Audio engineer on the trail of a missing JFK tape from 50 years ago

When audio engineer Ed Primeau learned in 2011 about a previously unknown recording of radio communications to and from Air Force One on November 22, 1963, he volunteered his own time and expertise to enhance the tape for public consumption.

Air Force One
Air Force One on the evening of November 22, 1963 (Mary Ferrell Foundation)

That was the day the President John F. Kennedy was shot dead on a Dallas street and the new President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Jackie Kennedy flew back to Washington with JFK’s body.

“I thought this could really be exciting,” Primeau said in a phone interview. “I’ve always been fascinated by history and the JFK conspiracy questions.”

Primeau, known nationally for his work analyzing recordings heard in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, worked with JFK researcher Bill Kelly at no charge to enhance the tape.

The result is an important, if incomplete, historical document, largely ignored by mainstream news organizations on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.

The tapes illuminate a pivotal moment in America as the far flung branches of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies responded to the news that the liberal president had been shot dead in right-wing Dallas.

The new tape revealed that Air Force General Curtis LeMay, a harsh critic of President Kennedy’s foreign policy, immediately returned to Washington where he may have attended JFK’s autopsy. LeMay was notorious as an advocate of nuclear war who thought Kennedy a weak-willed liberal. For his part, JFK thought LeMay was bellicose to the point of danger.

(See “Enhanced Air Force One tapes capture a top general’s response to JFK’s murder,” JFK Facts, Oct. 19, 2013.)

“People have always wanted to know where was Curtis LeMay on the day Kennedy was shot,” historian Douglas Brinkley told Piers Morgan. “There have been mixed messages about it. This tape provides exactly where he was.”

Cleaning up the tapes

Primeau’s work was painstaking, taking a total of perhaps 40 hours of his time and many more for one of his assistants. He and his staff applied noise reduction, compression and other techniques to make the conversations on the tape more audible.

Kelly, a veteran JFK researcher who also blogs about the history of golf, compiled a transcript of the conversations heard on the tape, including the dramatic moment when a plane carrying six members of Kennedy’s cabinet turned around in mid-air over the Pacific Ocean to return to Washington.

Audio engineer Ed Primeau

Primeau and Kelly compared the new tape, which turned up in a Philadelphia auction house, to a different Air Force One recording, made public by the LBJ Library in the 1970s. The two tapes have some conversations in common but the newer tape is longer.

Primeau combined the two recordings to create the most complete account of the communications between the presidential jet and the rest of the U.S. government on November 22, 1963.

Primeau also added video from a jet and a scrolling version of Kelly’s transcript to make for a more listener-friendly experience.

(You can watch/listen to the incomplete Air Force One tape on Primeau’s website here. The Primeau-Kelly recording is more complete and aurally superior to the version posted on the National Archives website.)

After close to year of work Primeau concluded that both of the existing Air Force One tapes came from a longer recording. He stressed that his view is not a scientific finding, but more of “a hunch” based on experience.

Ed Primeau
Audio forensic insights into the JFK story

“When I was an audio engineer recording music or the spoken word, we always made what we called a safety copy. That was a direct patch from one reel-to-reel machine to another reel-to-reel machine. I would suspect that whoever made these tapes would have made a safety copy of these transmissions before they edited them,” he said.

“Another reason that I don’t think these tapes are originals is the amount amount of noise, the lack of clarity and the lack of signal on the tapes,” Primeau added. “That is a clue that they’re not original recordings.”

Primeau said he detected signs of editing at five to ten different places on each of the two existing tapes. He is not suggesting the tapes have been doctored or falsified, but rather they are shorter, edited versions extracted from a longer recording.

The available tapes are evidence that a more complete Air Force One tape from November 22, 1963, existed at some point,

“The government created these recordings,” Primeau explained. “The editing shows that somebody made decisions about what they wanted the public to know and hear and what they didn’t want the public to know and hear.”

The missing Air Force One tape

At 55 years of age, Primeau was a young boy in Michigan on November 22, 1963. He recalls hearing a neighbor scream that Kennedy had been killed. “It was always in the back of mind after that,” he said.

Primeau says his work with the tapes in the past year has only raised new questions.

“What were the things that were removed?” he wondered. “Were there politically incorrect remarks? Were there conversation about the movements of other governmental officials? Safety considerations?”

If the original Air Force One tape was not copied or destroyed, he added, it may have deteriorated.

“The anticipated shelf life of analog tape is 25 years,” Primeau said. “After that it starts to deteriorate. The metal oxide on the nylon tape starts to crumble and rust.”

Primeau does not rule the possibility out that a more complete version of the Air Force One tape could turn up one day.

Such a tape could provide new details about how the U.S. military and national security agencies reacted to the gunfire that left JFK dead in his arms of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and delivered Lyndon Johnson into the seat of power in the White House.

“It would be wonderful if [the original tape] surfaced,” Primeau said. “I told Bill, if that should ever happen, count me in.”


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6 thoughts on “Audio engineer on the trail of a missing JFK tape from 50 years ago”

  1. Pingback: Air Force One Audio Restoration/Enhancement Process

  2. Once Again, another stone removed from the “Stonewalling ” of the J.F.K. Asasination case. For years….Many have wondered about the Limosine (an X –100 Lincoln Continental Executive Special ),and its Evidence as part of the Crime Scene. In particular — Especially particular in How The Secret Service, L.B.J., (who Ordered the Vehicle to be “Cleaned — Up ” immediately following the removal of J.F.K.s’ Body, also commanding to have the Convertible Top to be raised ). and the Dallas Police department …somewhat. ALL secured from press, television and newspaper reporters following its arrival at Parkland hospital in Dallas, TX. What Clear Evidence Was kept from the nation involving the Vehicle, its Windshield and the upper Windshield “chrome flashing ” comprising the top portion of the windshields’ glass frame? NO ONE has been party to ANY photographs of the limos’ windshield or any newsreel videotape . WHY ??!

  3. While investigative journalists & other JFK researchers search for the unedited AF-1 audio tapes a search for the flight manifest of the cargo plane that flew JFK’s damaged parade car from Dallas to (presumably)Washington could lead to locating living witnesses willing to talk about their experience transporting the vehicle out of Dallas, its condition & what they may have heard discussed in the edited portions of the audio tapes.

    Living witnesses involved in the airlift of JFK’s parade car could throw some light on the issue of if a bullet hole existed in the windshield & possibly provide photos of the damaged car & information if it sustained unreported damage. Thus far no one has been able to publicize who the pilots & the load crew were & if they received instructions the public is unaware of. Researchers investigating JFK post-assassination mysterious deaths thus far know nothing about the post-assassination fate of those people & if they should be added to the ‘suspected eliminated by murder’ list.

    To learn about the people involved in transporting JFK’s damaged parade car from Dallas to Washington post-assassination, investigative journalists should focus on the flight manifest paperwork that would have been maintained by the air transporter’s air operations chain (copies of which would have been maintained by the pilots of the aircraft involved). The manifest would identify all persons flying on the aircraft (including special handling persons), damage problems with the cargo that would cause flight safety concerns, photos of the damage (if taken & included in the manifest package) plus any waiver instructions & who gave them.

    It is not unusual for Federal air transport pilots to refuse to fly with damaged cargo unless a waiver has been given by a higher authority in their chain of command. If any such waiver discussion were on the AF-1 tapes is not known because the audio tapes have been edited. A bullet hole in the windshield that could worsen as the transport plane takes flight would be a safety concern for the pilots & load crew plus the command they worked for. Flying with damaged or unsafe cargo is a top concern for Federal air transporters (replacing aircraft destroyed by air mishaps is expensive & sometimes results in ‘heads rolling’).

    Learning who the people involved were & what happened to them after the ambush could lead to living former federal air transportation witnesses (possibly operating under the restrictions of ‘gag order’s) no longer working for the government that might be willing to talk about their experience today. It is also possible that some or all of those people met the fate of others suspected of being murdered post-assassination.

    If the flight manifest for 22 November 1963 hasn’t been destroyed it is possible the Freedom Of Information Act can free it from those withholding it. The aircraft & crew either should have worked for the Department Of Defense in a military, civilian employee or contractor status. The aircraft in question was briefly filmed during live Dallas TV coverage of JFK’s arrival in Dallas by TV station KLRD & can be seen in several JFK documentaries.

    TV media thus far have not looked into these missing pieces from the assassination puzzle.

    It was great to see Jeff Morley getting his much deserved & long overdue media mention on one of the 2 Fox News JFK investigative specials last night (9 Nov 2013). Unfortunately, I didn’t see much attention given to the missing portions of the AF-1 audio tapes & nothing about searching for the personnel involved in transporting JFK’s parade car out of Dallas. Hopefully, these areas will be investigated in the immediate future & the public can answer Geraldo’s challenge to ‘prove a conspiracy’ via living witnesses that have yet to tell their stories.

  4. In the years since the gigantic, global shockwaves following the wake of David Lifton’s highly controversial & explosive book, ‘Best Evidence’, it surprises me no one has commented thus far on the significance of the edited AF-1 tapes.

    If one will recall, the author felt the best opportunity to covertly retrieve bullets from JFK’s body & make surgical changes to it was either on AF-1 or AF-2 (assuming JFK’s body was onboard either aircraft; leaving Dallas on one or the other) during the flights from Dallas to Washington. There would be too many witnesses if said tampering took place at Bethesda; it would have been too dangerous to attempt it there.

    Suspected high-level instructions for government operatives to perform certain medical tasks on JFK’s body covertly sent, received or heard by AF-1 is not something the public would be happy to hear about in 1963. If that’s the reason for the editing, someone with access to the unedited originals evidently shares that same sentiment in 2013.

    As with the missing turn onto Elm Street in the Zapruder film, the AF-1 tapes evidently contained information about JFK’s death the public was not going to be shown.

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