Today in History: The Nixon-Kennedy Debates

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Nixon-Kennedy Debate
60 years ago on Sept. 26, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced off in the first-ever live televised presidential debate. The debate came at a critical time in America's history. The era of print and radio was beginning to dwindle as television's star was rising.

There's little chance Kennedy would have won the election had it not been for these debates. The moment truly showed the power of television. When the two candidates took the podium, Nixon, just coming from a hospitalization appeared pale and sickly. Kennedy, on the other hand, looked tan and confident.

"It's one of those unusual points on the timeline of history where you can say things changed very dramatically — in this case, in a single night," wrote Alan Schroeder, a media historian, in his book "Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV."

Those who listened to the debate via radio thought Nixon had won. However, to those who watched the debate on television, Kennedy was victorious. Televisions were more prominent than radios by that point and Broadcast Magazine estimated that as many as 74 million people tuned in that night to watch the first debate.

Although Nixon performed much better in later debates and looked healthier, thanks to a milkshake diet his aides put him on to plump him up, it still wasn't enough. Kennedy won the election at the first debate. Americans came out in record numbers the next month and cast their votes for President of the United States and the country was forever changed.

Television plus politics turned out to be a great idea. Check out images from this iconic debate below:
17 PHOTOS
Nixon-Kennedy first debate, 1960
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Today in History: The Nixon-Kennedy Debates
Sen. John F. Kennedy goes over his notes and Vice President Richard Nixon stands in rear of a television studio in Chicago on Sept. 26, 1960 before they debated campaign issues. (AP Photo)
Presidential nominee Richard Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy shake hands, Sept. 26, 1960 in Chicago, as they hired television studio to take part in their debate. (AP Photo)
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon is shown in a televison image as he stands at lectern during the nationally televised first of four presidential debates with Sen. John F. Kennedy, Democratic nominee, held in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 26, 1960. For the first time in US history a debate between presidential candidates is shown on television. (AP Photo)
Sen. John Kennedy, Democratic presidential candidate, slaps hands together, Sept. 26, 1960 in Chicago as he spoke in his debate tonight with Vice President Richard Nixon at a Chicago television studio. (AP Photo)
Presidential nominee Richard Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy, Sept. 26, 1960 in Chicago, as they hired television studio to take part in their debate. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Sept. 26, 1960 file photo, moderator Howard K. Smith sits between, Sen. John Kennedy, left, and Vice President Richard Nixon as they appear on television studio monitor set during their debate in Chicago. The Kennedy image, the "mystique" that attracts tourists and historians alike, did not begin with his presidency and is in no danger of ending 50 years after his death. The multimedia story began in childhood with newsreels and newspaper coverage of the smiling Kennedy brood, and it continued with books, photographs, movies and finally television, notably the telegenic JFKâs presidential debates with Nixon. (AP Photo)
FILE - This Sept. 26, 1960 black-and-white file photo shows Republican presidential candidate Vice President Richard M. Nixon wipes his face with a handkerchief during the nationally televised with Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kennedy, in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 26, 1960. In presidential politics, everybody's searching for "the moment." The campaigns don't know when or how it will come, but they watch for something _ awkward words or an embarrassing image _ that can break through and become the defining symbol of the other guy's flaws. Now all eyes are on the series of three presidential debates that starts Wednesday. (AP Photo, File)
Jacqueline Kennedy tunes in the television in her home in Hyannis Port, Mass., Sept. 26, 1960, just before her husband John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon were to enter into a nationally telecast debate. Mrs. Kennedy was also host to a group of Democratic officials and friends at a TV watching party. (AP Photo/Bill Chaplis)
Democrat Sen. John Kennedy, left, and Republican Richard Nixon stand at lecterns as they debated campaign issues at a Chicago television studio, Sept. 26, 1960. Panelists are seated in foreground and moderator Howard K. Smith is at desk in center. (AP Photo)
Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of John F. Kennedy, Democratic presidential candidate, watches her husband debate with Vice President Richard Nixon on television in her home in Hyannis Port, Mass., Sept. 26, 1960. Mrs. Kennedy was host to a group of Democratic leaders at a television watching party. Woman at right is unidentified. (AP Photo/Bill Chaplis)
Jacqueline Kennedy, left center, sits in her living room with a group of Democrats watching her husband, John F. Kennedy, presidential candidate, on television debating domestic affairs with Vice President Richard Nixon, at her Hyannis Port, Mass., home, Sept. 26, 1960. (AP Photo/Bill Chaplis)
Democrat Sen. John Kennedy, left and Republican Richard Nixon, right, as they debated campaign issues at a Chicago television studio on Sept. 26, 1960. Moderator Howard K. Smith is at desk in center. (AP Photo)
Presidential candidates Sen. John F. Kennedy, left, and Vice President Richard M. Nixon are shown following their nationally televised first of four presidential debates at a television studio in Chicago, Ill., Sept. 26, 1960. (AP Photo)
DORCHESTER - MARCH 24: Dan Rather, anchorman for the CBS Evening News and correspondent who covered the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, addressed the Kennedy Library Forum, 'The Impact of Television on the Civil Rights Movement.' Before the panel he toured the museum. He is viewing a reproduction of the Chicago television studio where the Sept. 26, 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate took place. It was the first televised presidential debate. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 14: ROSTENKOWSKI--At his home on North Noble Street in Chicago, former House Ways & Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski shows a reporter a sketch of the Kennedy-Nixon debate on Sept. 26, 1960. He said that he was one of the 30 or so people in the Studio One at the Chicago CBS building. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 14: ROSTENKOWSKI--At his home on North Noble Street in Chicago, former House Ways & Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski shows a reporter a sketch of the Kennedy-Nixon debate on Sept. 26, 1960. He said that he was one of the 30 or so people in the Studio One at the Chicago CBS building, and made reference to the scores of photographers and media that are present during recent debates. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
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