Saturday, September 11, 2021

Radio Hosts Ralph Garman, Big Boy, Ellen K and Others Remember Their Morning Show Whiplash on 9/11

I still think quite a bit about listening to radio on the way to work on 9/11 and hearing Ralph Garman and Boyd R. Britton "Doq on the Roq" on KROQ; Big Boy on Power 106; Mark Wallengren on KOST; Ellen K on KIIS-FM and others as I scanned the dial that morning. For Variety I talked to them and NY's Elvis Duran Show about having to pivot from jokes to news on air that day:

Elvis Duran still recalls the phone-in topic on his morning radio show the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “We were talking about whether you’re cheating on your significant other if you’re flirting with someone else in an online chat room,” Duran says. “And then playing a song.”

Back in 2001, Duran’s top 40 WHTZ-FM “Z100” was located in Jersey City — just across the Hudson River from Downtown Manhattan. The “Elvis Duran and the Morning Show” team had a direct view of the World Trade Center from their 40th floor studio, and it was their phone screener who first fielded reports of smoke from one of the towers.

“It started with rumors a helicopter hit it,” Duran recalls. “Around the time we found out it was a commercial airline plane that hit it, that’s when the second plane hit the other tower. And we immediately knew, this isn’t what we think it is, this is something that we don’t understand.”

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, morning hosts were just arriving to start their shifts. “We’re having our pre-meeting off air before we jump on air live,” remembers Big Boy, who was then based at hip-hop KPWR-FM “Power 106.” “One of my guys comes in and says, ‘Man, some fucking idiot just crashed his plane into the World Trade Center.’ So we go into our office. And as we’re sitting there watching it live, the second plane comes in, boom.”

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks kicked the nation’s TV and radio news organizations into high gear, as they quickly went live to cover the unfolding events. But also on air that day were drive-time radio personalities who suddenly had to drop the jokes, stop spinning records, and instead pivot to becoming somber lifelines as listeners looked for information and solace.

“We got on the air and started answering calls,” says Ellen K, who back then was Rick Dees’ partner on Los Angeles top 40 KIIS-FM. “I was over seven months pregnant, and my baby in my belly, my son — who’s now almost 20 — was kicking and punching wildly because of the stress reaction I was having. I remember I couldn’t breathe very well, so I had to sit down and calm myself while we’re answering these phone calls.”

K remembers no music being played that day on KIIS. “It was just constant calls, and we stayed on the air way past 10 a.m., when we would usually sign off. We were on until almost 2 p.m. People were taking turns, coming on, crying. We were also giving information as fast as we could get it. So we had our producers calling out, we were calling friends in New York City. We were also reaching out to everyone we knew to get on the air.”

At Los Angeles alternative KROQ-FM, the hosts of “Kevin & Bean” were on vacation, so the station was replaying “best of” clips from previous shows. Just a skeleton crew were in the offices: Sidekick Ralph Garman and news anchor Boyd R. Britton (known as “Doc on the Roq”), who were originally only there to contribute a few live segments in between the repeats.

“By the time I had gotten to the studio, the news had just broken that the second plane had hit the second tower,” Garman says. “And it was only then that it dawned on us that this was not an accident. And the station didn’t know what to do. I was in there, Doc was in there. We had a board op. But the decision eventually was made: We can’t ignore this; we have to go on the air with something. And here I am, this baby broadcaster. I had done voices and stuff for the show but I’d never really taken on a larger role than that. And they said we have to go live, so we just turned on the mics and started broadcasting.”

In an unconventional move, Britton and Garman — normally two contributors who never interacted on “Kevin & Bean” — were suddenly co-anchoring coverage on KROQ.
Read the full story here.

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