UPI's Radio Wire: How America's broadcast stations
were first informed of the assassination of
President John F. Kennedy

 

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
(ddigger@pobox.com)
UPI/Denver, 1962-1971)

 

To jump to beginning of the copy reproduction, click here


 

For notes (below) on how the UPI bureaus shared use of the wire in those days, click here


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I  welcome suggestions for  corrections, additions, or modifications, particularly from those who have first-hand knowledge of the filing of this historic report.


 
 
 

 

'GET OFF 
GET OFF
 GET OFF'

Notes

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...]

WHR45

     (SPECIAL WEATHER ADVISORY)

(KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI)---THE WEATHER BUREAU AT KANSAS CITY HAS

ISSUED THE FOLLOWING SPECIAL WEATHER ADVISORY...

   HAZARDLT

            Z

            UEM
 
 

OB
 
 

M
 
 
 
 

   MORE HX1238PCSA GET OFF NXR
 
 
 
 

NXR39W-N-S

          BULLETIN

                  PRECEDE (KENNEDY

                                  5
 
 

& E T OFF HX GET OFF GET OFF
 
 
 
 

;(DALLAS)---98pcs11/22
   MORE HX123              (LINE OVERPRINT)
 
 

UPR74
 
 

     B U L L E T I N
 

   (DALLAS)1--AN UNKNOWN SNIPER FIRED THREE SHOTS AT PTTUBG
 
 
 
 

FLASH
 
 

     KENNEEY
 
 

FLASH

     KENNEDY SERIOUSLY WOUNDED----

                                  HR1238PCS
 
 

STAY OFF ALL OF YOU   STAY OFF AND KEEP OFF   GET OFF

HX
 
 

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
 
 

MT HCR
 
 
 
 

UPR74
 
 

     B U L L E T I N
 
 

   (DALLAS)---A SNIPER SERIOUSLY WOUNDED LDJ BIXENT KENNEDY IN
 

DOWNTOWN DALLAS TODAY...PERHAPS FATALLY.
 

                                        HR1240PCS11/22P
 
 

PLS RPT TT BUN HCR
 
 

UPR74
 
 

     B U L L E T I N
 

(  (DALLAS)---ZA SNIPER SERIOUSLY WOUNDED PRESIDENT KENNEDY IN
 

DOWNTOWN DALLAS TODAY...PERHAPS FATALLY.
 

                                        HR1240PCS11/22
 
 
 
 

K
 
 

UPR75
 

     B U L L E T I HN:
 

   (DALLAS)---PRESIDENT KENNEDY AND GOVERNOR JOHN CONNALLY OF TEXAS
 

HAVE BEEN CUT DOWN BY ASSASSINS BULLETS IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS.
 

   THEY WERE RIDING IN AN OPEN AUTOMOBILE WHEN THE SHOTS WERE
 

FIRED.
 

   THE PRESIDENT, HIS LIMP BODY CRADLED IN THE ARMS OF HIS WIFE,
 

JACQUELINE, HAS BEEN RUSHED TO PARKLAND HOSPITAL.
 

                                                 HR1243PCS11/22..

STAY OFF
 
 

UPR76

     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

TO DALLAS.

   MCH KL145PES

   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

RANG OUT.

   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.

                          HR&FK1250P11/22CST
 
 

UPR77

     B U L L E T I N

   (SUB KENNEDY)

    (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

GUNFIRE.

  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:] 
 

Operator Alice Guenther took over at the broadcast Teletype keyboard at 1:30. Four minutes later word was flashed from Dallas that Kennedy was dead. I had copy for a flash ready on the desk, but [national broadcast news editor] John [Pelletreau] waved it away. "Alice," he said, "type 'Flash President Dead.'" Alice took her hands from the keyboard, covered her face, bent over, and cried "Oh, my God." An operator supervisor, Jimmy Darr, suddenly appeared behind her, and in what seemed to me to be one fluid motion, put his hands on her upper arms, lifted her out of the chair, sat her on the floor and leaned over the chair and her and typed the flash.

While that was going on, I typed a bulletin and a follow-up paragraph.


 (DALLAS) -- PRESIDENT KENNEDY IS DEAD.

HE WAS SHOT TO DEATH BY AN ASSASSIN IN THE STREETS OF DALLAS. 

HE WAS 45.
 

Alice recovered and was back at the keyboard to send that.

We didn't have a prepared obituary for Kennedy in the file, as we should have; who would have thought we would have needed one? As a result, we didn't have his age handy, and I was guessing that he was 45. I was wrong by a year, and John repeated the error in the sub, or write-through. But soon as the A-wire came out with the correct age, we sent a correction.


[For the complete report by former UPI staffer Larry Lorenz, go to: http://www.loyno.edu/~lorenz/
 
 

      FLASH

        PRESIDENT DEAD.

UPR100

      BULLETIN

               (SUB KENNEDY)

      (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

DALLAS.

      GOVERNOR JOHN CONNALLY OF TEXAS WAS WOUNDED BY THE ASSASSIN.

[Several paragraphs follow (see note at right). UPR 100 was timed off:]

                                 MORE A147PCD11/22


 
 
 
 

...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.... 

 

 

 

...more garble followed. On the Denver bureau's Teletype printer, the RED letters to the left were printed on top of each other, probably because of a failed or garbled  "linefeed" signal. 
 

 

 

 

Chicago, now using a 'national' radio wire designation (UPR74), attempts to send the bulletin reading "AN UNKNOWN SNIPER FIRED THREE SHOTS AT PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S MOTORCADE IN DALLAS."
...and was met with more interference...

 

 

 

 

 

By now, the Dallas bureau had sent an all-important FLASH on the main national newspaper A-wire, carrying the first report of the severity of JFK's  injuries...and Chicago Teletype operator Henry Renwald (HR)  , after one false start, sent the first of many radio wire flashes...

 

 

 


...It is unlikely that this timeoff -- 12:38pcs -- is correct, because the A-wire flash of the extent of JFK's injuries was not timed off until 12:39. But even at the  more likely time of 12:39pcs, UPI's radio wire  had transmitted the stunning news sooner than any news service in the world...
 
Chicago then tried again...STAY OFF AND KEEP OFF ...

 

 

...but the order wasn't noticed, or was ignored,  by  a bureau that was trying to send a report on somebody's speech... and Chicago began to plead...

 

 

 

The Los Angeles radio desk (HCR) tried to weigh in... 
 
 
 

 

...Chicago began transmitting a BULLETIN to follow its earlier FLASH... 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

...and was greeted by yet another interruption...
 
 
 
 
  
   
 

Translation:
"Please repeat that bulletin -- Los Angeles Radio"
 
 

 

Chicago obliges... 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 


 

...and finally, the transmission is met with only a small amount of interference...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Soon, a new lead is filed, fleshing out the developing story from the  scene of pandemonium ... 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
    
 
     
 
 
 At 43 minutes past the hour -- still in a time period normally reserved for transmission of local copy by local bureaus -- Chicago once again issues the order to STAY OFF the wire...

 

...and then continues transmitting the fast-developing story for broadcast subscribers around the world...
 

 
 
       
 
 

...the word "during" should have been "following," but an understandable and minor mistake, considering that it is the ONLY misused word  transmitted by UPI radio during these early moments of confusion, shock, on-the-scene pandemonium and intense pressure... 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
  
 

 


 

A minor point of interference, perhaps caused by another local bureau rejoining the national wire after its local split...
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
 

About 20 minutes after the shooting, and with all local bureaus restored to the national wire, UPR provides a reworked story -- still relying on transmissions from Dallas on the A-wire, and now  carrying dire news from a Secret Service agent... 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 "Conally"...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
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 
    The UPR100  BULLETIN, which probably was begun  about 1:40 p.m., continues for several more paragraphs, summing up the information sent earlier.  The crowd size reported in UPR77 was corrected to read 25,000. The story included additional information that LBJ was not hurt, that a "foreign-make rifle" had been found
by police, and that sheriff's officers were "questioning a young man picked up at the scene." 
 

 

 

 

 

 

The "147PCD11/22" probably should have been PCS for Standard, not Daylight, time.

 

Notes: 10/15/99

A little information on how the UPI radio wire worked in those days is necessary to understand the challenges and early difficulties encountered by the staff in Chicago shortly after it received news of the shooting in Dallas: 

The Chicago bureau (which carried the designation HX), was headquarters for UPI's National Broadcast News Department -- UPR -- and  the central point for the filing of all national radio copy to broadcast clients across the nation. UPR's staffers regularly prepared national radio wire copy, which was given to operators of Teletype machines, who transmitted the copy directly to receiving machines in the newsrooms of all of UPI's domestic broadcast clients. As their primary source of information, UPR's editors  regularly relied on  information transmitted from bureaus around the world on UPI's primary news circuit -- the newspaper A-Wire -- and on other wires, such as those dedicated to finance and sports.

Limited by the technology of the time, the dedicated telephone lines connecting the Teletype machines on any of UPI's several circuits, or "wires," could handle only one signal at a time. Many bureaus were equipped to transmit  the signals that would activate the keys in Teletype machines connected to the wire in clients' newsrooms, but if two or more of those bureaus attempted to transmit at the same time on the same circuit, the result was garbled, unintelligible type. 

To allow individual bureaus the opportunity to transmit news of regional interest, UPR would schedule a "split," usually every hour on the half hour. For the following 20 minutes, selected bureaus across the country -- Denver (DX), Dallas (DA), Los Angeles (HC), New York (NX) and many others -- would throw switches that allowed each of them to control the circuit that served only clients in their region. At the end of the 20-minute local split, the switches would be thrown again, the wire would be combined into one national circuit, and UPR would begin transmitting national news to all stations. 

As headquarters for broadcast wire operations, UPR in Chicago had the ability and authority to end a split prior to the end of the 20-minute period provided for local transmissions, but such action was rarely taken. When it was, it resulted in many conflicting signals entering the circuit simultaneously, and, therefore, garble. Once the individual   bureaus stopped transmitting, the wire would be clear for UPR  to transmit nationally.

At 12:30 p.m. central standard time on Nov. 22, 1963, Chicago called for the normal local split. Switches were thrown across the country, and local bureaus began transmitting news of interest to their regional clients. 

Four minutes later, at 12:34 p.m., the Dallas bureau of UPI transmitted on the newspaper A-wire an ominous "precede" to a bulletin. It said:

DALLAS, NOV. 22 (UPI) -- THREE SHOTS WERE FIRED AT PRESIDENT KENNEDY'S MOTORCADE TODAY IN DOWNTOWN DALLAS.

Although the stunning news was received on A-wire Teletype machines in newspaper offices and UPI bureaus across across the country, most broadcasters at that moment were receiving only local-interest news. Chicago staffers immediately decided  to end the split, restore the national broadcast circuit,  reclaim control of the wire, and transmit the bulletin to broadcasters.

As is shown in the reproduction of the UPI broadcast wire above, the task of restoring the full national wire feed wasn't easy. But despite the problems in restoring the national connection, UPI was the first news organization to supply broadcasters -- and their listeners -- with the news of the shooting of the President.

--REC