How WGN listeners learned of the JFK assassination

KennedyFrontPage

(Chicago Tribune archives)

On Friday, November 22, 1963, a young broadcaster named Orion Samuelson was hosting that day’s edition of a program called “Country Fair” (the predecessor of the long-running “Noon Show”) on WGN Radio. He pauses as he is handed the first bulletin regarding shots being fired at President John F. Kennedy, which Samuelson reads.  Then, lacking live network audio or the instantaneous information we are used to today, he has no choice but to return to the program while he waits for additional information beyond the few lines of wire copy from the first bulletin. There’s a jump in the surviving recording of this event, but it picks up again as Orion is reading another bulletin.  After that, he again returns to farm news.  Finally, after an additional update, a union record turner arrives so Orion is able to end his program and the station begins playing soft music as everyone waits for further updates on the condition of the President.  One of these later updates, read by Jack Taylor, is included here.  The 12+ minutes on this file is the extent of what exists on a reel of tape in our archives and is the only known recording of this coverage.

Extended audio of WGN Radio’s first bulletins of the JFK assassination:

Orion Samuelson shares his memories of that day:

OrionSamuelson1960s

1960s era photo of Orion Samuelson

2 comments

  • Curt VanAllen

    Fifty years ago today I was a second-year apprentice working the 3:30-11:30 p.m. shift in the composing room of the Chicago Tribune. My job this day was setting headlines on a Ludlow machine. Some of the headlines I typeset were on the front page of the Trib and others were spread throughout the paper's first section. A week or two after the terrible events of November 22, 1963 the Trib published a memorial edition which included many pages published over the whole weekend following the assassination and through the funeral. I still have a few copies of that memorial edition and to this day I can still pick out the headlines I typeset.

    I remember taking the Illinois Central railroad from 211th in Matteson to Randolph st. and Michigan Ave. in Chicago. Coming upstairs to Michigan Ave. there was very little foot traffic on the street and all of the flags atop buildings were already flying at half staff. It was an eerie, cloudy, dank day somehow reflecting the way people were feeling.

  • MaryJane Joyce Byrne

    On November 22, 1963, I was with my Brownie Troop at Bozo's Circus. I was selected by the magic arrows to play the Grand Prize Game! Just as I had finished my turn, the bulletin came on that the President had been shot and seriously wounded. Following the show we returned by bus to our school (Ascension, Oak Park) and we learned that the President had died. That afternoon was filled with grief and prayer at our school. I remember going home and my Mother (who was 9 months pregnant) was so sad. We watched the news reports all weekend and just after Oswald had been shot, on Sunday my Mother went into labor and our sweet baby sister, Denise, was born that day. Tthat weekend that was full of excitement, grief, sorrow and joy for our big Irish, Catholic family is as clear to me today as it was 50 years ago.

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