WFAA legend on pioneering live coverage of JFK assassination

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on November 9, 2013 at 12:49 AM

Updated Monday, Nov 18 at 5:49 PM

DALLAS -- Most Americans alive that day remember exactly where they were when they heard President Kennedy had been assassinated.

We heard the news from the newsmen who covered the tragedy.

Among them, was a former News 8 reporter named Bert Shipp. He's the father of our own Brett Shipp, who recently sat down with his dad to reflect on that fateful day.

The vast majority of Americans remember it as the day that an American president was assassinated. Only a few also remember it as the day that television news grew up.

One of them was the young reporter seen carrying the camera on rare videotaped footage of the Channel 8 newsroom just minutes after the president was assassinated. He had just returned from Parkland Hospital, where he had just witnessed a horrific moment in American history.

But Bert Shipp was about to become a part of it, as WFAA began pioneering live, non-stop reporting of a major event.

Shipp was assigned to cover Kennedy's scheduled speech at the Trade Mart when the presidential motorcade sped past him. Something was very wrong.

Shipp left his car behind and hitched a ride with a Dallas Police officer to Parkland hospital. It was there that we got his first glimpse of a tragedy unfolding.

"I was looking at the faces on these people, and they looked like zombies," said Shipp, now 83 years old. "Faces of politicians and by-standers were just gaunt and they were crying."

He said just minutes later, he was approached by a trusted source with shocking news.

"Sheriff Bill Decker came out of Trauma One,” Shipp said. “I asked him, ‘Sheriff, what does it look like?' He told me, ‘Bert, he cannot live in the condition he is in.'”

At that moment, Shipp knew that seconds mattered. Having left his car at the Trade Mart, he commandeered a ride back to the station with a surprised stranger.

"I jumped into the car and said I need to go to Channel 8 studios,” Shipp said. “He said, 'I'm not going that way,' and I said, 'Yes, you are.'"

Within seconds of his arrival, a breathless Bert Shipp was on the air, live.

The following is a transcription of Shipp live report:

“I was standing at the Trade Mart, waiting for his arrival there, then all of a sudden, we saw them approaching. They didn't slow down. As a matter of fact, they were going 70-to-80 miles per hour past us. Everybody didn't know what happened there at the Trade Mart. I jumped in a police car and went to Parkland. When I got there I found that nobody knew too much about where he was hit, but they knew that the president was shot in the head. The president was shot in the head. Connelly was shot in the chest."

At that moment, even though Shipp was certain the president was dead, it was not official and he could not report it, and he doesn't regret it.

What he does regret, he said, is not destroying that live recording.

“I just got on the air and started talking,” Shipp said. “I was embarrassed when I looked at it later on."

Minutes later, in between live interviews, Shipp played a key role in the preservation of history.

Abraham Zapruder had walked into Channel 8 studios with camera in hand. He had filmed the assassination and wanted Shipp and Channel 8 to develop it.

Shipp convinced Zapruder the station was not equipped to do that.

"I said, 'You are going to ruin a lot of film,'” Shipp said. “He said, 'What are we going to do with it?' And I said, 'Hang on just a second.'"

Shipp made a phone call and then directed Zapruder to a Kodak lab where his processed film became legendary; a word also used to describe the man who spent the next 40 years helping to make WFAA-TV the industry standard bearer of quality journalism.

It was a brand of news forged in a tempest of tragedy on the day a young reporter and his craft came of age.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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