The 1960 presidential election established TV's role in politics and turned into the closest election of the modern era-until last week.
John F. Kennedy knew that television would have a profound effect on his presidential bid. As reported in the Nov. 14, 1960, issue of
after winning the nomination, JFK asked J. Leonard Reinsch, a former Cox television executive (at left, with JFK), to coordinate his television strategy. Kennedy told him: "Television may be the most important part of the campaign. It may decide the election."
On election night, the three networks covered the returns into the wee hours of the morning, totaling 36 hours of coverage. The networks gave odds, much like a Las Vegas bookmaker. At some points during the long night,
reported, the networks reported that Kennedy's odds of being elected fluctuated between 6½ to 1 to 333 to 1.
Helping with the numbers were the networks' new computers. CBS used the IBM 7090, and ABC used a Univac, and both at first projected-early in the evening-that Nixon would win, before getting it right much later. NBC's RCA 501 had it right from the start, when the network projected JFK's popular vote at 51.1%.