Thinking Inside the Box

MPTV Remembers JFK

by Ellis Bromberg, General Manager of MPTV


Hello, again, Ellis Bromberg, "Thinking Inside the Box," on mptv.org and MPTV MOBILE.

For several years, I taught a class at Milwaukee Area Technical College in television history to students earning their Associate's degrees in TV and Video Production. As part of the course I spent a full class discussing what happened in Dallas, Texas, 50 years ago, long before any of my students were born. To them the assassination of President Kennedy is ancient history.

But not to many of us who were alive when it happened. In a column this month in Vanity Fair, James Wolcott writes: "Like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in 1941, and the destruction of the Twin Towers, in 2001, JFK's assassination was one of those unifying, defining moments when everyone alive remembers where they were when the news struck, shattering the glass wall separating before and after."

Like James Wolcott, I was in sixth grade when it happened. In the middle of the afternoon, suddenly the loudspeaker came on in the classroom, and what came out of it was not the principal's voice, but the audio from a radio station (I even remember what radio station it was) and the news report that President Kennedy had been killed in the Dallas motorcade. I recall all the students in shock, crying. It was a Friday, and we were dismissed immediately. I always walked home, and I did so that afternoon, too -- going home to turn on the television and watch it with my family practically non-stop the entire weekend.

The reason I taught my television students about the assassination, including showing video from TV the weekend it occurred, was because those events were not only unifying and defining events for the country, they also changed television irrevocably.

A recent Associated Press article puts it this way: "It's a measure of how long ago President Kennedy died that, at the time, television was described as a young medium. With the shooting in Dallas, TV grew up.... Rising to an unprecedented challenge, television could perform an incalculable public service. It could hold the country together: Americans convened in a video vigil, gathering before an electric hearth. Nonstop broadcasts by America's three networks provided a sense of unity, a chance to grieve together, a startling closeness to distant events... In life, and especially in death, John F. Kennedy changed television forever."

One of the most famous moments in the entire history of TV -- a clip I showed my students -- is Walter Cronkite, reporting from the CBS newsroom, with his eyes moist and voice choking, announcing: "The flash, apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time."

And that day, and through the weekend, television was the medium to go to. It had never covered a story so big, and never before had there been so many people who owned TV sets. Americans followed the unfolding story as they had followed no story before -- on TV in their living rooms: the assassination of the president; the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald; then the live TV coverage of the assassination of Oswald -- the first time a real homicide had been shown on live TV; then, the lying-in-state and the president's funeral procession with his wife and children present; and the transition to a new president, Lyndon Johnson, and his first words to the public.

This month, Milwaukee Public Television presents a variety of programs that recall Kennedy's life and presidency, and the assassination. On the mptv.org homepage click on the JFK Tribute link to see all the programs and broadcast times.

The new MPTV documentary, WISCONSIN REMEMBERS JOHN F. KENNEDY, is one of the programs; it includes historic footage of JFK's appearances in Milwaukee, and memories shared by two former Wisconsin governors and others. NOVA: COLD CASE JFK re-examines evidence studied by the Warren Commission to determine if today's forensic techniques, had they been available 50 years ago, could have led to different conclusions about the assassination.

In addition to watching the programs, we'd like to hear your memories of President Kennedy. Please post them on MPTV's Facebook page, or Tweet them to our Twitter account. You can find the Facebook and Twitter icon links on the mptv.org homepage.

And of course, if you're unable to watch or tape any of the programs, most will be available right here on mptv.org and MPTV MOBILE for viewing later on.

So please watch the programs and share your opinions with us. And I'll be back soon with more "Thinking Inside the Box."