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Sept. 11
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How KIRO Radio covered the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11

Feliks Banel's collection of coverage on Sept. 11, 2011. (Feliks Banel)

The images of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 are indelible, and television brought live coverage of the unbelievably frightening and pivotal moments of that dark day into millions of American homes.

But after the second plane struck, and after both of the twin towers had collapsed, it’s this somewhat biased correspondent’s belief that radio became the superior medium for coping with, and beginning to mentally and emotionally process, the aftermath of what had just happened.

Radio stations in New York City, including WINS 1010 and WCBS 880, brought residents there the latest in tunnel, subway, train and other transportation closures. This was the information needed most by that audience, many of whom were simply trying to get home. They also told listeners who to call if you were trying to track down a loved one, and where you could go to donate blood. It was all very practical and immediate.

In Seattle, area radio stations with sizable news operations, including KOMO, KUOW, KPLU and KIRO, interrupted regular programming not long after 6:00 a.m. Pacific Time, once the second plane had hit the World Trade Center. This was when it had become abundantly clear that a terrorist attack was underway; this tragedy was no accident.

In New York and Seattle, the internet was nowhere near the factor it is now. WINS anchors only mention the web a few times during several hours of coverage, and then only to say that news sites are experiencing overloading and shutdowns.

The morning anchors on KIRO Radio (known then as Newsradio 710 KIRO on the AM band) on September 11, 2001 were Gregg Hersholt, now with KOMO Newsradio, and the late Jane Shannon. After the news ended, KIRO stayed with local programming throughout the day, with Dave Ross from 9 a.m. to noon, and Dori Monson from noon to 3 p.m. With bulletins from CBS, live coverage of news conferences, and local updates from KIRO anchors and reporters, Ross and Monson tried to stitch it all together for the Puget Sound audience.

And this “stitching together,” in the opinion of this radio-loving correspondent, is what local radio is all about, especially during the dark times. There was value that day in hearing familiar and trusted voices, who give the traffic and weather and talk about the more mundane news every day, trying to make some sense of it all.

I’m sure the next terrorist attack or other calamity on the scale of 9/11 will be a different experience because of smartphones. However, that human need to hear a familiar voice feels like it will transcend whatever device we use to connect with each other.

Hearing all the old radio tapes from 15 years ago (as I’ve spent much of the last week doing) is a reminder that local radio often is at its very best, and its most vital and most relevant, when everything else is literally headed straight to hell.

Here’s some of what was heard on KIRO Radio 15 years ago on September 11, 2001.

News Update anchored by Tony Miner

MINER: Meantime Governor Locke says steps have been taken in Olympia this morning.

GOVERNOR GARY LOCKE: “As a precaution, we’ve shut down and closed the state capitol building for the next several hours as we make sure that it’s safe and secure.”

MINER: But he remains almost defiant in his pledge that the state’s business will go on today. State ferries have stopped carrying vehicles because of the risk of car bombs. Spokeswoman Susan Harris tells us the ferry system took the step at the recommendation of the Coast Guard. Exceptions are Vashon and San Juan Islands so cars won’t be stranded on islands. All ferries will continue to carry walk-on passengers but no cars.

Live Report from City Hall by Heather Bosch

Mayor Paul Schell says he’s been in contact with military leaders and Schell says there will be a Navy ship stationed in Elliott Bay. He wouldn’t give any more details on where the ship comes from or what kind it will be. He said don’t be alarmed when you see that ship out in Elliott Bay that’s where it will be stationed as, he says, a precaution. Also we can tell you now that the urban search and rescue team based here in the Puget Sound region will be leaving around 5pm from McChord Air Force Base to New York to do what this team does probably better than anybody else in the world which is to search for people in collapsed buildings and other difficult situations. So they’ll be taking off around 5. The mayor then added that he wants everyone to pray for the president and members of Congress who he says, quote, “We’ll be making some very difficult decisions in the coming days.” He then added that he wants us to pray for the victims of this terrorist attack. Live in downtown Seattle, Heather Bosch, Newsradio 710 KIRO.

Analysis by Dave Ross

In all there were four planes hijacked today. We still try to understand how it is possible that you can pull off four coordinated hijackings in a nation where we haven’t had … I can’t remember the last time we had a hijacking. We’ve had air rage incidents, that’s all. But as our counter-terrorism expert, who we talked to just a few minutes ago said, there must have been some sort of inside help. As for who claims responsibility, we don’t know yet. The speculation is Osama bin Laden. That seems to be the working theory. But how you strike back at him, well, that’s something yet to be decided.

News Update anchored by Tony Miner
MINER: Congressman Jim McDermott says he hopes we’ll make a calm and reasoned response to the attacks today.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM MCDERMOTT: “I think it’s going to be very difficult to get people to be calm and thoughtful in how we respond to this.”

MINER: He says now is not the time for retribution. He says we need to know what happened and exactly who did it.

News Update anchored by Tony Miner
MINER: Congressman Norm Dicks, who’s been involved with defense and security issues for decades, says today’s attacks are a brutal comeuppance for what he calls lax security.

REPRESENTATIVE NORM DICKS: “It certainly is an indictment of our aviation security system. I mean to have four planes like this hijacked and used in this terrible fashion is unbelievable.”

MINER: Dicks has no doubts there will be retribution for these attacks but he says right now we must remain calm and be certain that when we strike back, we hit the right target.

Analysis by Dave Ross
This is the rogue attack we’ve been told so much about. And yet from the experts we’ve heard and talked to this morning, how could you have prevented it? It didn’t come via missile, it came via passenger jet, in areas which are heavily traveled by passenger jets all the time. There will … somebody who grew up in the New York area and has visited New York City to see something like this, there’s really nothing you can say except that you’re upset, you’re in shock, you’re angry. I’ve got friends in New York, I don’t know what’s happened to them. They may have been working, I don’t know. I’ve called my parents already. They were upstate. But there will be many, many other phone calls which will not be returned in the same fashion. And it is just beginning. This will go on for months. This will go on for years.

Analysis by Dori Monson

The questions that have to be asked is how could there be such a massive, massive complete total utter breakdown of US intelligence to allow something like this to happen? The nature of hijackings is something that had become all too commonplace in the ’60s and the ’70s, but it’s something that I think a lot of people thought we were if not immune from, that would be almost impossible to carry out and certainly impossible to coordinate as this was. So how we had such a massive intelligence breakdown is going to be the focus of this story in the days to come. And then the question becomes, if this has been an attack against innocent civilians here in the United States, do you respond? Once you identify who the terrorist is, do you respond by attacking the nations that have made it possible for them to survive and thrive? Which means us going after, no doubt, innocent civilians in those nations. I think a lot of people today would say, and this is emotion that’s talking today, and hopefully, whatever the American response is will be a reasoned one. But I think, right now, the emotion of the moment has Americans saying that we must strike back a hundred times stronger than the force with which we were struck, because that is the only way to stop terrorism. Now, again, that’s an emotional response. What is the most practical response? That will be evaluated. But there will be a response, you can be sure of that.

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