UPI's Radio Wire: How America's broadcast stations
This is an effort to provide an electronic facsimile of the United Press International radio news wire during the first half hour following the shooting of the President in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963 and to help others understand the challenges faced by those who had to transmit the news, using now-ancient technology, to radio and television stations across much of the country. It is reproduced from a file that was printed on the national UPI radio wire Teletype machine in the UPI bureau in Denver, Colorado.
Because it's faded, on yellow paper in a purplish-blue ink, the original copy can't be satisfactorily scanned (at least by my equipment). I have tried to reproduce that copy -- which has rested in a trunk of mine for many years -- with as much accuracy as is allowed by my limited understanding of HTML and my browser's capabilities. The vertical and horizontal spacing, indentations, type fonts, and colors of the paper and the type from the purple Teletype ribbon are close to the original, but not exact.
I have marked copy that appears to be garbled or, on rare occasion, mistaken, in blue letters. Except for the color of the garbled type, it is exactly as it appeared on the original copy. I have marked letters that were overprinted in red. Overprints occurred only twice, and may have been due either to a machine linefeed problem, or an interference that prevented transmission of a linefeed.
I've undertaken this exercise for several reasons -- my career-long fascination with the performance of the many professionals who performed their jobs -- nearly without a flaw -- in those trying moments; a desire to provide an example of the effectiveness under pressure of my professional alma mater, UPI; and a means to juxtapose the current blazing speeds of information transmission and the methods of 36 years ago, when we stood over Teletype machines that clicked out the news of the world at 60 words per minute.
On Nov. 22, 1963, UPI's Teletype machines were the first to carry the news that shots had been fired at JFK's motorcade, and the first to carry the news that his injuries were, perhaps, fatal. In those days of intense, head-to-head competition with the Associated Press, that was the job of a wire service: To be factual, and to be first. UPI's primary, top-news circuit -- the A-wire for newspapers -- first carried news of the shots being fired at 12:34 p.m., central standard time -- five minutes before the AP sent its first news of the shooting. By the time AP moved its first bulletin saying the President had been "shot down," UPI was telling the world of the seriousness of the President's wounds.
What follows is a portion of how the radio wire news -- rewritten and transmitted within seconds of transmission on the newspaper A-wire -- appeared in broadcast news rooms across the country. You will see that it was a process that was burdened by technical challenges in the early going. (The notes and comments below are based on the my recollection of how the wire used to work, and on the remembrances of those in Chicago who were directly responsible for preparing and re-transmitting the breaking news to UPI's many broadcast clients. For an excellent personal memoir of activities that day in Chicago's bureau of UPI, please visit the web page provided by Loyola University professor Larry Lorenz, who was one of the UPI staffers editing the UPI broadcast wire at 12:30 p.m. central standard time, 11/22/63.)
As a major competitive news service, UPI no longer exists. I, along with many others who are proud to have labored at its desks, on its phones, and over its Teletype machines, hope that it isn't forgotten.
Thanks for your interest in the way things used to be.
Robert E. Cox 10/15/99
(For best reproduction of the original file, set your browser's text size to "medium" or smaller.)
[At approximately 12:36 p.m., Central Standard Time on Nov. 22, 1963, the Denver bureau of UPI and its local area broadcast clients were receiving a weather advisory from UPI's radio desk in Omaha (WHR) during a regional 'split' off the national wire...]
(SPECIAL WEATHER ADVISORY)
( KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI)---THE WEATHER BUREAU AT KANSAS CITY HAS
ISSUED THE FOLLOWING SPECIAL WEATHER ADVISORY...
MORE HX1238PCSA GET OFF NXR
& E T OFF HX GET OFF GET OFF
B U L L E T I N
KENNEDY SERIOUSLY WOUNDED----
STAY OFF ALL OF YOU STAY OFF AND KEEP OFF GET OFF
M SPEAKING AT THE TT
WILL U U P L E A S E STAY OFF THIS WIRE TILL WE GIVBBB HX
STAY OFF STAY OFF
B U L L E T I N
( DALLAS)---A SNIPER SERIOUSLY WOUNDED LDJ BIXENT KENNEDY IN
PLS RPT TT BUN HCR
B U L L E T I N
MORE KENNEDY BULLETIN X X X HOSPITAL.
THE GOVERNOR WAS TAKEN TO THE SAME HOSPITAL.
THE PRESIDENT HAD SPOKEN THIS MORNING IN FORT WORTH, THEN FLEW
HE WAS TO DELIVER A SPEECH DURING A MOTORCADE THROUGH THE CITY.
NEWSMEN SOME FIVE CAR LENGTHS BEHIND THE PRESIDENT HEARD WHAT
SOUNDED LIKE THREE BURSTS OF GUNFIRE.
SECRET SERVICE AGENTS IN THE CAR FOLLOWING THE PRESIDENT'S
QUICKLY PULLED AUTOMATIC RIFLES.
THE BUBBLE OF THE PRESIDENT'S CAR WAS DOWN WHEN THE SHOTS
THE PRESIDENT SLUMPED OVER THE BACK SEAT, FACE DOWN.
CONNALLY LAY ON THE FLOOR OF THE REAR SEAT. WOUNDS IN THE
GOVERNOR'S CHEST WERE CLEARLY VISIBLE.
THE WOUNDS INDICATED AN AUTOMATIC WEAPON WAS USED.
THREE LOUD BURSTS OF GUNFIRE WERE HEARD BEFORE THE PRESIDENT
AND GOVERNOR FELL.
IN THE TURMOIL, IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TOEE
VINE WHETHER SECRET P (LINE OVERPRINT: O)
SERVICE AGENTS AND DALLAS POLICE RETURNED THE FIRE.
IT COULD NOT BE IMMEDIATELY DETERMINED EITHER WHETHER MRS. KENNEDY
OR MRS. CONNALLY WERE WOUNDED.
BOTH WOMEN WERE IN THE CAR, AND WERE CRUSHED DOWN OVER THE INERT
FORMS OF THEIR HUSBANDS AS THE BIG AUTO RACED TOWARD THE HOSPITAL.
MRS. KENNEDY COULD BE SEEN ON THE FLOOR OF THE REAR SEAT WITH HER
HEAD TOWARD THE PRESIDENT.
B U L L E T I N
( DALLAS)---PRESIDENT KENNEDY AND GOVERNOR JOHN CONNALLY OF TEXAS
HAVE BEEN CUT DOWN BY ASSASSIN'S BULLETS. THEY WERE SHOT AS THEY
TOURED DOWNTOWN DALLAS IN AN OPEN CAR.
THE PRESIDENT---HIS LIMP BODY IN THE ARMS OF HIS WIFE---WAS RUSHED
TO PARKLAND HOSPITAL.THE GOVERNOR ALSO WAS TAKEN TO THE SAME HOSPITAL.
CLINT HILL, A SECRET SERVICE AGENT ASSIGNED TO MRS. KENNEDY SAID
"HE'S DEAD" AS THE PRESIDENT WAS LIFTED FROM THE REAR OF THE WHITE
HOUSE TOURING CAR.
MR. KENNEDY WAS RUSHED TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM IN THE HOSPITAL.
OTHER WHITE HOUSE OFFICIALS WERE IN DOUBT AS THE CORRIDORS OF THE
HOSPITAL ERUPTED IN PANDEMONIUM.
THE INCIDENT OCCURRED JUST EAST OF THE TRIPLE UNDERPASS FACING
A PARK IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS.
NEWSMEN IN THE MOTORCADE HEARD WHAT SOUNDED LIKE THREE BURSTS OF
THE PRESIDENT WAS SLUMPED OVER THE BACK SEAT OF THE CAR...FACE DOWN.
CONNALLY LAY ON THE FLOOR OF THE REAR SEAT.
IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL AT ONCE WHERE KENNEDY WAS HIT.
BULLET WOUNDS WERE PLAINLY VISIBLE IN CONNALLY'S CHEST.
IT WAS DIFFICULT TO TELL AT FIRST WHETHER THE FIRST LADY AND MRS.
CONALLY WERE INJURED.
AN ESTIMATED 250-THOUSAND PERSONS LINED THE STREETS.
AT 12:50 P-M CENTRAL TIME, ACTING WHITE HOUSE NEWS SECRETARY
MALCOLM KILDUFF WAS ASKED WHETHER THE PRESIDENT WAS DEAD. HE SAID
"I HAVE NO WORD NOW."
VICE PRESIDENT JOHNSON WAS IN THE CAR BEHIND THE PRESIDENT'S.
THERE WAS NO IMMEDIATE SIGN THAT HE WAS HURT.
SOME OF THE SECRET SERVICE AGENTS THOUGHT THE GUNFIRE WAS FROM
AN AUTOMATIC WEAPON FIRED TO THE RIGHT REAR OF THE PRESIDENT'S
CAR...PROBABLY FROM A GRASSY KNOLL TO WHICH POLICE RUSHED.
CONGRESSMAN JIM WRIGHT OF FORT WORTH SAID BOTH KENNEDY AND CONNALLY
WERE SERIOUSLY WOUNDED BUT WERE ALIVE.
A CALL HAS BEEN SENT OUT FROM SOME OF THE TOP SURGICAL SPECIALISTS
IN DALLAS. A CALL ALSO WENT OUT FOR A PRIEST.
[Note: I do not have the original file for the next three-quarters of an hour, but former UPI staffer and current Loyola University Professor Larry Lorenz fills in what happened next:]
[For the complete report by former UPI staffer Larry Lorenz, go to: http://www.loyno.edu/~lorenz/jfk.html]
( DALLAS)---PRESIDENT KENNEDY IS DEAD.
HE WAS KILLED BY AN ASSASSIN IN DALLAS.
JOHN FITZGERALD KENNEDY WAS 45 YEARS OLD . . . IN HIS FIRST
TERM OF OFFICE.
HE WAS SHOT AS HE RODE IN A MOTORCADE THROUGH DOWNTOWN
GOVERNOR JOHN CONNALLY OF TEXAS WAS WOUNDED BY THE ASSASSIN.
[Several paragraphs follow (see note at right). UPR 100 was timed off:]
...UPI's Chicago bureau (HX), was headquarters for UPI's national radio wire (UPR), and had powers to override the local split and the responsibility to transmit stories of national interest, broke into the wire, trying to send a bulletin it had received on the national newspaper 'A' wire from Dallas at 12:34pcs. The 'precede' to a bulletin said shots had been fired at JFK's motorcade... HX fought to stop transmissions of other bureaus. The conflicting signals resulted in garble.
It is not clear here, but it appears that Chicago had sent a garbled message, informing that MORE would follow, and signed off at 1238pcs. New York's broadcast desk (NXR), also reading the A-wire, apparently tried to send the bulletin (NXR39) that shots had been fired at JFK's motorcade...
... Chicago regained control and issued direct orders to other bureaus to stop transmitting: GET OFF....
The first and only misspelling in the midst of thousands of words-under-pressure -- a testimony to the professionalism and coolness of the Teletype operators Henry Renwald, Alice Guenther and others.
....the crowd size was wrong, and later corrected to read 25,000
(c) 2007, Bob Cox