Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM MY MEMOIR “RAISED ON THE RADIO” WHICH I LOOK TO RELEASE IN 2018

At the time of 9/11/01 I was working as the morning show producer at US*99 radio in Chicago.  Big John Howell & Trish Biondo were co-hosting the show.

I attended a family wedding on Sunday September 9th 2001 and had Monday September 10th off from work. On Tuesday 9/11 we were having a regular morning show when Trish Biondo came into my studio a few minutes before eight a.m. to tell me to tune my TV to the Today Show. I switched channels to see an airplane lodged into the side of the north tower of the World Trade Center. I wasn’t even sure if it was an airliner or a small private plane. Big John Howell told listeners about what was on TV but nobody knew what was happening. I stayed in my studio to screen calls and monitor my TV.

Less than twenty minutes later, while on the phone with a listener, I kept one eye on my TV screen and saw a second hijacked plane hitting the south tower of the World Trade Center. I was numb with shock seeing this go down live! John went on to announce what just happened and that we were under attack. I wondered to myself if there was some computer hacking that took over the airliners’ controls and steered them into the towers. All of our phone lines were lit up, pulsing fast like my heart rate and I answered them all. Many questions and updates from listeners kept coming in and it was a crazy situation.

About half an hour after the south tower was hit, there came word that a jet crashed into the Pentagon in D.C. A caller told me this and I flipped TV channels to get confirmation. With the Pentagon attacked the first words that came to my mind were what Governor Connelly’s wife said when JFK’s motorcade was being fired on in Dallas in 1963, “My God they’re going to kill us all!” I truly remember thinking this. My rationale was if the Pentagon is our country’s base for military operations/defense and it’s under siege, who the hell makes calls on how our country defends us? We were in a world of shit. I was never more scared in my life than when the Pentagon got crashed into. Was this the end? Was this OUR end?

Next was a local news report that a threat had been phoned into Chicago’s Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower) and they were evacuating the entire building. I picked up a hotline call from our GM Steve Ennen. He said if the Hancock received the same ‘get out’ order we were to switch our radio transmission to simulcast sister station WBBM AM, Newsradio 78, then get out of the building ASAP. I relayed this information on the air to Big John and noted that since the Hancock is considered to be one of the most recognized buildings in the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a similar threat.

As I left the air studio, an announcement blared out of a hall speaker from the Hancock Security people ordering everyone out of the building immediately. I told Big John this news as Trish left the control room, grabbed her purse from her office and was out the door. John and I were talking about the Hancock evacuation and he wanted to stay. I said, “John, we HAVE to go!” He grudgingly agreed, signed off then switched our broadcast transmission to Newsradio 780.

The John Hancock Building

Hustling to our morning show office I scooped up my briefcase and put in a quick call to my mother. I told her I was O.K. , on my way out of here and that I loved her. Mom was puzzled. “What are you talking about?” Turns out she was in her garden tending to flowers and tomatoes and just got back in the house when I called.   She knew nothing about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the unfolding chaos. My mom told me to be careful getting out of there and said she loved me too. In just about an hour’s time we went from a plane has struck one of the World Trade Center buildings to evacuating our building because the world went nuts.

Before leaving the 13th floor, I needed a quick bathroom break. When I got to the men’s room, the fear I had over the Pentagon getting hit suddenly lifted. I thought, “If this is it, and it’s my last day on this earth, I’m O.K. with that. I had a good life and if the worst happened, I’m ready for what’s next.” Washing my hands I smiled thinking if the Hancock got slammed by a jet right at this very moment, I could die like Elvis did, in the bathroom.

John and I met up at the elevators and headed down to the Hancock lobby. The doors opened and I pivoted toward the parking garage elevators so I could get my car. John walked to the street exit and saw I wasn’t with him. He called out and asked if I was going to stay downtown and wait out the building’s evacuation. I told John this might be the end of everything and I was going to be with those I love. With that, my elevator door opened and I was on my way to fetch my car to get out of Dodge. It was very spooky to see a totally abandoned parking garage and my car was one of the last around.

Minutes later while crossing Michigan Avenue en route to the hopefully safe suburbs, I had the radio on the all news station and saw so many people on the sidewalks on their cell-phones. Nobody knew what to say or what to make of anything. A couple months later Alan Jackson would come up with the best words to describe 9/11 with the song “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” Alan nailed the mood and the feeling in ways that can still be felt today.

Once the Hancock evacuation was lifted, John Howell did make it back on the US*99 airwaves and did a stellar job updating listeners on the insanity of the terrorist attacks. He took calls and provided a smart, calm and measured voice of sanity during an insane day. I admired what John did but at the same time was fine with getting the hell out of the city and taking everything in from the network TV reports at home.

We all knew 9/11 would change millions of lives forever. However the depth and scope of those changes was way beyond what anyone ever anticipated. To this day it’s pretty scary to think nineteen hi-jacking assholes could have such an effect on the world. Alan Jackson’s song was a profound moment to come out of 9/11 and while the world turns in a different way these days, I’m just glad to still be here to live in it.