Posted on Tue, Nov. 22, 2005
A newfound reminder of tragic day in history
By BUD KENNEDY
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
The words echoed across Texas radio 42 years ago today: "President Kennedy is dead."
Just that morning, he had told Fort Worth to stand bravely for freedom. Then he left for Dallas.
Some of the broadcast history of that day has never been found. But an estate-sale shopper in Fort Worth has recovered one more small piece of the Kennedy-assassination radio archives.
Mark York of Fort Worth was browsing at a west-side home this month when he paid $4 for a dusty, four-record set. It was marked "President John F. Kennedy Fort Worth Visit."
The records turned out to be lost audio from a legendary local news station, KXOL/1360 AM.
The news director that day in 1963 was Roy Eaton, now 67 and a newspaper publisher in Decatur.
I called him Monday and played back his historic words.
He hadn't heard them in 42 years.
"We couldn't believe what we were reading," he remembered.
KXOL, a small but feisty Fort Worth news operation, didn't have a network news affiliate to turn to after Kennedy was shot in the motorcade past Dealey Plaza. Eaton and the news team had to read wire copy.
Barely an hour earlier, he had been getting a chewing-out from the station manager when newscaster Russ Bloxom came down the hall to show him a bulletin: Kennedy had been shot.
"Put on the air!" Eaton said.
Bloxom could barely overcome his shock. On the KXOL record, the news-bulletin tone seems to go on forever before he begins to read: "Here is a bulletin from Dallas. President Kennedy was shot today."
When he heard the bulletin replayed, he got goose bumps.
"Frankly, I was extremely nervous, and I didn't want to air it," Bloxom said Monday. He's now 65 and an executive with his family's construction company.
"I was in disbelief."
So were we all.
Kennedy's visit to Fort Worth comes back to life in the records.
York, a hobbyist who collects presidential memorabilia, saw a Star-Telegram ad for an estate sale featuring "historical items."
It turned out to be the collection of the late Joe Shosid, a former special assistant to U.S. Rep. Jim Wright of Fort Worth, who was among Kennedy's hosts that day.
When he saw the label, York hoped for four volumes of radio assassination coverage. Instead, he found Kennedy's complete breakfast speech in downtown Fort Worth to a hotel-ballroom crowd and a long church sermon at a local memorial service after the assassination. The records have KXOL labels on them and appear to be master copies given to Shosid.
KXOL is known now as the station where CBS anchor Bob Schieffer started. But Schieffer had gone on to become a Star-Telegram reporter and was sent to Dallas that day.
The four records contain about one minute of news reporting, including reporter Bruce Neal's phoned-in interview with Wright at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The interview and Eaton's news bulletin have never turned up in other archives, including a larger KXOL collection found a few years ago.
York has not decided whether to copy or donate the records.
He says he got his $4 worth.
"I absolutely love it," he said Sunday after hearing the records for the first time. They were copied onto computer disks at a Weatherford sound studio.
York, 42, was born the month Kennedy was killed. He grew up in Pittsburgh, moved to Fort Worth almost 20 years ago and is now a crew chief for American Airlines on the D/FW Airport flight line.
He's a Democrat. He has always been fascinated with Kennedy. In recent years, he's become more fascinated with Kennedy's morning visit to Fort Worth and his last speech, before a $3-a-plate crowd in the ballroom of the Hotel Texas, now the Radisson Plaza Fort Worth.
"Fort Worth hasn't gotten the recognition we deserve for the role we played in history," he said.
We've talked about a statue or a marker at Eighth and Main streets, where Kennedy spoke outside the hotel before going into the ballroom.
So far, the plans are only talk.
The recording of the Kennedy speech alone is "just a beautiful piece of history," York said. "Fort Worth should be proud."
On the morning of his death, Kennedy told Fort Worth to build the world's greatest fighter jets and keep world peace.
Fort Worth "understands national defense and its importance to the security of the United States," the president said, recounting the city's defense history.
"During the days of the Indian war, this city was a fort. During the days of World War I, even before the United States got into the war, Royal Canadian Air Force pilots were training here. During the days of World War II, the great Liberator bombers, in which my brother flew with his co-pilot from this city, were produced here. ... The first truly intercontinental bomber, the B-36, was produced here. ... The success of our national defense depends upon this city in the western United States -- 10,000 miles from Vietnam, 5,000 or 6,000 miles from Berlin, thousands of miles from trouble spots in Latin America and Africa or the Middle East."
Kennedy described "a very dangerous and uncertain world." In closing, he said Fort Worth "will be playing a major role in the maintenance of the security of the United States for the next 10 years."
His parting words: "I am confident, as I look to the future, that our chances for security -- our chances for peace -- are better than they have been in the past. And the reason is because we are stronger. And with that strength is a determination to not only maintain the peace but also the vital interests of the United States.
"To that great cause, Texas and the United States are committed. Thank you."
The speech was broadcast on local TV and radio.
Three hours before the bulletin.
Bud Kennedy's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. (817) 390-7538 bud @budkennedy.com