June 6, 1968 was one of those days. As usual I finished the Nightbeat Show on WCOS at 1 am on the night of the 5th. We were doing the show from the studios in the Cornell Arms Apartments instead of Doug Broome’s due to the curfew that was put in place after the MLK assassination on April 4th. The curfew had been lifted and a little nightlife was returning to the city. My buddy and fellow DJ, Scotty Quick, was in the station late so we decided to venture down to Five Points and enjoy a pair of Arthur’s “Fleming Specials” scrumptious omelets filled with cheese, hamburger and onions after driving our News Guy, Mike Rast home. I finally turned in sometime south of 3 AM, a little bit later than normal. Around 6 am I was awakened by a phone call that was a wrong number. It took me a while to get back to sleep.
I finally got up that afternoon around 3 and fixed myself some breakfast, showered and got ready for the day. I called the station to see if I had any commercials or PSAs to record. Nellie, our receptionist checked my box and said that I was off the hook for the day. In retrospect she sounded a little bit off, but I attributed that to her being busy as the phones picked up a little when Woody was on the air. I had a couple of errands to run so off I went in my ’64 Plymouth. I had the radio on but somehow I was tuned in between newscasts. I arrived shortly after 7 PM while the Joe Pyne program was playing on the Maggie (Magnavox) tape machine mounted in the rack to the right of the audio console.
I sat down in the control room just in time to play the news sweeper at 7:55 pm and cue Mike through the window of the FM control room. I had just queued up the jingle tape and was placing my first 45 of the evening on turntable number one when I heard Mike announce that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles early that morning. My head jerked around and I made eye contact with Mike as if to say “What now!?!” Somehow I had made it through the day without hearing about it.
Needless to say, that show was hard to do. I didn’t feel much like rocking and rolling. It had already been difficult that summer, we were still recovering from the MLK assassination in April and the changes it made. The phone was quieter than usual, with fewer requests and dedications. Even the “Instant 60 Request” feature resulted in slower responses on the phone lines, something that usually gets immediate response. The requests I got were for more subdued songs and less for the hard rock or psychedelic songs that were the normal fare for a Thursday evening.
That night, as I drove Mike home after the show, we talked about the assassinations and about what was happening to our country and how would it affect our city. Would we see more curfews? Even though we both had Media Identification cards issued by the police department that allowed us to be on the streets during curfews, it was not fun driving around deserted streets being pulled by police every so often to check that we had permission to be out. Fortunately we did not have a second round of curfews. Also by then the police officers on the night beat were familiar with my lime green Plymouth and waved at us instead of flicking on their red lights to pull us over. Yes, that was so long ago that we still had red lights on police cars.
In 1968, Dick Holler, who was well known to Columbia audiences having performed exclusively around the city with his band the Holidays from August, 1962 until May 1965, wrote the song first made famous by Dion, “Abraham, Martin and John.” Although not included in the song’s title Bobby Kennedy is the subject of the fourth verse. Abraham, Martin and John is the only song in history to make the Billboard Top 40 five times with five different artists. Dick also wrote such hits as “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” and “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” which became top ten songs by “The Swinging Medallions” and “The Royal Guardsmen” respectively.
I guess it was the experience of being the last person around to find out about Bobby that made me the news hound that I am today. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, I can’t start the day or go to sleep without at least scanning the news. It used to be the paper and the 11 O’Clock Report, but today I have bookmarks on my computer to several sites that publish 24 hours a day and several news apps on my smart phone. The latest story is just a vibration away! Oh MY!