As for that day itself, the one thing that I remember most is what a beautiful Tuesday it was. Not a cloud in the sky in Nashville, TN (where I was). It was a very pleasant cool early September day as far as the weather was concerned. I was back in my hometown because I had recently changed jobs after hosting on the radio in Columbus(GA) for 14 years at WRCG/WCGQ. My new job as Program Director of WWTN-FM/Nashville was about three weeks old. So, still getting my feet wet with a new job, I found myself hosting the morning show that morning because our host Steve Gill was out sick. If you know Steve, you know that Steve has to be REALLY sick to miss any time on the air. For me, my first time to host on WWTN. Rhett Harris was hosting news, Kevin Ingram with sports and Pamela Furr was producer. The show began at 5:30am and I don't even remember what subjects were discussing when Pam brought me a note that a "plane has hit the world trade center in NYC." This didn't cause me immediate alarm and I said something on the air about the note but that small planes are known to hit tall buildings in New York City on occasion. I couldn't fathom that this was any thing but that. I had reported on such small craft incidents before and I was confident this was it. I said something like "we'll have more on the story coming up at the top of the hour." A few minutes passed and we were into the top of the hour news at 8am(Nashville time). I'm still not alarmed but Pam switched on the cable news channels(usually the TV was set on ESPN because of the afternoon sports show from the day before). Rhett and I watched the TV coverage showing a large hole in one of the Towers of the World Trade Center and we both said that no small plane had hit that building. I remember saying to Rhett that looks the size of a passenger plane. While we were discussing this during a commercial break, Kevin got ready for his sports minute.
"..Now with Supertalk997 sports, here is Kevin Ingram." I said.
Both Rhett and I went back to watching the TV while Kevin was voicing the sports headlines. Like many of you, while we watched, we saw what we later realized was the second plane that hit the other tower. All I can say is that our reaction in the talk studio and control room was of a jolt. Pam was jumping up and down pointing to the TV she was watching behind the glass that separated control from the talk studio. Her eyes were wide and I know I must have frowned as what I had seen wasn't fully registering. Did I see video of the FIRST plane that hit the building and TV had caught it, or was this a second? Rhett and I looked at each other in disbelief as Kevin was finishing his sports. As soon as Kevin finished, I remember saying something like "Ladies and Gentlemen, I can't believe what I just saw..." And as I described that we just saw another airplane hit the tower, I said something like "how can this happen?" and Rhett blurted out "we are under a terrorist attack!" and then said something about a Tom Clancy novel. I looked at Rhett and had to acknowledge he was right. It was from then, we went into a full scale news mode realizing this was the biggest story we would likely cover in our lifetime. As I learned in the next couple of minutes, WWTN didn't have a way to patch a national broadcast onto our air.
An unbelievable situation I thought as in the past my stations always had a way to go immediately to network coverage. This was one of the short comings of the station that I had been recently hired to fix. I'm yelling to Pam to get an engineer and she responded quickly realizing the importance. With a sense of urgency our engineers had our network coverage (ABC) up and running within the hour. Until then, I commented on what what I knew. The swift action by our team may still have beaten our competition to the punch. I was told later that we had a 90 share the week after 911 as our station became the station of information during the immediate aftermath.
One of my staff, James, who was our second amendment guy at the station, came to me and said that he was "packing" (which was against Gaylord Entertainment policy) and was ready if the Bastards tried anything around here. Gaylord Security had locked down the hotel and radio station area and James shadowed me the rest of the day. I was too busy to worry about terrorist hitting us.
My other recollection of the day is speaking with my GM in the studio after we had gone to network coverage and saying to him "we are at war...this is big...and I'm not sure we know at this moment how big this really is...but...it is big." In a decision that I have come to have great respect, John Padgett, General Manager for WWTN-FM. WSM-FM and WSM decided on the spot not to air any commercials...until further notice! The day itself at the station is a blurr but I do remember driving home late that afternoon and realizing how eerie it was that no planes were flying. My house was near the airport and if you know how busy the Nashville airport is, it would have made an impression on you as well. Our station, WWTN-FM, built on the listeners that trusted us that day and we became a force in the Nashville market for over two years. I will always be thankful for the staff who were top notch professionals that day!