How WGN listeners learned of the JFK assassination

WGN Archives

In this Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, President John F. Kennedy waves from his car in a motorcade approximately one minute before he was shot in Dallas. Riding with Kennedy are First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, right, Nellie Connally, second from left, and her husband, Texas Gov. John Connally, far left. (AP Photo/Jim Altgens, File)

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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

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