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John Lennon, 1969. Photo by Roy Kerwood.

John Lennon, 1969. Photo by Roy Kerwood.


This NOT Just In: Mourning John Lennon

Feliks Banel

John Lennon was murdered 30 years ago. We'll look back at how Seattleites mourned the death of the former Beatle in a time before the Internet, social media and cell phones.


That evening back in 1980 started out like any typical night. Christmas was just a few weeks away. Kids were counting down the days until winter break and trying to get their homework done. The Patriots were playing the Dolphins on Monday Night Football.

There was no email, no texting, no iPods or cell phones — and no Facebook or Twitter — to distract. Media was old–school: Dads watched the game on TV; high school and college kids had FM radio for rock music.

It was around 8:30 that night when the bad news from New York reached Seattle.

Grown–ups heard it first from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.

Howard Cosell: "An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the west side of New York City — the most famous perhaps of all of the Beatles — shot twice in the back. Rushed to Roosevelt Hospital. Dead on arrival."

Kids in Seattle got the news a little differently. For kids, it came by radio, and it was more personal, as if shared by a close friend. And for many kids here, the close friend was KISW deejay Steve Slaton.

Steve Slaton: "John Lennon was shot outside his hotel in New York City. They have the suspect. Who gives a s–––, really? John's dead. But I thought sometimes it helps to just talk about it."

In those days, TV was a one–way medium; someone like Howard Cosell broke the news and then you just sat there and thought about it. But radio could spark a dialog with its audience. Break the news about a new record or a concert — or a rock star's death — and then go to the phones.

Slaton: "Let's see who's out there in Radioland tonight. Hi, you there?"

Chris: "Yeah, my name's Chris."

Slaton: "Hi Chris."

Chris: "I heard you come on. I've been a Beatles fan since I was, like, about five years old, you know, when I didn't know what the Beatles were. I'm 18 now, 19 now.

And when I heard you fade out 'I am the Walrus' and you said that, I couldn't believe it."

Slaton: "I know."

People called in all evening, sharing their memories with Slaton and anybody listening to KISW.

Slaton: "The Beatles were the most potent force in the history of music. I love AC/DC, I love Led Zeppelin, I love The Who [cries]."

Bruce: "I know exactly how you feel, Steve."

It's an interesting role reversal as caller Bruce takes over, filling the empty space with words while deejay Slaton pulls himself back together.

Bruce: "It's an impossible feeling to put up with. There's just no way to deal with the death of a man who just put out a single called 'Feels Like Starting Over.' And it's impossible for me to reconcile my differences with this damned idiot that went out and shot him tonight."

The Lennon tributes continued in Seattle all week, with long blocks of music and memories, and more outrage as details of the shooting emerged from New York City.

On Sunday afternoon, thousands of people gathered at the International Fountain at Seattle Center for a simultaneous worldwide memorial.

Beatles songs played on portable radios. Some mourners held candles, while others clutched white balloons tied with black strings. Then, at precisely 11:00 a.m. Seattle time, 10 minutes of silence began around the globe. As the crowd at Seattle Center hushed, hundreds of white balloons went skyward, and even the radio station went silent.

I'm Feliks Banel for "This NOT Just In."

© Copyright 2010, KUOW

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