Tonight we’re doing a segment on the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Nixon debates–the first of which took place at the now-torn-down CBS building at 630 N. McClurg Court. You know the bullet points:
- Kennedy looked tan and fit; Nixon looked as though he’d been embalmed.
- People who saw the debate on TV thought Kennedy won; those who heard it on the radio gave it to Nixon.
- Both Kennedy and Nixon believed it was critical in determining the final outcome of the race.
I worked at WBBM-TV when it was still located on McClurg Court. Studio 1, where the first and pivotal debate took place, was located near the front of the building and I’d walk by it every day on my way to and from the newsroom. Later, Studio 1 was used for the Phil Donahue show, the Mike Ditka show and as a news studio.
But because of the debate, Studio 1 was a point of pride for people who worked in the building. Invariably, when we had visitors, we’d show them Studio 1 and mention the debate in somewhat reverential tones, expecting the visitor to be impressed. They often were. When I used to tape the public affairs show “Common Ground” in Studio 1, it would sometimes occur to me that I might be sitting at or near the same spot where they stood.
To share the same physical space that great people once used or where a great event took place is an odd feeling–both cool and creepy at the same time. And I have to say that most of the times I walked past the studio, I would think about Kennedy and Nixon for a split second. It was almost as though their ghosts were still there, each at his podium, one looking like a Hollywood star, the other gaunt and pasty – two historic figures in an enduring tableau. That space is now gone; my only memento–a half-brick retrieved from the rubble by a friend.