It was just before 9 a.m. ET on September 11, 2001 when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and John Montone, the veteran reporter for New York’s all-news WINS-AM was covering that day’s Democratic primary for mayor—the story journalists had expected would be the day’s big story—until he got word from the newsroom to “drop everything you’re doing and get down to the Trade Center.”
In an interview for the new podcast We Interrupt This Broadcast, Montone recalls rushing down New York’s FDR Drive while listening to the live coverage on 1010 WINS. “I heard our anchor Lee Harris, he was talking to one of our sales reps, Joan Fleischer, who lived down there, and she screamed because another plane hit the South Tower…at that point, I pretty much knew we’re under attack and I’m going into a war zone,” Montone said in an interview for a new podcast, We Interrupt This Broadcast, which tells the stories of major news events through the broadcast journalists that covered the stories.
Based on the book of the same name by writer Joe Garner, We Interrupt This Broadcast features MSNBC’s Brian Williams as narrator, telling each story as it unfolded through the eyes of reporters, news anchors and the photographers, producers and technical crews that drop everything to cover major news. “You know, I was there for some of these,” Williams told me. “And I’ve delved into all the audio, and I’ve sat in the studio and narrated them, and they still make my pulse race. They still make me emotional.”
The episode on the 9/11 attacks takes listeners to the chaos of Ground Zero and into the network control rooms as producers, directors and news executives scrambled to plan nonstop live coverage of the biggest story in a generation. CNN anchor Aaron Brown remembers rushing to work and thinking to himself, “just stop and calm down.” Brown said “I probably made a lot of mistakes that day, but I think I stayed pretty calm through all of it, and I think calm mattered.”
Other episodes in the podcast’s first season include the Hindenburg disaster, the shooting of President Ronald Reagan and the death of President John F. Kennedy. “These are the moments where my mother would call all of our friends and relatives to say, ‘turn on the TV, are you watching this?” Williams said.
Listen to my full interview with Brian Williams:
“And if you’re lucky enough to stick the landing as an anchor, if you’re lucky enough to get it right in real time, as the years go by people remember who they spent that time with. People remember who broke the news to them, who held their hand electronically and who walked them through it. So I think these are all fascinating subplots of what people are going to hear in this audio experience.”
Joining Williams in the podcast is veteran news anchor Bill Kurtis. “It show us how chasing the truth is hard—finding it is even harder,” Kurtis told me. “It gives us a whole new perspective on the story.”
For Garner, translating his book into a podcast meant uncovering archival recordings and interviews that in some cases have never been heard. Of the journalists whose stories are told in the podcast, Garner says “they’re compelled to tell the story…often checking their own emotions, checking their own safety to do it. And I wanted to create a podcast that told these stories from that perspective because I don’t think it had ever been done before—and to really convey the humanity that is at the core of journalism, and in this case broadcast journalism.”
And Garner hopes as people listen to the podcast they will see a side of news that’s gotten overlooked, he says, “after four or five years of seeing broadcast journalism taking such a pummeling.”