JFKs Visit:
A Hard Day's Work

By Tony Hamilton

Tony Hamilton, Circa 1963

Tony Hamilton worked part time at Channel 13 News for six months in 1961. Hamilton supplemented his TV income by selling office supplies until he took a fulltime position as a photographer/reporter for WFLA-TV. He stayed at Channel 8 for the remaining 17 years of his broadcasting career.

He was director of corporate media relations for General Telephone and Electronics, Inc. until 1999 and is now retired and active in the affairs of his South Tampa neighborhood as president of its association.


The day President Kennedy came to town in November of 1963 was a very busy one for WFLA News and especially for me. Not only did I have to put together major pieces for the 6p.m. news but I had to coordinate production, writing and editing of a half hour special on the visit which was to air at 7:30 that evening.

I was rather indifferent about the Kennedy visit. I had voted for Nixon and while I liked the President I wasnt a big fan like so many others around me.

We learned of the Presidents visit only a week or so ahead of time. Secret Service people didnt like to announce presidential plans too earlyand even then we didnt know just where he would speak or his route through the city until days before. An advance team from the White House came to each station and gathered information about reporters who would require credentials to cover the visit. It was the very first time I had to give my Social Security number to cover a story.

Because I had to shoot so much film and we were planning on the half-hour evening news special on the visit, I had to rig special equipment to do the job. I got some help from a metal shop to form a shoulder mount for a regular optical sound Auricon camera and was then able to easily walk around, hold the camera steady, and turn it on and off as needed.

Tony's bulky 16mm camera supported by a custom made rig. In the background is the hanger at MacDill AFB where reporters waited for the President to arrive on Air Force One.

It turned out to be an even more hectic day than I had imagined. I realize now why they like to turn young people loose on these kinds of projects. You come out of them not really knowing how you pulled off being in so many places in such a short amount of time.

I was on the press truck, a flatbed, placed right alongside where the Presidents plane would land and stop and with incredible precision it landed on time and came to a halt exactly where they said it would. I began rolling my camera as Air Force One came inand then again when the President exited. There was a brisk breeze and an air of excitement among press members and all the others who had come to get a glimpse of the man who was to many a hero.

We set up our cameras at the MacDill Officers Club and JFK answered a few questions for all the press people there. Nobody got an exclusive filmed interview. Our Arch Deal got to chat with him some but that was away from sound cameras.

Kennedy was very friendly, good looking, laid back, smiled a lot and actually laughed quite a bit. He seemed in a great mood and it showed throughout his visit that day.

The whole day I kept thinking when can I leave here because I have to beat Kennedy to the next location. It was something I was concerned about in a major way and a pressure that took away from any real enjoyment I may have gotten from the Presidents stay in Tampa. It was the only assignment our small staff had all day. As I recall, nothing else was happening in the city even though one of us could have broken away for some kind of major hard news.

When I felt I had gotten enough at the base I shot straight for Al Lopez Field, where Raymond James Stadium now stands. JFK was going to spend a short while inside the Officers Club and that would give me enough time to get to the field, park and get set up for the event. By the time I actually did all that, his helicopter was landing in the back field. I had no problem using the long (telephoto) zoom lens to get him coming out of the chopper and walking towards the speakers stand.

I had no particular sense that history was being made that day. It was much different than when I had gone to Cape Canaveral to cover space shots. You always knew then that each shot, at least back in those days, was one that would make the history books. It was only a year before that I had covered the blastoff of John Glenns rocket that carried him on to be the first American to orbit the earth.

From Al Lopez Field, I moved on quickly to the International Inn where we had our first technical problems. Channel 8 was in charge of the pool camera at that location.

WFLAs Leo Fasselt ran the stations film department and had a 16mm Auricon with 1200 feet of film (enough for 30 minutes) to record Kennedys speech before a group of labor union organization executives. We were only allowed to put two microphones on a podium. There was an awful hum noise coming through our sound equipment. Fasselt and I were responsible for getting film for all the stations but there was nothing we could do to clear up the sound problem. The news anchors ended up talking over the video when it came time during the newscasts to cover that part of his visit.

We had other people covering Kennedy's motorcade through downtown Tampa and his remaining appearances, so I raced to the station for an early film processing run.

Somehow we got through that day and everything came together as good as could be expected. News director Bill Henry was a bit on edge but you couldnt blame him with all that was happening at once. The show looked great and so did the evening special.

When Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas the following Friday, I was in a Channel 8 news car that didnt have an AM radio, so I didnt hear the bulletin. I was driving towards the station, just coming onto Jackson from Ashley, and somebody yelled Hows the President? I replied, Hes just fine, not knowing a thing about what had happened.

When I got to the station and learned of the Presidents injuries, I thought back on how dumb I must have looked to the person who shouted the question.

Like everybody else, it was a sad time for me. But there was so much work and other activities on my mind I guess that helped get me through it better than most. I was never one to drop things just because of a major news event. Thats when I became set into motion and did my best. My biggest concern became the Jaycees' Miss Tampa Pageant, of which I was the director. It was scheduled for the following week. We were also supposed to participate the very next day in a Thanksgiving/Christmas Parade I had set up with the City of Tampa through downtown, which featured the reigning Miss Tampa.

Since the networks took over the airwaves with assassination coverage, I was free to take care of my own concerns. My first thought was we had to cancel the paradeand maybe even the pageant itself. We ended up canceling the parade and postponing the Miss Tampa Pageant two weeks.

A bittersweet occasion...Miss Tampa, Judy Smith, is crowned two weeks after
President Kennedy's assassination. Tony Hamilton is at far left, and emcee
Arch Deal is at far right.

Some of the film I shot on November 18, 1963 is in the archives of the Kennedy Library and Museum and has been used on local television stations that have produced historical reports on Tampa and the day we were visited by President John F. Kennedy.


To Email Tony Hamilton:

Big 13 Thanks Tony Hamilton for sharing his story, and Tony Zappone, who contributed assistance to this article.

To Return to JFK Main Menu, CLICK HERE

To Return to BIG 13 Main Menu, CLICK HERE