Remembering 9/11: Am I the only person who read what happened first, before watching?

On September 11, 2001, I was 17 years old and working in my high school radio station. I was the general manager of WHAB, a 10-watt station heard in a mile-radius on 89.1 FM in Acton, Massachusetts. That morning, I was working in the station during one of my free periods, gathering news for us to include in our broadcasts throughout the day. We had a continuous paper feed from the Associated Press that came out on a dot matrix printer, an old model that printed paper with holes on both sides, and all the pages were attached with perforations.

At 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower, I was alone in the station with no television or Internet. The only computer in the studio was used primarily for audio editing. Sponsorship identifications were printed on index cards, and daily news reports were either hand-written or literally cut-and-pasted from the AP news feed.

Around 8:50 a.m. a one-sentence “breaking news” blurb said a plane had collided with one of the twin towers in New York City, believed to be an accident — no mention of terrorists, victims or anything that would indicate what would come next. It wasn’t a local news story (Acton is a suburb of Boston, about 25 miles west) but I thought it was at least significant enough to include in the morning’s first newscasts. (At the time, the student-run station was only on the air from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) So I cut. And pasted. I’m not even sure if I had chosen it to be the lead story.

Someone then walked by and waved at me, indicating that I should follow them to the A/V room. We joined a small huddle of people staring at a TV showing a live news feed of the World Trade Center. It was now 9:03 a.m. and we all witnessed, live on television, United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower. Everyone reacted with horror and disbelief — two planes was clearly not an accident. Many began panicking, worrying if they knew anyone working in the towers at the time.

The rest of the school day was a blur as teachers played the role of counselors instead of sticking to lesson plans. As the facts developed, and two more hijacked planes crashed — Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA and Flight 77 into the Pentagon — September 11th quickly became a day we would never forget. My peers lost whatever innocence they had left as we all realized that the world is a dangerous place and no one is ever truly safe.

While the previous generation recalls exactly where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot, 9/11 became our shared moment in grief and we will always remember where we were and what we were doing that day.

I was alone in a radio station with a stack of printer paper. Was I the only person who read what happened first, before watching?

Today, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I pause to remember the many lives we lost that day and the countless volunteers and respondents who did everything possible to help. We will never forget.

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