Once upon a time, in the pre-9/11 world, there was an actual Y108 feature called…
“Stupid Ways to Die.”
15 years ago today, “Stupid Ways to Die” was EXACTLY what I was thinking as the 8:55AM headline update contained the blurb…
“An airplane flew into the World Trade Center”. No other details given.
I was picturing a small prop plane, a Piper Cub or Cessna, piloted by someone… perhaps fueled by alcohol…yeah, alcohol had to be involved, and maybe he was jilted at the altar and he was gonna show her and the entire world!!!!
Because. It. Never. Entered. My. Mind.
A FOREIGN ATTACK HAD NEVER BEFORE TAKEN PLACE ON U.S. SOIL.
Remember, Hawaii wasn’t yet a state when Pearl Harbor was attacked.
Our pre-9/11 world was one in which “real American heroes” made giant foam fingers and drank Bud Light.
But as I walked into the CBS/Pittsburgh offices and down the hall into my program director’s office, I noticed a wide shot of the World Trade Center on his TV. That’s a lot of smoke…
A Cessna wouldn’t make THAT much smoke, would it…the entire top of the tower’s engulfed! There were maybe four of us in there…beginning to consider what just five minutes before seemed impossible…is the United States being attacked?
Now it’s 9:03…and we watch in horror as the second plane flies through the other tower…live on national television.
The next hour seemed to take three hours to unfold. The Pentagon is hit…
…and all air traffic is halted…
…but what’s this about a plane in the skies near PITTSBURGH?!
And then we were out of harm’s way…but only because that plane – United Flight 93 – crashed about 100 miles east in Shanksville.
And when the towers actually fell, I remembered the swagger, characteristic of living anywhere around New York City, as I did for a time when I was younger. But now, as toxic debris filled lower Manhattan, the swagger yielded to sorrow.
What I remember about the details of the workday evaporated a long time ago. It was a blur.
I can tell you that I never saw a group of people pull together like our group. Anheuser-Busch immediately cancelled their commercials. They were among all the car dealers, department stores and other advertisers pulling or changing their spots so as to avoid looking insensitive.
In our studios, the music had given way to rebroadcasting our AM sister, The World’s First Radio Station, KDKA. When that wasn’t happening, the Y108 personalities were on-air taking calls from frightened, shocked, sorrowful listeners. It was too soon and we were too shocked to be angry; anger would come later. And later that afternoon we would attempt to resume something resembling normal programming…a new normal, that is.
Somehow, we figured it out and looking back, I realize what an honor it was to work with such professionals.
By 7 o’clock I was on my way home…or was it 8? And later as we watched the wall-to-wall news coverage, Janet and I sat on the couch in tears.
This Wasn’t Supposed To Happen.
Then, over time, we began to understand what an arrogant and naive sentiment that was.
Israelis, for example, live with the threat of terror every day. They don’t let it stop them. Our nation would have to find a new normal, while tracking down and punishing those responsible for taking over 3,000 lives. The topic of fighting two wars over 13-plus years is one I’ll leave for another day.
Instead, I’ll skip ahead to November and the debut of the song that helped America begin to heal. Its story is here.
A more important song, you’d be hard pressed to find.
Some may wonder, why relive the pain? I could give a laundry list of reasons, but I think a recent, tasteless attempt at selling mattress in Texas says it all.
For the memory of those who perished, for their families, for the realization that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, for those born after 9/11 who need to understand and appreciate why we remember…we must never forget.