Monday, May 09, 2022

Jack Ruby and KLIF

Anyone with any level of interest in the Kennedy assassination from the student, to the historian, to the conspiracy theorist knows who Jack Ruby is. But many of them won't know anything about 1190 KLIF-AM, and even fewer the connection between the two. The Kennedy assassination was a tragedy of course but also a huge news event so the city was swarming with local news people. So as coverage ramped up for the Kennedy assassination beat it also proliferated a witness list for the Oswald assassination which included a huge number of radio and news people. 552 different witnesses' testimony was presented to the Warren Commission. It included police, attorneys and Oswald's acquaintances.  But that list includes multiple radio staff:

  • Corporon, John
  • Duncan, William Glenn, Jr
  • Jenkins, Ronald Lee
  • Pappas, Icarus M.
  • Richey, Warren E.
  • Stuckey, William Kirk
  • Underwood. James R.
  • Walker, Ira N., Jr.

That list has zero overlap with the Ruby trial witnesses. Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24th 1963 in Dallas. Access was limited in secure buildings, but KLIF-AM was on the scene for the prisoner transfer of Oswald but did not broadcast the shooting live. NBC was the lone TV network to have broadcast live coverage. NBC News correspondent Tom Pettit, was the voice everyone recognizes shouting “Lee Oswald has been shot!”  The first mention of the shooting on KLIF is at 9:51 on this video:

First the events you already know about.  Sunday morning, November 24th, the police were ready to move Harvey Oswald to the county jail. A distance of one mile.  At 11:20 AM Oswald emerged flanked by officers. Captain J. Will Fritz led two detectives escorting Oswald through a basement garage toward a car. Moments later, Jack Ruby wearing his fedora, stepped out from the mob of detectives and reporters and fired a .38-caliber Colt Cobra revolver at Oswald's chest. Oswald died at 1:07 p.m.

First you should know a bit more about Ruby.  He operated a strip joint called the Carousel Club. In addition to the local contacts he made through his strip club, he was very social, and made his daily rounds in Dallas visited acquaintances around Dallas. He'd hit the bank, the Statler Hilton, the police station, the courthouse, the bail-bond office, the Doubleday Book Store, the delicatessen, the shoeshine parlor, radio station KLIF. He actually bought that Colt cobra through a police friend of his, Joe Cody to avoid paying sales tax. 

KLIF was owned by Gordon McLendon. Born in Paris TX in 1921, graduate of Yale, and sports  director at WYBC in New Haven, CT. He made a name for himself at the Liberty Broadcasting System. Liberty was a network that mainly broadcast "recreated" baseball games starting in 1948. Reputedly many listeners were not aware the broadcasters were not announcing the live events. [LINK]Ruby once identified McLendon as “the world’s greatest American.” In those days at Liberty McLendon was billing himself as “the Old Scotchman.” He had founded KLIF in 1947.  Ruby name dropped him in his hand-written confession. Later in his career McLendon became a right-wing radio wonk, and made a failed senate run. His career stalled a bit when he started a campaign to ban suggestive songs like “Yellow Submarine” and “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”

He also name-dropped KLIF, DJ Russ Knight, better known as The Weird Beard.(No connection to the WAKY weird beard.)  When FBI Agents found Knight's personal phone numbers in Ruby's possession he won an interview. He had been at KLIF since 1960 and left in 1964 for a spot at WXYZ. Somewhere in there he was also on KILT. Knight had known Ruby for a year and had hung out with him half a dozen times, even taking his wife to the Carousel Club. Ruby for his part, ran ads for the club on Knights program at KLIF. [SOURCE]

Another familiar name that pops up at Liberty is sound man Wes Wise. Back in the 50s he was doing foley work to fake baseball games. Somehow he moved from there to at sports director for WFAA in 1961.  By 1963 Wes Wise was at KRLD-TV (CBS).  He was there with Bob Huffaker. He testified that he bumped into Ruby at the now infamous School book Depository building that Saturday Nov. 23rd; just a day before the assassination. In 1971 Wes Wise would be elected Mayor of Dallas, and he'd serve 3 terms despite being originally from Shreveport, LA. It's worth nothing that Wise kicked off a conspiracy theory in December of 1963 taking poor notes about a possible Oswald sighting. He got a plate number correct but the wrong color and make of the car. By random chance (ahem) the car listed was owned by a Carl Mather at Collins Radio, a company that worked with military communications for the CIA. [SOURCE]  

According to Ruby's own account, he he was trying to find a local disc jockey from KLIF and went into the police station to locate him to deliver some sandwiches from Phil's Delicatessen. He worked his way around the police station, and found instead some staff from KBOX. He asked for  KLIF's Gary DeLaune. Witness Willian Duncan Jr. testified that Ruby delivered sandwiches and soda to KLIF around 1:30 on Friday Nov. 22nd. He asked about DJ Russ Knight and left after 20-30 minutes. More here 

Gary would see Ruby again when Oswald was shot. DeLaune was standing right next to photographer Bob Jackson when the latter took his Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. Gary's 's presence begat a conspiracy theory of it's own since Jack Ruby had a few connections to KLIF. Despite personally knowing Ruby, DeLaune testified that all he saw was "figure with a gun."  More here. Delaune later worked in Houston, then moved to San Antonio in the early 1970s to cover the San Antonio Spurs. Eventually he joined the sports broadcasting team at KENS-TV where he stayed for decades until his retirement.

Was there any more to any of this?  Probably.  But knowing DJs as I do... the basis of these friendships was probably free sandwiches, and drinks at the carousel club. It an unusual event where in covering the news of one crime find a dozen DJs testifying in the trial over another related crime. I can't think of another event like this one in that one respect.

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