On the evening of September 25, 1983, the National Broadcasting Company television network in the United States, known as NBC, was broadcasting the 35th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards from Pasadena, California. The broadcast began at 8:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), 7:00 PM Central, and 6:00 PM Mountain. NBC planned to air a delayed broadcast of the ceremony at 8:00 PM Pacific time for audiences in that time zone. The ceremony was to last approximately three hours. At approximately 8:52 PM, NBC news interrupted the Emmys with a special bulletin concerning the launch of nuclear missiles by the USSR. The following is a transcript taken directly from a videotape made at the time of the event and covers the period of time from approximately 8:52 PM EDT to 9:02 PM EDT.
8:52.10 PM EDT
The live broadcast of the Emmys abruptly cuts to the words NBC News Report, with a voice saying “We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you an NBC News Report.”
8:52.30 PM EDT
The image switches to the NBC News Studios in New York City. Reporter Chris Wallace, who had anchored the NBC Sunday News earlier that evening, is present. Several staffers are visible in the background at work stations.
- “Good evening. This is Chris Wallace for NBC News in New York. We have just been notified by the White House that an announcement concerning a matter of national importance is about to be made. We do not know the nature of this announcement. (He pauses to listen to his earpiece) Ladies and gentlemen, I understand we are now going to the White House press briefing room.”
8:53.40 PM EDT
The screen cuts to the White House press briefing room. At the time, President Ronald Reagan was in New York City, preparing to address a special session at the United Nations the next day. As such, and given it was Sunday evening, the press room was mostly empty. However, several reporters were present and could be seen in the shot. Moments later, Deputy White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes stepped from a side door and walked quickly to the podium. He quickly looked at the cameras, his face grave and ashen, before looking down at the paper in his hand. Haltingly, he begins to read:
- “At approximately 8:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time this evening, NORAD detected the launch of nuclear missiles by the Soviet Union. [Gasps can be heard in the background at this point. Speakes looks up briefly and then returns to his notes] Satellites have confirmed that many of these missiles are currently inbound towards targets in both the U.S. and Europe. President Reagan, who was in New York City, has been informed and at this time is currently en-route along with the first lady to Air Force One. Vice President Bush and other key leaders are currently being evacuated to safety as well. By order of the President, the military is now at DEFCON 1 and all steps are being taken to protect the nation. A state of emergency is in effect and martial law has been declared. The civil defense system has also been activated and measures are being implemented as I speak to begin the evacuation of major urban areas including Washington, DC. All Americans are asked to remain calm and take all necessary steps to ensure their safety. If you are located in a targeted area, we urge you to immediately leave. [Speakes pauses again and then looks up from his notes directly to those gathered] May God bless the United States and her people and keep them safe.”
At this point, Speakes stepped away from the podium, sweat covering his brow. As he started to walk towards the door he came in, he suddenly stops and collapses onto the floor. Several reporters rush forward to help, someone shouts “Get a doctor, I think he’s having a heart attack.” Crying can be heard in the background. Chaos is visible in the room.
8:59.10 PM EDT
The feed abruptly cuts away and the NBC News studios in New York City reappear. Chris Wallace is staring at the monitor feed in shock. In the background sobbing can be heard along with a voice saying “Oh my God! Oh my God! They’ve finally did it!” A moment passes and a voice in the background shouts, “You’re on!” Wallace turns to the camera. He starts to talk, but stops as if he is trying to gather his thoughts. He swallows, and then speaks;
- “Ladies and gentlemen, as impossible as it may seem the day we have all feared since man split the atom in 1945 has apparently arrived, the Doomsday clock has struck Midnight. Since that first explosion in Alamogordo, the secrets of the atom have held the potential for both great hope and great sadness. [He pauses] This night however, we have seen our worst fears realized. To those of you watching this broadcast, whoever you are, wherever you are, and regardless of your religious beliefs, I ask that you pray to God to watch over the human race, to keep its safe, and guide it in the times to come. To all of you out there I urge you to seek shelter. [He pauses again, this time to listen to earpiece.] Ladies and gentlemen, I am receiving word the Emergency Broadcasting System will be taking over in a moment. As this will most likely be my last broadcast and perhaps the last for some time to come, I leave you with these words…It has been an honor bringing you the news over these past years. To my family and friends out there I love you all and to the people of the US, may God indeed have mercy upon us all…. [In the brief moment before the signal cuts off, crying is again heard in the background.]
9:02.40 PM EDT
The image vanishes and is replaced by the Emergency Broadcasting System.
Note: At the time, Wallace had been a network television journalist with NBC since 1975. In 1979, he moved to NBC News and by 1982 was serving as the network’s White House Correspondent and was anchoring the NBC Evening News on Sunday nights. As such, he was probably still in the studios when the announcement came in and happened by chance to be the person to make it. As of today, it is not known whether Wallace or anyone in the NBC studios escaped New York City. Since no one has ever been found to this day, it is believed all perished in the USSR attack on the city, which took place at approximately 9:15 PM EDT when at least twenty warheads detonated, including one over lower Manhattan Island where the NBC Studios were located. '
(A copy of this transcript and the actual NBC broadcast can be found in the Museum of Remembrance in Canberra, Australia as part of its Doomsday artifacts. They were provided by a source outside Australia who wishes to remain anonymous.)