This is both chilling and thrilling. Chilling because of the context of the radio chatter – Reagan mortally wounded and rushing to the hospital. But it is also thrilling in that it places us directly into an historical event in a way that no documentary or book could ever do.
Why release the recording now?
The Secret Service decided to release the tape after its public-affairs division learned that it existed, a spokesman said. The Washington Post’s Del Quentin Wilber had discovered its existence while interviewing agents for his book, “Rawhide Down,” about the day Reagan was shot. The book is due out next week.
Since the assassination, the Secret Service’s protective methodology has changed significantly.
And so has the geography of the assassination site: the president still attends numerous functions at the Hilton, but his limo now enters a special armored “drop” constructed on the exact spot of the Reagan attempt. (Never again would a president arrive and depart from a planned event without a secured location or a crowd that had been screened for weapons.)
But a few things remain the same.
The presidential protective division uses the same frequency for its communications. (The digital encryption is impenetrable to outsiders, however.)
“Stagecoach” is still the code name for the limo. “Halfback” is code for the follow-up car. The PPD command post is still known as “Horsepower.” There’s still a direct line between the Secret Service and the George Washington University Hospital, which now sports an emergency trauma facility named after Reagan.
And Reagan, until the day he died, was always “Rawhide.”
The quality is poor – to be expected from 30 year old technology. But the tension in the voices of several of the agents comes through loud and clear.
Read this article first that fills in the details between the chatter, including the confident declaration that Reagan had not been hit. Then go here and follow along with the transcript while the audio is rolling.