John Cameron Swayze – 1955


John Cameron Swayze

Forerunner of television news. NBC’s Camel News Caravan anchorman. His was a household name when I joined NBC in 1952, known for lending authority to elaborate tests for Timex Watch commercials.

On a rare field trip he surveyed a mock-up of the small Doom Town community where buildings were constructed in varied sizes and filled with mannequins awaiting destruction from the atomic bomb. He is seen interviewing a tank Commander and crew assigned to simulate battle conditions with atomic weapons at Ground Zero after the blast. The bomb is perched menacingly on a tower in the background.

The world press was sent to Nevada to cover the test. We were housed in Las Vegas and formed a caravan each day for the 65 mile drive to the test site in Frenchman Flats. John rode out with drivers unfamiliar with the desert until one almost drove off the road. It scared the hell out of John so he hitched a ride with me. He was a welcomed companion, kept me chuckling at his sardonic sense of humor.

Several cancelled test shots made this weary routine continue for weeks while the AEC waited for ideal weather conditions. We’d get briefed in Las Vegas around 10 p.m., load the car with our camera gear, get the final signal and drive the 65 mile stretch to the site at midnight. They’d usually let us know by 4 a.m. if they had to cancel. We’d haul ourselves back to the Sands Hotel, calm our nerves with Bloody Mary’s and breakfast, repeating the waiting process over again with little sleep. You don’t sleep in Vegas.

We’d work up a pretty good appetite from being up all night. On one occasion when returned to the Sands Hotel, John insisted that we all have breakfast together. Reacting to his magnanimous gesture everyone trouped into the dining room assuming Swayze would pick up the tab. John sat at the head of the table surrounded by hungry alcoholics. Not a glass ran dry. We had a marvelously relaxed time drinking, eating, swapping news stories.

Roy Neal, west coast head of NBC TV News was noticeably absent from our party. A young go-getter out of Philadelphia, Roy had plenty of moxie and a lot of brains. He befriended the Atomic Energy Commission people and sought to open up the A-bomb tests to the public through TV coverage and was responsible for setting everything in motion. Prior to that we bootlegged coverage of tests some thirty-five miles from the test site at Mount Charleston.

The meal was sumptuous, with every kind of egg dish, French toast, sausage, ham, steak sandwiches, more Bloody Mary’s and coffee. Finally the bill was delivered quite naturally to John. The raucous conversation died down to polite, muffled chatter as John examined it. We knew it had to be enormous. He signaled the head waiter and told him to figure twenty percent on top of the tab, then looked around the table as we all began to thank him. John smiled, nodded benevolently with pen poised over the check and asked, “By the way, what’s Roy Neal’s room number?”


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