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.
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.
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?