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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9/11/01 Tragedy, TV, Airplanes, and a Song

This blog is about my personal experiences related to September 11, 2001. It includes my perspective of the tragedy, my job at a TV station that was carrying coverage of the day, how it affected my role in aviation, and my part in a song dedicated to the heroes of 9/11.

It started for me a little after 9:00 that morning. I was driving to the local grocery store when I had WCMF radio on in the car. I heard them discussing a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. While it was obviously a horrific situation, my mind transported back to the 1940's when a military airplane crashed into the side of the Empire State Building. At that time, it punched a hole in the side of the building and rained some debris onto the sidewalk below. I did not even begin to imagine what this new event was creating. By the time I got to the grocery store, I had heard that the FAA was shutting down airspace around New York City. Still not comprehending the magnitude of what was happening, I started thinking about how this was going to affect flights across the country with cancellations and delays.

I continued with my shopping trip, all the while thinking about Air Traffic Control, the airspace, and airline flights. Obviously I was naive to what was really happening.

Once I got my groceries back out to the car, started the engine, and turned the radio back on, that's when I heard that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon, and still yet another plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. That's when I really became aware of what a horrible situation was developing.

Back in my house, I left the groceries in the car and ran in to turn on the TV. I was shocked at the amount of smoke I saw around the south end of Manhattan Island. There was so much smoke that I didn't even  recognize that one of the buildings had collapsed already. As I was watching, the phone rang. It was my mother. She asked me if I had seen the plane hit the building. I told her I did not. As we were talking, I kept my eye on the TV screen. Suddenly I saw the second tower collapse. My mother was also watching the TV and she saw it too. I was shocked at what was going on.

I am a licensed private pilot. At that time, I was the president of the Rochester Pilots Association. I don't remember who it was, put a reporter from a newspaper called me to ask me my opinion about airspace being shut down. I didn't know what to say. I told him that I was just learning of all of the events and didn't know what else to tell him. I still don't know who it was and if they used any of my comments in their story.

I continued watching TV coverage, and somewhere along the way I managed to get the rest of the groceries into the house. At that time, I worked in the control room of WHEC TV 10. I was scheduled to work at 3:00 that afternoon.

Once at work, I was asked to take over in master control and I sat there for the next nine hours straight until it was time for me to go home. My job was to keep coverage of the NBC television network on the air, write up all of the programs and commercials that we were missing, and do local special reports whenever the newsroom wanted them aired.

One of the notifications that we received from the NBC television network was, since nobody knew at that time who was behind these hijackings and attacks, NBC did not know if they would get knocked off the air. They advised all of their affiliate TV stations to be prepared to go to local programming if the NBC television network lost its signal or worse. We had videotapes of our regularly scheduled programs running on the tape machines, so we were ready to cut to regularly scheduled programming if needed. Otherwise, we continued with coverage.

A program log at a TV or a radio station is a pre-printed schedule of programs, commercials, and other content that is scheduled to go on the air. It is a master control operator's job to air these items and to write down the times that they aired. I took pictures of the program log that channel 10 had that day, and you can see some of the pages. The first one shows when the special report began, at 9:00, airing coverage of "world trade center fire." The second one shows when I signed on for duty at 3:00 PM. The third picture shows that we cut away from NBC coverage around 6:00 PM for a local news update. Otherwise, you can see some of the programs and commercials that were pre-empted at those times.

After nine hours of broadcasting repeated replays of planes crashing into buildings, and buildings collapsing, I went home and had images of buildings collapsing in my head as I was trying to get to sleep. It was not easy. I truly wondered what was happening to the United States.

At work, nearly nonstop coverage of the 9/11 events continued for the next few days and frequent coverage into the next few weeks.

The other role I had in my life at the time was that I was president of the Rochester Pilots Association. All flights in the United States were grounded for a couple of weeks until the government assessed the threat of further attacks by air. A reporter from R News in Rochester called me up and asked if we could do a story about small planes, like the kind I flew, being grounded. I met her and a news photographer at Ledgedale Airport in Brockport and here's the story.

The following month, my good friend Tony Weschler called me up and asked me if I would play drums on a song that he was recording as a tribute to the heroes of 9/11. So I did. We recorded it with Eileen Alexander singing lead and Scott Meli playing guitar. The four of us enjoyed working together so much on this song that we decided to form a permanent band, which was named Intrigued, and stayed together until 2009. This was the silver lining on a horrible tragedy. It brought me out of retirement from playing drums and I have been playing drums ever since. Here is the song.

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