was chaos for weeks! Everyone who came to Memphis to visit HAD to go to Graceland. I can give that tour in my sleep.

On 9/11, I was on my annual camping trip and had just returned to my tent from the port-a-potty. I turned on a little black & white 5" TV to catch the first bit of news while I dressed to make breakfast. ABC was showing the first twin tower on fire & I looked up just in time to see the plane hit the 2nd tower and screamed "Oh my God" at the same time I heard the same in the next tent. We woke up the rest of the campground with our screams. There were 60 of us watching the coverage on ABC (the only channel we could get) on that little TV for 3 days.

4:20 PM

 
Anonymous shortgirl said...

I just realized that those three memories from 1963-2001 we all in black & white. How strange is that?

4:28 PM

 
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2:37 AM

 

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