Radio Group Preserves Records Of JFK Assassination

Bart Lee of the California Historical Radio Society has been involved in work to preserve materials from KCBS Radio's broadcast about the assassination of President John Kennedy in 1963.
Photo credit Margie Shafer/KCBS Radio

Original wire copy that crossed on the teletype machines on the day President John F. Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet in 1963 is being preserved and archived in Alameda. 

On Nov. 22, 1963 KCBS Radio was carrying the Arthur Godfrey show on tape delay when the bulletins from the Associated Press and United Press International spit urgently from a teletype machine at the station.

The person receiving the initial bulletin from Dallas at KCBS ripped the paper unevenly off the machine. This is one of the documents collected by the radio society.

After reading the initial wire copy about the shooting of Kennedy, KCBS turned to CBS Radio news in New York for wall-to-wall coverage. It culminated with the announcement that the president had died that day. 

The paper wires that came into KCBS have been kept in a box for years by now deceased anchorman Ken Ackerman who passed on the faded journalistic mementos to anchor Stan Bunger. 

“It’s all manufactured with, in those days, an acid process/ So what happens is the acid continues to degenerate the paper," said Lee. "That’s why it's changed color. That’s why it gets to flaky like this.”

So,  the California Historical Radio Society — nicknamed Radio Central — has put together the AP and UPI reports. They’ve been transcribed and scanned. Some copy has been put in acid-free archival sleeves. Reams are being wrapped in special paper. 

“This is really good stuff so we try to protect them anyway we can," said Lee. 

Today, urgent wire-service news flashes onto a computer.

“It’s been an evolution and as we live in this totally electronic world with screens and many of us tend to forget that it was in a sense done the hard way," said Lee. 

Plans are in the works to display the wire copy at the society.