Dallas News Anchor John Criswell Remembers JFK

CriswellAs the 21 year old News Director of a small radio station in Springfield, Missouri I was accustomed to the clattering sound of the teletypewriter just outside my cubby-hole door, less so to the ringing of the bell that signaled a weather bulletin, or other emergency transmission.

It was half past lunch-time when the machine grew silent then there were five quick bells and more silence.

I don’t remember hurrying as the machine began typing again it was bright outside and there had been nothing in the forecast for our area.

I can still see the yellow paper in the machine and the words “shots fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in Downtown Dallas”. Before I could rip the paper message off the machine, the bell started ringing furiously again, this time 10 or more, and the words began immediately; “Flash. Kennedy seriously wounded perhaps seriously, perhaps fatally by assassins bullet.

It never occurred to me that I had no training in this, I was the news director of a one person news department with a couple of college kid interns who got credit for coming in at night to read what I assigned them. Hell, I was only a couple of years older than either of them.

But it did occur at that moment standing there that I was about to announce the most important story of my young career and people listening on the radio needed to hear it.

It was then that I ran to the studio and gathered myself to read the bulletin and all that would follow to my small-city audience in Southwest Missouri.

The rest of the afternoon became a monotony of the same words, over and over and I remember only bits and pieces of it.

Calling the college library to obtain classical music albums to play, instead of rock and roll the station’s usual format.

Contacting the school’s history professor looking for insight into presidential succession.

An unsuccessful try to find historical audio material on President Kennedy.

Contacting a Greene County, Missouri Democratic Party official to see if they had any insights on the Dallas story.

And answering the phones, it seemed endlessly, confirming that what people were hearing indeed was true and not a terrible joke gone awry.

Four months later, I was living in Dallas, working for WFAA Radio/TV and sitting in Judge Joe Brown’s court room near Jack Ruby.

Watch “JFK 50: A Texas Tribute”, streamed LIVE on ktxdtv.com; Friday, November 22nd from 7am-7pm CST (UTC-6 Hours). This special 12 hour broadcast will feature rare video of President Kennedy’s trip to Dallas, live interviews with people who have first-hand connections to some of the darkest days in our country’s history, and live coverage of the observance in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza celebrating the remarkable life, legacy, and leadership of our 35th President. Follow the conversation about the broadcast on social media by following our twitter page at http://www.twitter.com/JFK50Texas and liking our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/JFK50Texas.

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