Forgotten for Decades, JFK Audio Reels Find New Home at Sixth Floor Museum

Tuesday marks 53 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during a trip to Dallas. Monday morning, a piece of history from that fateful day found a new home at The Sixth Floor Museum.

On Nov. 22, 1963, WBAP radio reporter Bob Welch was busy covering Kennedy's visit, when multiple shots rang out in Dealey Plaza.

"It hits you like a cold glass of water with ice cubes in it," Welch said, recalling that day.

Breathless and trying to grasp what had just happened, he delivered one of the first known reports that the president had been hit.

"I'm sort of a fair to Midland on-air reporter," Welch said of his breaking news report. "But I was giving it my best shot."

The following is a transcript of Welch's report from that day:

"As I say, it has not been fully confirmed, but police radios are carrying that the president has been hit. The president's party – his wife, the governor, senators, and all other political officials – were en route, as fast as they could get there, to Parkland Hospital under heavy police guard, going extremely fast past the Trade Mart, past the large throngs of people waiting to catch a glimpse of the president. It's thought that the incident occurred near the underpass section entering the Stemmons Expressway, just on the outskirts of Downtown Dallas. This unit is presently en route to Parkland Hospital. Confirmation will come shortly."

"You could tell the seriousness from which I was delivering the message pretty much how bad it was," Welch said. "I was the Lone Ranger out there riding the biggest story in a decade."

Welch said he was sad, and remembers shortly before the shooting he was at the airport for President Kennedy's arrival.

"It was a glorious welcome to Dallas," Welch said. "People loved him to death."

That moment – and all of WBAP's coverage before and after the shooting – were preserved on 21 audio reels, which the station donated to the Sixth Floor Museum Monday.

"Moments like this are few and far between, but it's like Christmas," said Stephen Fagin, curator for The Sixth Floor Museum. "When we get something like this, it really allows us to enhance our collection and tell a more personal story of the local coverage. These guys knew the city and the knew the ins and the outs of the story. And so we get an immediacy and a vibrancy that you just don't get from the national news coverage."

The story of how the reels were discovered is vibrant in its own right.

Back in the 1960s, NBC 5 was part of the WBAP family. The reels were placed inside two boxes and stored in the television station's original Fort Worth studios, where they were eventually forgotten over the years.

More than three decades later, an NBC 5 news crew was tasked with going through the station archives to look for any old clips that would be appropriate for an upcoming anniversary special. They came across the two boxes and WBAP Operations Manager Tyler Cox got a phone call.

"[The reporter] said, 'We found something we think you guys are going to want,'" said Cox. "So they showed up at our studios and brought these boxes in and we were just flabbergasted."

They played the reels and couldn't believe their ears.

"The voices coming out of the speakers sounded like they were coming out of the next room," said Cox. "The audio was just amazing."

The reels had been kept at the WBAP studio since, but Cox says it was always their intention to give them to the museum.

"They're home where they should be," said Cox. "Not under my desk, not locked in some closet, but they're here where they belong."

The museum says it will look into digitizing the reels and also plans to make them available to students and researchers who come to the museum.

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