HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)– On November 22, 1963 WHNT News 19 was still six days away from our official first broadcast. We were transmitting a signal, but it was just a black and white test pattern.
“We had the ticker from AP and we also had the CBS ticker feed,” remembers Aelwyn Thomas, the station’s first employee. “It was like a big machine and it just tick tick ticked and if there was a lot it went really fast. All of a sudden, it was about 10 to one central time, and the ticker just went crazy for CBS.”
Thomas says when they first saw the news that Kennedy had been shot, they believed the information might be a mistake. But in realizing it was accurate, station founder Charles Grisham decided he wanted to go ahead and start broadcasting the CBS coverage.
“Mr Grisham got on the phone and said could we at least do the voice over. The New York people said yes you can do that.”
So while the station was still airing the test pattern, underneath CBS audio was broadcast to North Alabama for the first time from WHNT.
“Walter Cronkite got on in his sober, wonderful way,” Thomas remembers.
WHNT would go silent again a few days later. Finally on Thanksgiving Day 1963, WHNT News 19 signed on and aired the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, live from New York.