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Sawyer shares tower shooting memory

Longtime Texas broadcast engineer Glenn Sawyer recently contacted TAB with his personal take on shootings at the University of Texas Tower.

Sawyer joined the UT RTF Department as an RTF engineer after graduation in 1958. He worked on multiple university engineering projects, including the Texas Educational Microwave Project as well as installing transmitters for KLRN-TV and KUT-FM.

He retired from UT-Austin in 1983 as Director of Engineering for the College of Communications.

Here is his story...

My name is Glenn Sawyer and I have a story to tell few have heard.

In 1966, I was employed by the Radio-Television-Film Department of the University of Texas as a Television Engineering Supervisor under Director of Engineering Knocky Willett.

I went to work as usual that fateful morning of August 1st arriving at the television studios around 8 am. At that time the studios were located in the Old Press Building (since replaced by the South wing of the new Chemistry Building) on the north side of East Mall just across Inner Campus Drive from the University of Texas tower. There was a loading dock access to the studio located between the studio and Inner Campus Drive.

I checked the morning schedule and noted we were scheduled to Videotape a program for KLRN-TV at 11:00 am. About nine o’clock, the technical crew turned on the cameras and equipment in the smaller TV studio located on the West end of the building adjacent to Inner Campus Drive.

Just before noon I heard a huge commotion of people screaming, yelling and making a lot of noise. Someone yelled that there was a gunman on the Tower with a rifle killing many people on the ground. I opened the loading dock door about an inch, just enough to peep out to see what was going on.

Sure enough there was a gunman on the tower but he was on the West side shooting people in front of the Co-op on Guadalupe Street.

I pushed a RCA TK31 b/w TV camera, mounted on a three wheel tripod dolly, out onto the loading dock. I racked the lenses around to get the tightest shot possible of the Tower Clock face and the Observation Deck, focused good, locked down the camera and broke to scramble to get back inside the safety of the building.

There were two or three other technicians helping me move the camera over the doorsill and out onto the loading dock, but I do not remember who they were.

KLRN-TV Master Control put that live shot “on-the-air” on KLRN-TV.

We had a video interconnect with all three Austin television stations. (I don’t remember if it was cable, m/w or what.) I called the local CBS affiliate, KLBJ, and told them I had a live shot of the Tower and the gunman on their video interconnect and told them to put it on CBS National Network.                  

I called the local NBC affiliate, KXAN, and ABC affiliate, KVUE, and also told them I had a live shot of the Tower and the gunman on their video interconnect and told them to put it on NBC National Network and on ABC National Network.

All three National TV Networks carried that live video shot of the Tower Clock face and the Observation deck for about three hours until two Austin policemen killed the gunman and ended the disaster.

Have an early broadcasting story you’d like to share?

Contact TAB and we might publish it in an upcoming TABulletin newsletter.

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