40 years ago today, John Lennon was murdered. The story of his death is familiar now, but it’s hard to understand just how shocking the news of his killing must have been at the time to those who had grown up with The Beatles’ music and omnipresent place in postwar popular culture. The person who first shared this news was a young reporter working at Long Island’s WLIR radio station—a man named Steve North who wrote out his memories of the evening he told the world that Lennon was dead for The Daily Beast.
North was, in a grim coincidence, working on a report about gun control for the following morning’s broadcast when “one of the station’s student interns burst into the studio, red-faced and breathless” to say Lennon may have just been shot. North “grabbed an AP wire with the same sketchy information” and shared what we knew on-air before reaching a police sergeant “who provided more details on the shooting, but could not confirm the fate or identity of the victim.” When he dialed the police again after another broadcast, the same sergeant “said, on tape, that the victim was tentatively identified as Lennon, he was in serious condition, and the gunman had been apprehended.” Checking back in a bit later, the sergeant confirmed that the victim was indeed Lennon “and that he’s dead.”
His next broadcast “repeated what the cop had just told me,” which made North the first reporter to confirm that Lennon had died. North writes that he “literally could not speak” after his announcement. “The enormity of what had just happened not only to Lennon, but to every member of my generation, suddenly dawned on me,” he writes. WLIR took calls and aired Beatles tracks and Lennon’s solo music for the rest of the night. The following morning, North broadcast his “unexpectedly timely report on gun control, and told the audience that what had occurred on West 72nd Street should be unacceptable in a civilized society.”
North only received a recording of his broadcast this year. “Hearing it nearly 40 years later literally sent a chill down my spine,” he writes. “In the 40 years since his murder, I have never once heard John Lennon’s voice without thinking of that awful night.”
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