Where I Was 40 Years Ago (a radio story)
A. Joseph Ross
Sat Nov 22 01:37:17 EST 2003
On 21 Nov 2003 at 13:31, Donna Halper wrote:
> His name was Dr O'Leary (I never figured out what
> he was a doctor of...)
> I do recall that I was the one who confirmed for everyone the terrible
> news that yes, it was no rumour; the president really had been shot. And
> so much changed for all of us after that.
I have a radio story, too. I was a freshman at UMass, and I had already begun to do news
announcing on WMUA. At the time, the station signed on
at 4:30 PM, with something called "Music Theater." This was a direct steal, both the format
and the title, from WBOS at the time, but it consisted of instrumental pop music, played
without announcement, except for 5 minutes of news on the hour, headlines on the half hour,
and a promo on the quarter hour. It was a convenient place to start a freshman, and my
airshift was every Friday afternoon until about 6:00 PM.
After a late lunch at the Dining Commons, I returned to the dorm to find a large crowd around
the TV. After learning what had happened, I went upstairs to my room and listened to the
radio for a little while. At that time, the President's condition was unknown. There was also
a brief rumor about Vice President Johnson having had a heart attack on learning the news.
This turned out to be simply a misinterpretation of the simple fact that LBJ did have a heart
attack in 1955.
Anyway, at some point I decided to go down to the station, where I found a large crowd in
front of the teletype. The news studio was being used by people who were preparing for a
special report later in the evening, and the performance studio was being used by the
campus paper, which didn't have a teletype of its own in those days, to prepare a special
edition. As it came time to go on the air, they ran a line to the Tech Department shop and
set up the "consolette," a two-turntable remote affair normally used to do a Friday night rock
& roll show from the Student Union. Meanwhile, the classical music director picked some
appropriately somber music.
I cleared some space on the workbench for a microphone and copy, including the sign-on
announcement, which I was going to have to read in place of the taped version that we
usually used. I also had an announcement that classes were going to be cancelled until
after the funeral. That soon became until after Thanksgiving break.
I managed to keep my voice steady, with only one bad moment, as I read the sign-on and
class cancellation announcement. We went to music until 5:00.
I sometimes had to fight to get the news copy that I needed, since others were using it either
for the evening special or the newspaper. I remember specifically asking for the story of
President Johnson's swearing-in. As I was doing the 5:00 newscast, the program director
came tiptoeing into our makeshift studio, with a piece of teletype paper in his hand. I could
tell that he had some late-breaking news, and when I finished what I was reading, I stepped
back from the microphone, and he stepped up and read the news of the arrest of Lee Harvey
Oswald. He then stepped back, and I resumed my newscast.
I suppose I could have reached up for it and said, "This just handed me!" but I didn't think of
that until sometime in the early 90s, when I told the story at a station reunion.
A. Joseph Ross, J.D. 617.367.0468
15 Court Square, Suite 210 firstname.lastname@example.org
Boston, MA 02108-2503 http://www.attorneyross.com
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