On Monday, Don Pardo—the announcer for NBC’s Saturday Night Live starting with its debut in October 1975—passed away at the age of 96. But before he became the iconic voice of SNL, Pardo worked as a war reporter, and was later one of the first people to announce the shooting of President Kennedy.
“There was no greater thrill than hearing Don Pardo bellow your name for the first time in the opening credits of Saturday Night Live,” said former cast member and head writer Tina Fey. “It meant you were officially ‘on television.’” Pardo started at NBC in 1944, and his career in news and show business spanned seven decades. According to the Daily News, Pardo “may have had the most cherished voice in television history.”
Though Pardo will always be best known for his SNL introductions, he also spent time as a war reporter for NBC Radio, reading dispatches filed from the front lines in World War II. After the war, he made his mark working as an announcer for comedy and variety TV shows. But on November 1963, Pardo found himself covering one of the most traumatic events in American history.
Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he made NBC’s first on-air announcement that JFK had been shot in Dallas, Texas. “President Kennedy was shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas,” Pardo said in the initial bulletin. “Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy. She cried, ‘Oh, no.’ The motorcade sped on. A photographer said he saw blood on the president’s head. It was believed two shots were fired.”
You can hear Pardo’s announcements and NBC’s coverage below, via Archival Television Audio:
“Horrible, I mean, I couldn’t believe it, you know?” Pardo said in 2006, recounting the moment he heard the news all those years ago. “The editor, or whoever it was that ran in from the newsroom and came in, says, ‘We’re gonna break into the program and mention this’…I have a copy of…what I read in the bulletin. I thought it sounded pretty good, considering. ‘Real cool, man!’ But now in retrospect, thinking about it, I don’t know how I did it.”
Here’s another rare interview, recorded in 1998, in which Pardo recalls the chaos and breaking news of November 22, 1963: