Sunday, June 6, 2010

Forty Two

It has been 42 years since Robert Kennedy was killed in Los Angeles. He was 42 years old. So much has been written about that night and his subsequent death that there is little to add.

I was 13 and a half when Kennedy was shot. Coming, as it did, on the heels of Martin Luther King's murder, 8 weeks earlier, it was one of those events that leaves you changed in some measure. There is a loss of confidence and security in all that surrounds you.

In the years between 1962, when I received my first transistor radio, and the end of the decade, I got most of my news and music through a flesh colored apparatus known then as the "earphone." They came with the radio. And every night when I went to bed I put the radio beneath my pillow and the "earphone" in my ear. With the lights out and the music on I traveled far and wide in search of that indefineable "something." And sometimes I'd get it. The night of June 4th was one of those nights.

Just past 3 AM in the early morning hours of June 5th, I was listening to WMCA Radio 56 (560 on the AM dial) when the news broke that Robert Kennedy had been shot at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. No one was awake. Even back then I was a lousy sleeper, frequently keeping the radio turned on beneath my pillow all night, waking at intervals to check on the news, or search for a favorite song.

Roaming the dial from one end to the next at nighttime brought in some extraordinary places. I would jot down the names of the cities and the names of the stations. Addressing the postcards to the stations in such faraway places as Colorado, I would inform them that I had received their signals in New York City and at what time. I usually got back a postcard thanking me for listening. I had dozens of these and considered myself somewhat akin to the early radio listeners and the crystal headsets they wore.

But this event was so astounding, so mesmerizing. In the dark everything is magnified, senses are enlarged and the mind's eye gives sharp focus to the words being spoken. It was that way this night as I lay there listening to the reports coming in.

All through the next day I watched and waited with the rest of the world to see if Robert Kennedy would pull through. There was no way I was going to sleep that next night. This was a drama that had to be seen through until the end. And that end came sometime around 4:30 AM when Joeseph Mankiewicz tearfully announced the death of Robert Kennedy. The rest is history.

The world has changed in dramatic ways since those days. The ways in which we receive our news 24/7 has brought the world closer in some measure. But I will always remember, and even long for, the days when I got my news through the "office" beneath my pillow, flesh colored "earphones" in place, searching for the next "big thing."

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