According to the sources, audio tapes of at least two networks were rolling about five to ten minutes before Reagan began his speech, and picked him up saying he had just signed a law outlawing the Soviet Union and announcing the dispatch of bombers.
'My fellow Americans,' he began the sound check, 'I am pleased to tell you I have signed legislation to outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.'
The real speech began, 'I am pleased to tell you that today I signed legislation that will allow student religious groups to begin enjoying a right they've too long been denied, the freedom to meet in public high schools during non-school hours.'
Reagan's words were broadcast through a sound system not available to most reporters.
Personnel from the networks involved -- CBS and Cable News Network - initially declined, on orders from their superiors, to discuss the matter, although it was learned that White House press secretary Larry Speakes called network executives to ask that they kill the story.
Speakes, the sources said, invoked a rule that such comments before air time are 'off-the-record.'
Ed Turner, executive vice president of Cable News Network, one of the organizations that recorded the remark, said, 'There is a network agreement that was reached in October 1982 that any presidential off-the-cuff remarks just prior his radio speech would not be used on the air.'
He said the decision not to use it was 'purely a journalistic one conforming with that agreement.'
Peter Kendall, assistant Washington bureau manager for CBS, the other news organization that recorded the remark, said the network did not run the tape 'under the rule that what the president says prior to his statements on the air are off the record.'
Asked whether Speakes or anyone in the administration requested that CBS not run the tape, Kendall said, 'I certainly didn't speak with any of them. As far as I know they didn't call anyone in New York. They definitely didn't call anyone in Washington.'
Kendall said he thought Speakes 'may have talked with everyone (in the White House press corps) on the West Coast to remind them of the rule.'
Speakes denied he exerted pressure on reporters or their superiors, telling UPI, 'I didn't do anything.' He added, 'I don't talk about off-the-record stuff.'
Previous instances of Reagan's pre-speech remarks have been reported, including an instance in which he denounced Soviet leaders before he spoke out on Poland.