Channel 4 makes history by broadcasting hostage situations from inside prison


Editor's note: WSM produced this story and a magazine on the coverage of a hostage situation in 1960. Below is the article explaining what went on behind the walls. The photos in the slideshow above were taken by Buz Wilburn, Les Leverett and Joe Rudis.

The WSM-TV coverage on March 24, 1960, of a rebellion staged by two convicts holding 18 hostages marked the first time that live TV cameras had ever been inside of a penal institution under emergency conditions.

The siege started at 3 p.m. Wednesday and held the interest of the entire nation during 25 tension packed hours of negotiations between prison officials and the two convicts, Robert Rivera and Raymond Farra. WSM-TV sent its remote unit crews into action early Wednesday evening and took to the air shortly after midnight. The station remained on the air all of the early morning hours and continued with full coverage of all of the developments until the exciting climax on Thursday at 4:15 p.m.

In addition to Nashville area coverage, WSM-TV fed NBC-TV news with colorful videotape reports of the happenings.

WSM-TV used two cameras in the coverage, one in the lobby of the prison administration building with the other being located in a strategic third floor window, which gave the cameras a clear shot of the besieged area in the Deputy Warden’s office across the courtyard. Utilizing zoom lens, WSM-TV was able to get a close shot of the building and prison officials often used their TV sets to get a clearer picture of what was going on. The pick-up was relayed back to the TV station by means of micro-wave.

Jud Collins, WSM-TV’s ace news reporter was on the air during the entire proceedings with yeoman assistance from announced Ralph Christian and members of the WSM-TV News staff.

Collins gave viewers first-hand reports instantly, usually by interviews with the principal figures. When the siege ended, viewers saw all of the hostages and convicts as they left the Deputy Warden’s office where they had been barricaded, and got a closer look when they were escorted through the lobby of the main building, past the TV cameras. Collins also interviewed several of the hostages and principals at the conclusion of the siege.

Copyright 1960 WSMV. All rights reserved.