TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: John Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby

John Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby

Patrick Townson (
Sun, 27 Nov 2005 17:00:00 EST

Just as a historical note, it was forty-two years ago this weekend
(Thanksgiving weekend, 1963) that President Kennedy was gunned down
in a motorcade in Dallas, TX. Dallas police almost immediatly thereafter
(a matter of an hour or so) arrested Lee Harvey Oswald and charged him
with the crime. If you were alive, I am sure you may remember what you
were doing when you saw it happen on television or heard about it.

I had been working as a volunteer for the Chicago Public Library and
had prepared (with some helpers) a documentary and 'virtual tour' of
the library's programs and facilities. (In those days they were
located at Randolph Street and Michigan Blvd. downtown.)

Our documentary film had been set to air on Sunday morning on
Channel 9 WGN-TV at 11:00 AM the week before, but in those earlier
days of commercial TV, things did not always work as they should and
the stations would now and then go off the air for repairs, etc. That
is what happened that week, and the fellow I worked with at WGN-TV
said 'do not worry that they were off the air that day for some
unscheduled maintainence; what we will do is move all the programs
scheduled for today (including my documentary on the Library) up to
next Sunday, at the same time'.

Well, we know what happened the next Sunday ...

Actually, Friday about 11:00 AM at the moment of his assassination, I
was enjoying a brunch with some friends; the television was on and
some game show (I forget which one) was on the air; one of those games
where you spin a wheel and get whatever prize is associated with the
place where the wheel stops. I do recall that Bob Barker was the
host. It played idly in the background, while we chatted and ate. It
had been on the air a few minutes and was interuppted by a news
bulletin saying that 'shots had been fired in a motorcade in Dallas;
they were not sure if anyone was hurt or not.' Back to the game
show. Then within a minute or so, a second bulletin came across;
indeed, 'someone' had been shot; they were trying to get all the
details; it might have been the president. Back to the game show. A
minute or two later, another news bulletin; shots _had_ been fired,
apparently President Kennedy had been hit, the motorcade had been
suspended and he was being taken to the Parkland Hospital in
Dallas. Back to the game show for all of thirty or forty seconds, then
a final interupption in the day's events: it was true, Kennedy had
been shot, was rushed to the hospital, police were looking for the guy
who did it, and the news department there at CBS would now take
over. By that point, we were all giving our attention to the TV set.

All television and radio stations began total coverage of the events
in Dallas; all the talking heads were chattering non-stop all that day
and night, plus _all day_ on Saturday. People were in quite a state of
shock, to say the least. We saw the airplane coming back from Dallas
with the president's body, and all the official mourning by his wife
and his child, etc. By Saturday night, the talking heads had more or
less run out of things to chatter about (after about 36 hours
non-stop) and the television stations changed to the scene at the US
Capitol where Kennedy's body was laying in state, and just focused on
that for the rest of the Saturday overnight hours, playing somber
music, and watching the crowds of people passing by to look at him and
pay their respects.

I got a phone call from the program producer at WGN-TV saying their
intention was to go back onto 'regular programming' early Sunday
morning. (In those days at least, television stations usually signed
off the air about midnight or 1:00 a.m. then returned to the air at
whatever time their morning shows went on, typically 6:00 or 7:00 AM,
as did most radio stations; no laws about it; just not enough
overnight listeners/viewers to make it worthwhile. I think WGN-TV was
the first among them to go to 24/7 programs, maybe in late 1970's, and
where it was customary for stations to sign on and sign off with their
'official, FCC-mandated announcements' [and usually play the national
anthem at opening and closing time each day] once WGN-TV went 24/7
sometime in the late 1970's they began making their FCC-mandated
announcements just once daily, along with the national anthem, at
5 AM most days; 8 AM on Sundays; 8 AM being the time on Sunday they
started their 'broadcast day'.) So, said the producer, be sure to tell
everyone to tune in tomorrow morning, your documentary program will be
on as planned, although one week late.

Sure enough, Sunday morning at 11 AM we got together for another
brunch and had the television tuned in on Channel 9. And, we got on
the air just as announced. For all of about two minutes, until 11:02
or 11:03 AM, then we were cut off by another news bulletin: "As you
know, a Mister Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested in the shooting of
President Kennedy" (by the tone of their voice we knew that the person
making the announcement knew little or nothing about Oswald) "and
Mister Oswald is going to be transferred from the Dallas City Jail to
the county jail or perhaps into FBI custody. We are going to switch to
our affiliate station in Dallas; our staff of reporters there want to
know more about why he did this." Immediatly the picture changed to
the lobby of the Dallas City Jail where a number of people were
crowding around. The reporter, all excited, said "oh look, here he
comes now, they are leading him down the hallway to where the police
car is waiting to take him to jail; I sure hope we can ask him about
this." Crowds of people pushing around, reporter walks up to Oswald
eagerly and starts asking him "oh, Mr. Oswald, what did you do this
for?" or some words to that effect, as we see Oswald close up facing
the camera, possibly he is going to explain if he did it or not and if
so, why. But Oswald did not get a chance to answer; at that same
instant, Jack Ruby appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, we see him
angrily confront Oswald and everyone in the nation who was watching it
as it happened on TV saw Ruby stick that gun in Oswald's side and say,
"You rotten son of a bitch! You killed the president, now I am going
to kill you!" Bang ... Police officers grabbed Ruby, took away his gun
and took him into custody. Ruby did not resist at all; he was proud of
what he had done; wanted everyone to see his work. Oswald fell over
dead on the spot. Ruby, a nightclub/restaurant owner in Dallas was
there ostensibly with coffee and sandwiches for the police officers,
which is why he was allowed to move freely about the jail. In those
days, those times, things were _a lot_ different than today.

Needless to say, our documentary show never did get back on the air,
that day, or any other day. The entire day was taken over at that
point by the talking heads of news, who for several hundred times,
roughly every two or three minutes ("in case you missed it when it
aired") kept showing over and over and over and over, that movie of
Jack Ruby killing Oswald. But other than the original showing, later
viewers only got to see Jack Ruby's angry, contorted face and his lips
moving angrily but _silently_ (out of respect I guess to FCC
sensibilities at that time, they blitzed his voice out) and Oswald
falling over dead. Smart lip readers probably figured it out. All the
stations were still showing that Ruby/Oswald clip at midnight or
whenever they signed off for the day.

There have been numerous theories about _why_ Kennedy was shot, and if
indeed Oswald _was_ the shooter or not. Many people claim he was not
guilty, and have various ideas about the rationale. Some contend that
Ruby was used to silence Oswald. My documentary movie about the
Chicago Public Library never did get aired.


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