First WHNT Employee Remembers Kennedy Assassination

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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.


  • Dawn Cotter Crossno

    I had just turned 5 and was in first grade at Lake City Elementary School (Rocky Top, TN). There was no kindergarten in our rural school system back then. I remember sitting very still which was very difficult for me (Still is.) surrounded by my school mates who were just as spellbound motionless while my normally very disciplined, straight laced teacher, Mamie Adkins, stood in front of the classroom with a distressing river of tears rolling down her face. I don’t remember what she said to us. I just remember feeling extremely sad and a wee bit scared that we were all going home early, not adventurously happy like a snow day dismissal. I will always remember somberly watching the President’s funeral on TV with my family. The horse drawn coffin with Black Jack, the riderless mount, following. Mrs. Kennedy with an elegant mourning veil, a very composed for her young age Caroline, and her baby brother John John bravely soldier saluting the procession. No matter your politics then or now, it was a sad sad day and scary time for this nation.

  • jbarcus

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    With 6 days to go, WHNT aired CBS audio under the WHNT test pattern. Watch the livestream from CBS News at

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