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Wichita Falls Tornado (1964)

Gordon Wilkison

Sound | 1964

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  •  Devastation in Sunset Terrace 
  •  Volunteers search through the rubble 
  •  Lost dog 
  •  Reporter Jim Underwood speaks with survivors 
  •  View from above 
  •  About the response by law enforcement personnel 
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On Friday, April 3, 1964, an F-5 tornado hit Wichita Falls, Texas; this film documents its aftermath. The reel, filmed the next day for KRLD-TV news, is composed of unordered clips of raw camera footage, both silent shots of the affected area as well as interviews with citizens who survived the storm. The interviews are conducted by Jim Underwood of KRLD-TV, the Dallas/Fort Worth CBS affiliate in 1964. The tornado made a direct hit on Sheppard Air Force Base, as well as the nearby residential neighborhood of Sunset Terrace where an estimated 200 homes were destroyed. The disaster was one of the first to ever be captured and broadcast on national television when KAUZ News Channel 6 moved a camera outside, giving viewers live updates of the tornado's progress. There were seven fatalities.
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation. At the time the station was operated by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades. During the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the President's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
A particularly notable moment in his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas at Austin. 
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas at Austin, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.