Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Barry ZeVan, Tom Ryther and JFK

Anyone who was at least five years old on November 22, 1963 remembers where they were when they first heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas and later died. Those who were children then most likely heard about it while in school. Adults heard about it in all different ways, likely either from a television or radio report or through word of mouth.

Whenever I interview someone who was around then, especially people who had careers in media, I like to ask them where they were on that fateful day. I've had the pleasure of talking many times to a couple of talents I grew up watching on television in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Barry ZeVan and Tom Ryther. The two of them were colleagues and friends who worked together in the Twin Cities market in the 1970s and 1980s, and separately in various other cities. They didn't meet until about seven years after the JFK assassination, but when it happened both of them were young broadcasters, 26 years old at the time, and they both have their own unique stories of where they were when they first heard the news.

KSTP-TV ad promoting Barry ZeVan
 the Weatherman from 1971.
Recalls Barry ZeVan:

I had been attending one of the first BPA (Broadcast Promotion Association) conventions at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco from the 16th to 19th of November, 1963. I had friends in Yuma, Arizona, who asked if I could drive there to visit for a day, and since I had the time, I decided to do so. I arrived in Yuma the night of the 20th, spent the day of the 21st there, then started to drive back home (which was Idaho Falls, Idaho, at the time) the morning of the 22nd. For some reason, I chose to not have the radio on while driving, but decided to turn it on around Noon, Pacific Time. I had just crossed the Colorado River into Needles, California, to get on the highway that would lead me to Las Vegas and northward to Idaho. Just north of Needles, after a commercial had played, I heard Fulton Lewis, Jr., a highly-respected newscaster and commentator, talking about Presidential succession. I thought to myself, "Why?'. Then he stated, for those just tuning in, President Kennedy had been killed. I screamed and nearly went of the road, just south of Searchlight, Nevada (Harry Reid's hometown).

Because there were no cell phones then, I had to wait until I got to Boulder City, Nevada, to call my wife to assure her I'd be driving all night to get home, and for her to not worry about the survival of this country. When I got to Las Vegas about a half-hour later, I heard on the radio all lights on The Strip and downtown, on Fremont Street, would not be lighted until Midnight that night. It was raining and snowing, mixed, that late afternoon and evening, and very chilly for Las Vegas that time of year. The skies were crying, too. I drove through blizzard-like weather all the way to Idaho Falls, which I reached about 7 the next morning. I never turned the radio off. At about 4 a.m., I heard the comforting words of then Senator Hubert Humphrey and Rhode Island's Senator John Pastore, reassuring the nation that all would be well, regardless of the horror we all endured the preceding day. I didn't know at that time Senator Humphrey would become a very good friend to me in later years.
The night I emceed Vice President Mondale's pre-inaugural banquet at the Washington Hilton in January, 1977, former Vice President Humphrey was in the audience and I got to introduce him to come to the podium for his remarks that evening. I told the preceding story (regarding my memories of him that early November 23rd on the snow-swept highway in Southern Idaho), and how he'd inspired me and the rest of the nation, I'm certain, to know we would survive the event of that terrible preceding day.

Tom Ryther became the KSTP-TV sports director in 1971.
Tom Ryther was on the air on radio station WIBV in Belleville, IL, a suburb of St. Louis, when the news broke. His story appeared in my web article, The RYTHER Factor.

It was high noon on that day in 1963, and we had an old newspaper guy who was our news director and all he did was rip and hand us the news copy [off the news wire]. He hands me this thing, ‘There have been shots fired in Dallas. It is believed that President Kennedy has been wounded.’ I was on the air reading a newscast, and I said, ‘We’ll bring you further details as they develop.’ Al [the news director] goes to lunch. When he came back I said "Al, what the…the President of the United States has been shot!"

In the hour after the first bulletin had cleared the wire, while the news director was out to lunch, Tom ran back and forth between the newsroom and the studio, getting reports from the Associated Press and United Press International wires and getting the information on the air as quickly as possible while playing records and taped commercials in the interim. Finally came the bulletin, which he read on the air:

“Word just in from the Associated Press, President John F. Kennedy has died of wounds suffered in Dallas during a motorcade. It is unknown at this time who did the shooting. Investigations are underway.”

Luckily I had gotten some training so I had some experience, [and] I had a cool head that day.

As a journalism student in 1958, Tom had actually met then-Senator Kennedy when he went to Washington with other journalism students as a guest of Sen. Stuart Symington of Missouri. The future President met with the students outside of Senate chambers and answered questions from the students, including Tom. He says:
I never wrote a story about it, but I was in on the interview. I sat there, asked him questions, talked to him. Great charisma.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Television Listings--November 22, 1963

Banner headline on the November 22, 1963 edition of the Minneapolis Star evening newspaper read, "PRESIDENT SLAIN Sniper Cuts Down Kennedy, Texas Governor in Dallas Parade". It had news and photos about the infamous day in history when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Meanwhile on television, all of the networks broke into programming as soon as the story hit, and presented wall-to-wall news coverage for the next several days.

But the television program listings carried in the paper were submitted in advance, and on page 23A we see what would have been on had the President not been slain. In those days in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, WCCO-4 was CBS (as it is now), KSTP-5 was NBC, KMSP-9 was ABC and WTCN-11 was independent. Since the Star was an evening paper, the listings start at 4 p.m. Friday and go through 3 p.m. Saturday. Everything listed was preempted that day (although we are not entirely clear what WTCN did that day, as it had no network affiliation at that time).

In addition to the listings, ads on the page promote Lee J. Cobb, Harry Guardino and Gena Rowlands in John O'Hara's "It's Mental Work" on "Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater" on NBC that night, and local late night movies on Channels 9 and 11.

Programs highlighted by the newspaper included:

6:30--77 SUNSET STRIP. "Lover's Lane," a drama featuring guest Preston Foster.--ch. 9.

7:30--ROUTE 66. "Kiss the Monster, Make Him Sleep." James Coburn and Barbara Mattes appear in drama filmed in Minneapolis.--ch. 4.

7:30--MOVIE. "Goliath Against the Giants." Brad Harris stars in drama shown for the first time on TV in this area. --ch. 11.

8:30--TWILIGHT ZONE. "Night Call." Gladys Cooper is splendid in a weird little story about an elderly invalid who gets phone calls without the aid of the phone company.--ch. 4.

9:00--ALFRED HITCHCOCK. "Body in the Barn." A suspicious woman is positive that her neighbor has been murdered by his wife, and she wants justice done. The story is well paced and cast. Lillian Gish, Peter Lind Hays and Maggie McNamara have the leads.--ch. 4.

9:00--JACK PAAR. Guests: Liberace, Milt Kamen, Cassius Clay and Mary McCarthy.--ch. 5.

10:30--STEVE ALLEN. Guests: Joe Flynn, Janice Baker, Jack Carter and comedienna Gina Wilson. --ch. 4.

10:30--TONIGHT. Guests: Kirk Douglas, Dave King, Henny Youngman and the Willis Sisters.--ch. 5.


12:30--SPORTS SPECTACULAR presents charity basketball game between the Harlem Globetrotters and Prince Phillip's Taverners.--ch. 4.

12:30--AMERICAN BANDSTAND. Guests: Johnny Mathis, Connie Stevens, Johnny Crawford and Annette.--ch. 9.

1:15--FOOTBALL. Minnesota vs. Wisconsin.--ch. 4.