CNYRadio.com's Scott Jameson reflects upon an evening on the air at Oldies 92.1 on the night of 9/11 in an article posted several days after the terrorist attacks.
It is a rare moment when we in the media are at a loss for what to say. Sadly, last Tuesday provided us with one of those moments.
My wife had called me at work to talk about that morning's events in New York City, and was the first to tell me that the towers had collapsed.
"Just the top of them, right?", I asked, not even considering that 900,000 tons of building could become a pile of dust in a matter of a few seconds.
"The whole towers... both of them", she said.
I just closed my eyes in silence.
Words don't exist that express the weight of the tragedy that has befallen us all. Horrifying, devastating, catastrophic, they all fit, but somehow don't echo the significance of the screams and the stunned silence, emotions that have no syllables,that form no sentences, that speak not a word, but say so much.
I turned on my desk radio to find that all of the Syracuse stations had switched to continuous coverage of the unfolding events. I was scheduled to fill in for John Carucci that night at Oldies 92.1, so I called Diane Wade at around 11:00 to see what the plan was for the rest of the day. Like everyone else, WSEN was playing it by ear at that point and we were relying on non-stop CNN radio coverage. Later in the afternoon we had switched back to mostly music programming because our CNN feed had been cut back to shorter updates throughout each hour.
Having had the experience of being on the air for two previous national emergencies, I had some apprehension about doing a music show that night. Back in 1986, I was a young DJ fresh out of college doing the midday shift at a country station in Richmond, Virginia the morning the space shuttle Challenger exploded. A few years later, the evening of the Pan Am 103 bombing also found me behind the microphone at a station back here in Syracuse. Those events were unnerving, this was much worse.
At seven o'clock, as my Tuesday night shift started, most people had returned home from work, were connecting with family and friends, and were undoubtedly glued to the continuous television coverage. Playing music and "entertaining" Central New York was not an easy task that day. The songs on my computer playlist for the evening included "Eve of Destruction", "Nowhere to Run", "Leavin' on a Jet Plane", and "Stuck in the Middle With You". I had to scratch those. Then there was the other end of the spectrum, "Celebrate" by Kool and the Gang, and James Brown's "I Feel Good". In the end, I had to pull more than half of the scheduled songs. A few got by me. I played "American Pie" with its haunting chorus "this'll be the day that I die."
Thankfully we weren't playing commercials, and the questions for "Tuesday Night Trivia" lay untouched in my show prep folder. Then there was the issue of what do I say? Our tag line of "Good Times and Great Oldies!!" seemed inappropriate. For the first few hours, I couldn't even bring myself to mention my name for fear that it would somehow come off as self-promotional. But I also had the sense that music, chosen carefully, could be of comfort to those who may have been growing weary of the unending coverage. I had dreaded coming in that night, but ended up glad that I was there.
Requests ranged from Charlie Daniels' "In America" from a listener who passionately vowed, "we need to send those guys a message!!", to a woman seeking solace in the lyrics of "Get Together" by the Youngbloods:
Come on people now,
smile on your brother,
everybody get together,
try to love one another right now.
In times of uncertainty, when trepidation of days to come sets in, I am reminded of the lyrics to a John Denver song which was a favorite of mine as a young teen:
Talk of poems and prayers and promises and things that we believe in,
how sweet it is to love someone, how right it is to care,
how long it's been since yesterday, and what about tomorrow,
and what about the dreams and all the memories we share
What about tomorrow?
Today there are no easy answers, but with compassion, strength, and hope, as a family, may tomorrow shine down upon us all.
-- Scott Jameson