Tuesday is Primary Election Day here in California.
So far this year, we’ve endured obnoxious political ads and tasteless talk. But we’ve seen nothing like the violence and tragedies that cursed our 1968 election year, including the assassination of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.
Then, I was news director for KPRL radio in Paso Robles. “News director” just meant I was the station’s only full-time reporter. But on election nights, I actually had people to direct. Back then, the votes were counted at the polling places. So most of KPRL’s employees, their spouses and big kids were enlisted to visit the polling places and get the voting results.
There was no electronic voting. The voting machines were basically tall adding machines. To vote, you flipped a little lever next to a candidate’s name or next to a ballot measure.
When the polls closed, election workers unlocked the faces of the voting machines and slid them slightly to reveal the totals. Our rookie reporters copied the totals and telephoned them back to the station.
As for the far-flung rural precincts, we made arrangements with their election officials to telephone their results to us. We also exchanged election results with the Atascadero News. Sometimes we had election results on the air 30 minutes after the polls closed.
The 1968 primary election took longer, though. It was more complicated. But our listeners still heard the North County results without missing much sleep. We congratulated our rookie reporters and turned off the station for the night.
A few of us remained, discussing the election and preparing for the next day — then the phone rang. The caller told us the winner of the presidential primary election, Robert Kennedy, had been shot.
We turned on our network’s news feed to find out what happened. But we didn’t think to put KPRL back on the air for our listening audience to also hear it. We were too stunned by the news to think clearly.
Robert Kennedy was shot in a kitchen corridor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, just after giving a speech. The shooter was a 24-year-old stable boy named Sirhan Sirhan, who is still in prison in Southern California. He was a Jordanian citizen, but not a Muslim. He had, however, expressed anger about Kennedy’s support for Israel.
Robert Kennedy died 20 hours after being shot and 4 ½ years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas.
Robert Kennedy’s death also came just two months after civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated at the age of 39 in Memphis, Tennessee.
There was one other related news item in 1968. In November, Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States. How well did that work out?