Pat's View: “A Dark Day in September”
The morning of September 11, 2001 started out as a typical one on the morning radio show I hosted.
Our show on KOMO 1000 was always a bit schizophrenic---a mix of news, sports and talk---with snatches of goofy music and comedy bits tossed in.
A member of our broadcast team, Lisa Foster, was on vacation trying to claim the last vestiges of some sunny Seattle weather. It was an unremarkable Tuesday morning.
The day’s conversation began with our sports guy Bill Swartz discussing the remarkable run of the Seattle Mariners who were on the verge of winning the American League West.
Next, I offered my praise to the headline writers at The Seattle Times in their story about the city council’s decision to approve self-flushing public toilets:
COUNCIL VOTES TO PLUNGE AHEAD WITH TOILETS
And then, in mid-guffaws, our show’s newsman Gary Hoffman (now a talk show host on KFI in L.A.) came to the microphone.
“Breaking story,” he began. “Apparently a plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York a couple of minutes ago.”
My utterance was not quite brilliant. “What?”
Gary said, “Network news has an update coming up pretty soon.”
“O.K.,”I said.” There was a pause.
Then I said, “I’m surprised that kind of thing doesn’t happen more oft---oh, my gosh!” (I had turned on the TV monitor in our radio studio) “Is that an actual live picture, Gary?”
I described what we were seeing. “There is a huge, billowing trail of smoke coming off one of the World Trade Center towers,” I said. “It looks like a movie special effect.”
Then, after assuring our audience that we would have updates, we tossed to a sports report (after all, the Mariners were about to clinch)---and then we had a local traffic update.
ABC radio news followed with a live update. It sounded serious, but it seemed like it was perhaps an accident.
None of us dared speculate that it was terrorist-related.
Then Gary turned his microphone on again: “We just got word that some kind of explosion has rocked the second tower.” I remember a fist-sized lump forming in my throat.
Bill Swartz said, “We should not jump to the conclusion that this is terrorist-related---
but the two explosions do look identical.” Indeed they did.
Our broadcast became wall-to-wall---commercials were jettisoned altogether.
Then I was told that Tami Michaels was on hold from Manhattan. She was, and still is, a home interior specialist hosting a weekend show on KOMO. But even though we were colleagues of sorts, I had never actually met her.
She was calling from her room on the 35th floor of the Millennium Hotel---directly across the street from the Twin Towers. I put her on the air.
Her voice quavered as if she was holding onto a paint mixer. “Pat, this is simply the worst thing I have ever seen in my life,” she said tearfully.
She described in vivid, heart-rending detail the violent shaking of her hotel room---and flying debris hitting so hard just outside she was sure her windows would shatter.
Then the clock seemed to stop as she spoke her next words.
“I just want people---if they’re listening---to please say prayers,” she almost whispered.
“Because people are falling to their deaths. They are just jumping from the flames that are happening.”
Dead air on the radio is anathema. But no words could have been louder---or have said more---than the silence on our radio program. And if you listened closely, you might have heard the tears.
In the hours and days that followed there was no other radio topic. We tried to make the story local as we connected with people who had witnessed the disaster, knew people who were in the building---and had even lost friends.
We were able to put two loved ones on the phone with each other---after they had spent a day or two wondering about their respective whereabouts.
Our radio show felt very different those days---bearing no resemblance to the freewheeling, wisecracking troupe our audience typically tuned in to hear. I wondered if any of us would ever joke around again.
Then one morning a longtime listener called in. He said, “Hey there! I’ve been out of town for a few days. Anything going on?”
It was not much, but it made us all laugh---not too long, not too hard---but we laughed. It felt like permission had been granted.
Some weeks later, I was in an audio booth at KOMO recording a commercial---when there was a light knock on the door. I opened it and instantly realized I was looking at Tami Michaels.
Wordlessly, we hugged each other for a very long time. Finally, we let go.
I finally said, “Gee, I guess that was pretty forward of me. We’ve never even met.”
We both laughed.
But not too long.
Not too hard.
Pat can be seen on the sketch TV show “Up Late NW” airing Saturdays following SNL on KING 5---and again Sunday at 11:35pm. Plus many other stations in Washington and Oregon. He also co-hosts a weekly on-line talk show: Peculiarpodcast.com