Someone said the other day everyone remembers where they were the day John Kennedy was shot. I certainly do.
I was doing the midday show on KIOA in Des Moines, Iowa. We were 10,000 watts on the dial at 940 and you could hear us over 75 percent of the state of Iowa and parts of Nebraska, Minnesota and Missouri. It was a fun time to be on the radio and I was up to my neck in the having fun part. It came to a crashing halt on that day in November when the president was shot in Dallas.
Our request line telephone rang and I answered it and a student at Drake University yelled at me through the phone, “Ronn, they have shot the president in Dallas!” I did not even respond. I just hung up the phone. Then, Bob Betts, our news director, hit the squawk box and said, “Quick, quick, give me a bulletin!” I suddenly realized the student who called me was probably right.
The Associated Press wire had just cleared the story that the president had been shot and may be dead in Dallas. The manager of the station came in and grabbed a handful of movie, music LPs I had used for production purposes and said, “Go to these until we find out what has happened.” So I put one of the soundtrack albums on and let it track until we switched to the NBC radio network. We were not an NBC affiliate and had to get their approval as well as from the local NBC station.
For the next few days we, like the rest of the nation, were listening to this horrible story unfold. It was the worst thing I had experienced while on the air at any radio station.
I, like many young men of my age, was a deep fan of John F. Kennedy. He was by far the president with the best wit since Abraham Lincoln, and JFK was doing it on TV and radio every time they put microphones in front of his face. He was handsome, married to a beautiful, intelligent woman with two beautiful kids. He was the only American president who had won a Pulitzer Prize for Literature and a Purple Heart for being wounded in the war when his PT boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer. His heroism after that made him a national hero.
I believe the mob had manipulated Lee Harvey Oswald. Like most assassinations, it was well planned. He was silenced by Jack Ruby, a “gopher” for the mob in Dallas. They had planned to kill Bobby Kennedy but decided to kill the president instead so the most powerful man in America could not come back on them with revenge.
In remembering those days, some 50 years ago, it truly was a modern-day Camelot. And if it was not Camelot, there was some magic there that had not been there before, and has not been there since.
I never learned who the student was at Drake University who called me, but Bob Betts went on to become a rather famous newscaster in Milwaukee, and I came home to work at WTHI and go to school at ISU.
I’m glad I was alive during that time, and can remember Camelot and the youngest president ever elected to the office.
Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.