Telephone Conversations

Search the recordings    |  See highlights only

Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings, 11/22/1963-1/3/1969

- 86 linear feet, including transcripts, dictabelts, DAT cassettes, CDs, and reel-to-reel audio tapes
- Partially available for research: the Cabinet Room series is not yet processed
- 50% digitized (all of the audio recordings in the White House series)

See all digitized items from this collection

2 series* (see note):
- White House Telephone Recordings and Transcripts
- Recordings and Transcripts of Meetings Held in the Cabinet Room
- *John F. Kennedy Assassination Related Recordings and Transcripts (legacy only: these items are now integrated into the White House series)


These recordings of telephone conversations document many of the major events and decisions of the Johnson administration from November 22, 1963, to January 3, 1969, portraying the complexity of the office of the presidency and offering a unique perspective on the day-to-day management of the executive branch of the government. They document conversations between President Johnson and congressmen; senators, cabinet officers, aides, foreign dignitaries, businessmen, labor and civil rights leaders, members of the press, Democratic Party leaders, and family, friends, and associates.

Topics discussed during these conversations include strategies for passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964; alternatives for handling foreign and domestic crises, such as the Guantanamo water crisis, conflict in Cyprus, the Gulf of Tonkin attacks; and, numerous civil rights demonstrations and incidents, including the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi.

The recordings also reveal the president's thoughts and actions concerning the progress of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the controversy over the seating of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation.

For complete collection and series descriptions, visit the National Archives Catalog. [NAID 1150]

See more about the processing of the telephone conversations.

Copyright

President Johnson assigned his copyright to the United States government; however, the copyright of the president may not extend beyond statements made by President Johnson. Statements uttered by officials of the United States government in the course of their duties are considered to be in the public domain. Users of the recordings and transcripts are cautioned, however, that not all persons recorded were government officials. A number of the people recorded were, at the time of the recording, private citizens. Therefore, those intending to quote from this material beyond the accepted limits of fair use are cautioned to determine the copyright implications of any intended publication.


Recording the Conversations

Pre-Presidential Recordings

While in the Senate, Lyndon Johnson often made a record of his telephone conversations by having a third party, frequently Walter Jenkins, listen in on his conversations and take shorthand notes. The notes were transcribed and many of the transcripts are filed in the Pre-Presidential collection, "Notes and Transcripts of Johnson Telephone Conversations." (Go to this collection in the List of Holdings.)

We also have a reference set of telephone recordings donated from the JFK Library, Papers from the John F. Kennedy Library, Presidential Recordings [NAID 30529207]. The original JFK Library recordings are available online via the JFK Library Digital Archives

During the Vice Presidential period, Johnson used an Edison Voicewriter to record his conversations. The voicewriter used thin red flat disks which were similar in appearance to 45 rpm records and recorded by making a groove in the disk. All of the recorded Vice Presidential telephone conversations that the LBJ Presidential Library has located are on the Edison Voicewriter disks. The staff has also found IBM belts and Dictaphone Dictabelt recordings of speeches and interviews from the Pre-Presidential period.

IBM Belts

The earliest "belt" recordings of telephone conversations were created on November 22, 1963. Conversations recorded on November 22 and 23, 1963, are on IBM magnetic belts. According to the President's Daily Diary, Johnson was in his office in the Executive Office Building (EOB) when these conversations took place. After November 23, 1963, conversations were recorded on Dictaphone equipment, although Johnson continued to use the EOB office through November 25.

The IBM belts are dark brown in color and appear to be an iron oxide bonded to a base material. They are magnetic recordings, and the belts contain no grooves. When the Library staff played the IBM belts in June 1992, the sound quality was very poor.

Dictabelts

The Dictaphone Corporation referred to their belts as "Dictabelt Records," and the recordings were created on Dictaphone equipment which cut a groove in the belt with a needle. Most Dictabelts are made of a blue transparent plastic material, although a few early belts are red. The company described the process as "the sound you can see" and printed "Dictabelt Visible Record" along the edge of some of the belts.

Although sound quality varies on the Dictabelts, it is far superior to that of IBM belts. Unless otherwise noted in the description, recordings in this collection were made on Dictabelts with Dictaphone equipment. Because the majority of the recordings were made on Dictabelts, the recordings commonly were referred to as "Dictabelts" by President Johnson's staff.

The dictating equipment used to record the conversations was attached to the telephone line. Johnson signaled the secretary when he wanted a conversation recorded, and she pressed a switch located at her desk to activate the machine. It appears from the content and nature of the recordings that the secretaries often left the machine running and recorded many conversations inadvertently, including many office conversations. Office conversations may also have been picked up by the speakerphone in the Oval Office.

Some of the Dictabelts were designed to run for 15 minutes; others are 30-minute belts. Although a belt may contain only one conversation, most contain several conversations. The Dictaphone recorder held two belts and would switch automatically to the second belt, enabling the secretary to record a long conversation on two belts without interruption. The secretary prepared a slip listing the recording information for each belt. However, these slips are not always accurate. Some conversations are not listed on the slips, and some are listed which were not recorded.

The White House Communications Agency (WHCA) and the Signal Corps also recorded some of President Johnson's telephone conversations. The Signal Corps apparently was responsible for making the recordings when the President was away from the White House, either at the LBJ Ranch or on Presidential trips. Some of these recordings were made on reel-to-reel audio tape, but most were made on Dictaphone belts. Occasionally, both the Signal Corps and the President's secretaries recorded conversations. In such cases, both recordings have been included in the collection and are described as "concurrent recordings."

Transcripts

It is the policy of the National Archives and Records Administration that archives personnel will not transcribe Presidential recordings. However, President Johnson's White House secretarial staff prepared transcripts of many, but not all, of the recordings. Notes found with the transcripts indicate that transcripts for some recordings were prepared long after, sometimes several years after, the conversation took place. When President Johnson left office and began working on The Vantage Point, his Austin staff made additional transcriptions and summaries. Occasionally there is more than one version of a transcript for the same conversation in the collection. These transcriptions and summaries will be made available for research when the corresponding recordings of the telephone conversations are opened.

Researchers should be cautioned that the transcripts are not always reliable and should never be used without checking them against the actual recordings to assure accuracy. An example of the types of inaccuracies which may appear in the transcripts occurs in the transcript of a conversation between President Johnson and Speaker of the House John McCormack on November 29, 1963. According to the transcript, President Johnson says, "I've got a pack them bastards waiting on me," but the recording reveals that he in fact said, "I've got the Pakistani Ambassador waiting on me." Sometimes the omission of the single word "not" in a transcript completely reverses the meaning of what was actually stated in a conversation. The Archives staff has prepared Processing Notes to accompany the transcripts only in those cases where the speaker, date, or time listed on the transcript are inaccurate. No notations have been prepared to indicate inaccuracies in the text of the transcripts.