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Bella Vista Man Remembers Working in a TX Newsroom the Day JFK was Shot

BELLA VISTA, AR -- Bud Turner was working at Fort Worth's KTVT the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade through Dallas.
A snapshot of the Associated Press bulletin outlining details of the shooting.
A snapshot of the Associated Press bulletin outlining details of the shooting.
On the steps of the Jack Ruby Trial in March 1964
On the steps of the Jack Ruby Trial in March 1964
Outside the Dallas City Jail as Oswald
Outside the Dallas City Jail as Oswald
Bud Turner at his home office in Bella Vista
Bud Turner at his home office in Bella Vista
You just relive it, really. You just relive it step by step.
BELLA VISTA, AR -- Bud Turner was working at Fort Worth's KTVT the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade through Dallas.

In 1963, Turner was working as production manager and had been assigned to cover president John F. Kennedy's breakfast speech at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth.

"It's a pretty exciting day to see the president of the United States come in and give a speech... Friday morning we go to the hotel early, get everything ready... At the conclusion, the chief engineer and I grab a quick lunch and go back to the station... There's a slide up that says something about Kennedy being shot and I really didn't quite understand it and I looked at the other engineer and I said, 'What's going on?' and about that time Cronkite comes up and says Kennedy has been shot and he's been taken to Parkland Hospital."

Turner rounded up his crew, loaded the trucks and headed down the freeway to the hospital.

"We get there just in time to videotape the hearse leaving the hospital carrying Kennedy's body... Panic. At the hospital, just total panic. People were crying, shaking their heads, walking around not knowing what to do... That night when you're sitting at home with a beer in your hand and you think, 'Did that really happen and was I really there?'"

48 hours later, Lee Harvey Oswald was in custody for the assassination, and Turner was there for the transfer from city to county jail.

"When I see Detective Leavelle with Oswald walk out the door, I just reached around and start the videotape recorder. You never know when something's going to happen so you always try to be prepared. Well, sure enough he got shot... We could see what was happening. We could see Ruby rush up but it all happened so quickly... The announcer was saying, 'He's been shot. Oswald's been shot' and then they were wrestling Ruby to the ground."

Now, 50 years later, Turner still replays every detail that unfolded on those fateful days.

"You just relive it, really. You just relive it step by step."

And with his camera, Turner captured history.

"This is going to sound funny, but you don't think about the gravity of the situation. You just do what has to be done."

Click here to hear more of the complete story from Turner!

Here are more of Turner's recollections from his book Ten Shades of Gray, Any Shade of Blue:

In 1963, I was Production Manager at KTVT, Channel 11, an independent television station in Ft. Worth, Texas. Being an independent operation, we had a lot of time to fill and we did a lot of programming from remote locations in the area. As a result, we had two remote production trucks. In 1963, a black and white TV camera was about the size of a microwave oven. A color camera was about three times that size, so they were almost never used outside of the studio.

By mid-1963 a rift had developed in the Texas Democratic Party between the liberal and conservative elements. Before this widened into a chasm, the Washington bunch thought it wise for President Kennedy, along with a group including Vice President Johnson, Senator Ralph Yarborough and Representative Jim Wright to visit the larger cities in the state in a show of unity.

San Antonio was the first stop of the tour on November 21st. Later that day Air Force One would fly to Ft. Worth, where the President would spend the evening at the Hotel Texas in downtown Ft. Worth and he would give a breakfast speech the next morning. We would be televising that speech and I would be directing.

Friday morning, November 22, I arrived at the Hotel Texas a little after six. The remote crew had secured two cameras inside the Grand Ballroom of the hotel. Another camera was outside, on the south side of the building. We wanted to video tape the President shaking hands with some of the several thousand who had been waiting in the parking lot across the street since before dawn to get a glimpse of their young leader.

The White House had told Kennedy there would be no blacks among the 2,000 attending the Fort Worth Breakfast. Kennedy said if there were no blacks there would be no speech. So, at the last minute, fifty extra tickets were allotted to blacks.

About 8:30 we manned our positions in the remote truck and waited, watching monitors and asking the cameramen if the President had arrived. About 8:50, Kennedy appeared in the parking lot to the south of the hotel and walked into the crown to shake hands. We commented to each other how dangerous this was and how difficult it was for the Secret Service to follow him.

Vice President Johnson, Governor Connally, Senator Yarborough and Representative Jim Wright joined Kennedy on the stroll.

We hit the air at 9:00. The President was not yet back inside the hotel so our reporter filled the time until Kennedy appeared, about 9:10, with a lovely Jackie at his side. Although the speech was scheduled to conclude by 9:30, the President's talk lasted until almost 10:00.

Shortly after the program, I scurried back to the station to finish some paper work and grab an early lunch. We had to get ready to video tape the President's speech from Market Hall in Dallas. The CBS affiliate was originating that portion of the day's activity and we would carry it on a delayed basis.

Bill Kessell, our chief engineer, and I were returning to the station from a quick lunch just as the remote crew was bringing the truck back from the hotel, about 12:40.

As we walked into the master control area, where we were monitoring the CBS station, CBS had a news bulletin slide up and the network announcer was finishing an announcement about the tragedy.

Before I could understand what had taken place, a second bulletin came on saying that President Kennedy and Governor Connally had been shot while in a motorcade in downtown Dallas, and had been taken to Parkland Hospital.

Not knowing exactly what to do, but knowing that we should do something, I yelled some instructions to the engineers and production people to get the remote truck ready again.

The crew that had been at the breakfast telecast was just going through the food line at Luby's cafeteria, about a mile west of the station. I phoned the cashier there, briefly told her what had happened, and asked her to tell the crew to forget lunch and hustle back to the station.

The crew arrived back at the station in about four minutes. We had already begun to mount a camera on top of the truck. This remote unit was a tractor-trailer with a portable generator, a video tape recorder and external mounts for two cameras, one on top of the trailer and one on the front bumper of the tractor. A marvel of the day.

The camera on top of the truck hadn't been totally secured when we were ready to roll, so Phil Crow, one of the cameramen, rode on top of the trailer for the first few miles to finish the job. The truck stopped briefly at the outskirts of town and Phil jumped in the cab. I followed in the company station wagon.

By 12:55, less than 15 minutes after the first news bulletin, we were rolling down the turnpike toward Parkland Hospital with generator running and two hot cameras. While en route we heard the announcement that the President was dead.

Just before we reached Parkland hospital, the truck stopped briefly while Phil again crawled on top of the trailer to man the camera and roll the tape recorder. We had no idea what we would see so we wanted to record everything.

When we arrived at the hospital the scene was total panic. The police were cooperative and let us into the parking lot by the emergency entrance. Chuck Rogers, the other cameraman in the truck, was leaning out the window yelling and waving people out of the way. Ours was the second television truck on the scene. We had no live capabilities but we did arrive in time to video tape the last of the motorcade which, by now, included a hearse carrying the body of the late President to the waiting Air Force One at Love Field.

Not having microwave or satellite capabilities, we cut the video tape and drove it back to the station for airing. The same held true for the periodic medical reports on Governor Connally that were given throughout the day. Report by report, the tapes were driven 30 miles back to the station for airing.

The crew that had arrived at the station before 5:00 that morning to air a presidential breakfast address, finally made their way home around 11:00 that night.

Being an independent station and having no way of airing the events that a network affiliate could carry, and not wanting to run entertainment at a time like this, the station manager made a deal for us to simulcast the NBC network in addition to WBAP-TV, the NBC affiliate.

Great idea, but there were no facilities to get a signal from WBAP-TV to KTVT. No fiber lines, not even copper connected the stations. You do what you have to do. The engineers took a conventional color television set tuned to WBAP-TV. They ran a shielded wire from the anode of the picture tube to a distribution amplifier and on to the switcher. We had NBC on the air.

Saturday, we waited to see what would come next. WBAP-TV's old remote truck had blown an engine the day before. Late Saturday, NBC called looking for a mobile unit with a video tape recorder for use Sunday during the transfer of Lee Harvey Oswald from the Dallas City jail to the Dallas County jail.

A little later Saturday night, an ABC producer called trying to secure another mobile unit that could be used to televise a memorial service for Kennedy from the Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth the next morning. Since we had two remote units, this was not a problem, although it took a couple of hours to round up enough crew for both trucks, plus the local programming we would be airing.

Again, both crews arrived at the station before 5:00 that Sunday morning. The Dallas remote unit was in position by 7:00 at the Dallas County jail. WBAP's truck had been towed to the Dallas City jail. NBC had Telco video lines run from WBAP's truck to our truck and from us to AT&T toll-test and on to the network, so they could follow Oswald's transfer.

Our second mobile unit was at the memorial service in Fort Worth, preparing to feed ABC. That service, scheduled for 11:30, would never air. Oswald's transfer was scheduled for 10:00 central time.

I was at the switcher in the Dallas truck with the NBC producer, Fred Rheinstein by my side. The morning drug on. A little before 11:20, our one and only engineer stepped out of the truck to check some equipment when we received word the transfer had started.

ABC, CBS and NBC were all televising the slain President's funeral service in Washington. At the conclusion, ABC planned on switching to the memorial service in Fort Worth. NBC and CBS planned on switching to the jail in Dallas.

When we saw the doors open to the garage, Rheinstein, who was on the phone to NBC in New York, told the network to join us for the event. They did. At the same time, Dan Rather was on the phone to CBS trying to convince that network to switch to Dallas, but to no avail. As a result, NBC was the only network to air the action live.

I swung around and started recording the video tape, just in case something happened. Detective J. R. Leavell stepped through the doorway with Oswald cuffed to his arm. A couple of seconds later Jack Ruby pushed through the crowd and fired a single shot from his .38 caliber pistol, hitting Oswald just below the heart. The cameraman for CBS zoomed into the action immediately upon hearing the shot. (CBS was not live but they were videotaping the event) We didn't have a zoom lens, just four lenses on the turret of an aging black-and-white RCA camera. Changing lenses on the air is a big no-no, but this was the only way to get close to the turmoil. The cameraman racked lenses to a tighter shot. At times like this, you don't think of the gravity or the consequences of the event. You just do what has to be done. Newsman Tom Pettit continued talking as Oswald was loaded into the ambulance.

The NBC producer wanted an instant replay. I was the only other guy in the truck at that point. Unable to do everything at once, I rewound the tape and started playing it. I switched to it but couldn't close the reporter's microphone or cut to the tape audio. So during the replay of the tape there was just the noise from the basement of the jail.

By then, our engineer was back in the truck - but not for long. NBC switched to the other remote unit and once again we headed for Parkland Hospital. We didn't have time to properly disconnect all of the equipment, much less gather it up. We unplugged the larger cables, literally cut the smaller ones and left the equipment in place.

Our cameras were the first inside the public relations room at Parkland, the same room we had been in only forty-eight hours earlier. After the announcement of Oswald's death, we cut loose again, leaving a man and various equipment, to head for the county jail and become the master taping unit for NBC.

The crew that had manned the truck before 5:00 that morning arrived back in Fort Worth about 10:00 that night.

Still working for NBC, we were already making plans to televise the funeral service for the Dallas police officer, J. D. Tippit, who had been shot and killed by Oswald only two hours after the President's assassination.

The following day, Monday, November 25, we rolled out of the station about 8:00 and headed for a small church in south Dallas.

We had two cameras inside the sanctuary. One, respectfully at the back of the room along with cameras from ABC and CBS. Our second camera was on the podium because NBC wanted to look down into the casket of the slain officer.

NBC was not covering the funeral live. Again, without satellites, everything was taped. Immediately at the conclusion of the service, we cut the tape and drove it to a waiting helicopter where it was flown back to the station and fed up the line to NBC.

As that was going on, we cut the truck loose, leaving equipment, and drove to the cemetery, arriving ahead of the funeral procession. Using the on-board generator, we video taped the arriving funeral procession. We had mounted one camera on top of a station wagon so we could drive right up to the grave site.

Again, video tape was cut, tails out, and driven to a waiting helicopter to be flown back to Fort Worth where it would be fed up the line to the network.

1964 would find us back in Dallas for the NBC coverage of the Jack Ruby Trial...



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