On Sunday, will mark the 21 years where the America’s history changed for the worse. If you were born after 1997, I suggest you look at an encyclopedia if you are not familiar. This is intended for news nerds…
9/11’s pure shock value whether it was intended or not by the terrorists, was the technology that captured it. Other than a WNYW crew by City Hall or a “filmmaker” following an FDNY station; the moments are captured by a process known as Electronic News Gathering. While the tech was nearly 2 decades old, it’s use in the most emergent news event would’ve been September 11th, 2001.
The technology that captured the worse moments was likely Betacam decks and weather proof robotic city cams, at the major high rise towers, and in the outer boroughs. This technology was in many markets for more than a decade (Manchester, NH for an example had this technology as far back early 1990s.) I suspect it was arrogance of local managers, for costs, and ignoring the positive use cases. Prior to the early 1990s, none of the stations in the largest market in the country had a helicopter, worse unable to go live. It’s from my understanding WABC-TV was the first, and other stations rented or hopped on another copter with their shoulder mounts.
In 1985, there was major fire in Connecticut, and WCBS-TV took aerial shots with permission from WFSB-TV in Hartford; the fellow CBS affiliate the next market north and east (when they had the purse-strings of the Post Newsweek chain) in 2022, I don’t think WFSB even has a copter anymore.
So anyways, at the NYC flagship stations, these city cams and copters were not even 5 years old. I can point approximately in 1997 all stations had some form of modern day copters and cameras. The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was not caught on much tape from the initial impact, and while WCBS-TV and WNBC did have city cams at the Empire State Building and 30 Rock respectively, these cameras were completely fixed, but that unnamed station in Manchester around that same time could remotely manipulate a camera from the other end of the city.
Managers loosened up, and the networks saw use of seeing a Brooklyn or Jersey City cam looking into Manhattan, or borrow the station’s chopper time to shoot some scenic shots of the City for the football game on Sunday, etc. to be useful.
But on September 11th, as the stations learned from experience, the moment something went awry at the North Tower (the transmitters), the stations must had some plan to start recording from the tower cam and all the helicopters also went into record mode. Those tapes had to be kept really tight because the Feds wanted that tape for obvious reasons. You record from the copter on portable tape decks (because of the tight nature of the copter) in case the live transmission breaks up at the receiving microwave tower or the main link at the station.
Given how WTC got attacked, that acting as a receive site – by the time the second tower got hit, was a loss cause. It’s believed the stations were still on the air, from 8:46 to 9:02, because that is the average time battery backups can hold before a generator or backup power is applied; because the building was completely severed at the impact of the North Tower; from what I’ve heard coincidentally the attack on the South Tower the stations (plus FM and 2 way UHF radio for public safety and commercial customers) went dark. (WCBS-TV had a full time backup at the ESB but viewers got a really lousy picture quality as the equipment had tubes and not modern day electronic equipment. That station was willing to pay a premium because back in the 1980s, the then owners of the high rise on the border of lower and midtown Manhattan jacked up the lease, and since the World Trade Center had a perfect line of sight all across the tri state region, it was more effective, so they abandoned the Empire State in lieu of the North Tower of the old World Trade Center.)
The city cams played a role for the days that followed, most of the networks (including cable) did not take a commercial break for days. For the local flagships, at WNBC, according to Broadcasting & Cable, they got relief from production staff amongst the sister stations to take the physiological load almost the control room staff. One of them may had ran a 30 second, and another ran a promo, but other than that, everything was live, and fully live, and live, except for a few moments of playback of the collapse, the attack, and Tower 7 collapsing after 5:00 ET that day. That was the ol Marriott, the former emergency operations center for the City, and the last of the 7 towers to stand up. Where was I? I was actually was watching Ashleigh Banfield’s interview with a young mother on MSNBC when the last tower collapsed.
I personally cringe at the YouTube comments when they say this was all staged. Local media isn’t that crazy, let alone the networks. Other than using the phrase “filming” … and thinking the stations knew something ahead of time (just listen to Tom Kaminski’s – WCBS 880 and WPIX’s traffic reporter. He can say the polar opposite.) It’s all bullshit to be blunt. There is a lot more to what occurred in the moments on 9/11 from the FAA to the FBI to overall Federal government; that have come out till the last 10 to 15 years. Sadly we have people who were not even born or were around long enough; or lived in the area; or worse could even care less about what the impacts of the days that followed.
As I posted last weekend, I was on the island (vis-a-vis) touring at 30 Rock… while I didn’t go downtown, unlike the last Labor Day…years later I had the it-could’ve-been-me effects.