Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tom Perryman: About the JFK Assassination

This Sunday, November 22, marks another anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

KAAY's "voice", Tom Perryman, was a highly regarded news broadcaster at WAKY, Louisville.  In 1963, Tom was offered a job at WFAA, Dallas, and he took it.  This led him to participate in the coverage of John Kennedy's assassination.

Here's Tom's story, in his own words:

When I went to Dallas in the summer of 1963 (a job offer from out of the blue), I joined a very good news team of six at WFAA.

When Kennedy came on that November trip, I was assigned to cover his arrival in Ft. Worth on Nov. 21 in the evening. JFK was flying up from Houston and was late getting out of Houston, and the several hundred people at Carswell Air Force Base in Ft. Worth were getting a little anxious, but he finally got there, as I recall --- about 11:30PM or thereabouts --- and got a lot of cheers, but I don't recall him making any speech there.  Since it was late, I suppose he was ready to get to bed.  His motorcade passed by my WFAA mobile news unit and we gave our report of his arrival and departure. Since I lived in Richardson, north of Dallas, It was about 2 or 2:30AM when I got home. 

I had press credentials (which I kept to this day) for the luncheon JFK was to attend in Dallas on Nov. 22 and I had planned on being there, but since I was so late getting back from Ft. Worth, I stayed in bed... until I got a call from a DJ buddy of mine at WAKY, Louisville, Jack Sanders, saying he wanted a feed on Kennedy.    (Jack will be remembered by fans of WAKY; he was very popular and a great guy.)

I said, "sure", and Jack said "you know he has been shot?"  I said no and rushed to WFAA to get involved in the assassination coverage of JFK.  (Later in the afternoon I gave the report Jack asked for.)

The newsroom was going crazy, and NBC Radio network wanted a live report from the studio.   I got info from what was available and was questioned by several of the top news people on NBC radio and TV at the time.  So after wanting one day to be on the network with polished and rehearsed news, here I was ad libbing around the world a very hot story that just broke.  I did numerous news reports that day and the following several days on NBC Radio (WFAA was affiliated with both the NBC and ABC Radio networks since we had 2 AM frequencies at the time). All the news guys did a lot of reports over several days to both networks and the many radio stations who called in. 

Recently in the Louisville paper they printed a letter from a reader that implied Dallas was full of right wing zealots wanting Kennedy dead and all the flags were flying upside down (a sign of distress), which was totally false.  Kennedy had received a warm welcome at Love Field.  A retired General Walker who was a right-wing zealot did fly his flag in front of his house in Dallas upside down.  It was later revealed that Lee Harvey Oswald fired a shot through the window of General Walker's home (this became known after bullets were compared) a few days or a week or two before the Kennedy assassination.  The bullet didn't hit anyone at Walker's house, and I always wondered if there was more to that story.

I later talked to and interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald's mother, who lived in Ft. Worth, and I can understand why Lee Harvey might have been a little goofy. 

Jack Ruby was represented by a team of lawyers headed up by Melvin Belli, famous San Francisco attorney, who got to know all the local news reporters because of the frequency of news conferences and edicts from the Judge in the case, etc... so Belli sent out a bundle of subpoenas to a lot of local Dallas people and reporters, including me, which he planned on using testimony that a lot of publicity in Dallas about his client would prevent a fair trial. But the Judge wouldn't have any of this and denied the hearing, but I did keep my subpoena.  Belli was a true lawyer/entertainer/orator and he loved publicity.  I remember on some issue that came up in Dallas while he was in California, I called his office and they told me the name of a restaurant where he was dining, and I called and got him very quickly on the phone for a comment.  He loved to talk to reporters and was always very gracious.

Thanks, Tom, for these remarks!

Here is a Youtube video of part of the CBS coverage of Kennedy's shooting.  It includes extensive footage from the luncheon that Tom had planned to attend.

Rest in Peace, JFK and Walter....  
---Dave S.


  1. An interesting Arkansas connection is thath the General Walker that Tom mentions had commanded the federal troops at Little Rock Central High School in the integration crisis of 1957. He later was known as a rightwing nut, but he performed as a true soldier at Little Rock and enforced the law.

    Jim Clark
    Rogers, Arkansas

  2. Your blog apparently is seen by more people than we might realize..I had not seen this interview I gave about 3 years ago but a buddy of mine from grade school and high school days saw it and sent it to me..and I enjoyed reading a lot of what I had pushed way back in my memory.. Regards and Merry Christmas to all my old KAAY pals... Tom Perryman