Remembering 9/11/01: Brandon Castillo, Morning Show Producer
On the morning of September 11th 2001, I was producing the “Jim and Joni” show at K-EARTH 101. I showed up to work that morning one person and went home that day another. Here’s my story…
It was a very routine morning, I woke up, left my house in City Terrace (near East Los Angeles) around 3:30am to arrive at work in Culver City around 4am. We had a very typical show planned for the day, we had a scheduled phone call with Family Feud host Louie Anderson in the 7am hour and the rest of the show was already laid out. Our morning show office had a system of VCR’s that we set to record various TV programs that we can pull audio from. We changed out the tapes from the night before, and loaded the new ones for the morning news programs. My assistant producer Tim arrived at work and later Jim and Joni arrived at the station about 4:30 and we were ready to go at 5! The way the studios were laid out at K-Earth was simple. We had 4 main studios…. A-B-C and D. Studio A was the main broadcast studio, Studio B was a mirrored layout of A and used as a backup / commercial production studio, Studio C was an interview only studio… it only had microphones. Studio D was dedicated to production only. We ran our morning show out of Studio B and C because our PD wanted Jim and Joni in the room together. Tim ran the board out of Studio B and I was in Studio D doing production throughout the morning. All of these studios were side-by-side with windows looking into each one. At about 5:35am we did a segment called “The Joke Of The Day”. It ran as planned, and the rest of that day would change forever.
I was in Studio D, I’m not sure what I was working on at the time but I always made a habit of putting CNN on the TV in the studio. Jim and Joni usually had Channel 2 (CBS) on in their studio because at that time of the morning there was local news. I remember glancing up at the TV and seeing a stationary camera shot of the World Trade Center. I saw smoke coming out of it and the caption below said something like: “Small plane is reported to have hit the World Trade Center”. The first thought that went through my head was the story I read in history about a plane hitting the Empire State Building a long time ago and how it survived. I clicked the intercom and alerted Jim and Joni to look up at my TV. Honestly we really didn’t think anything of it at that moment. I told them I would keep my eye on it to see how big the plane was that hit it, because at the time CNN didn’t know. After about 5 to 10 minutes footage of the crash was starting to appear on all the network channels. We started to read wire reports that this was no small plane, but instead quite possibly a jumbo jet. I told Joni, our news person, that I’d help her track down the facts of the story, so no I was completely focused on the news. I was running back and fourth from the morning show office to the studio with new reports, some suggesting that a hijacked plane may be involved. It was starting to get a little exciting until…………
6:03am I walked into the morning show office… by now all of the channels were covering the burning tower. I, for some reason, decided to look up at the TV just when the 2nd plane hit the other tower. I saw this huge explosion of fire and could hear the TV anchors speak out in horror of what they’ve just witnessed. “What the heck was that?” I remember one anchor saying. My jaw dropped and I went running full speed to the studio. I opened the door and said something like: “Another plane just hit the towers and I think this is a terrorist attack!! They both looked at me with a stunned expression. What do we do?? The wire services were going crazy. Next thing you know reports were coming in from all over. Lots of unconfirmed reports, I remember one saying something about the Capitol Building being hit. One report came in that mentioned that there was fire at the Pentagon. All this was happening real fast. I made the decision to call Mike Phillips, our PD and ask him for advice. I phoned him and he answered the phone like he had just woken up. “Mike, what do we do??” I asked. “About what?” he said. Oh my god, he had no idea what’s going on! I told him to turn on his TV. He was speechless! Let’s keep and eye on this and tell Jim and Joni to just keep the show simple until we could figure out what’s happening. I ran in and informed the guys what Mike had said.
I don’t know how much time went by but here’s what I can remember about what happened next.
I remember walking into the morning show office, my eyes were fixed to the TV. Jim was watching with me. The next thing I knew I saw what I first thought was another explosion. What the hell is that?? I remember not really thinking anything drastic at first…. The smoke grew larger and larger and the next thing I could make out is that one of the towers was gone!!! I jumped back on the phone with Mike and was direct when I told him that we needed to do something NOW!!! Get me KNX!! (our sister station) I needed to get some reliable sources on our air. One of our Engineers was there and was able to dial into KNX’s ISDN lines and we preceded to put KNX on our air. Mike instructed us to break in with station identifications and time checks. I was hanging out in Studio B with our board op Tim when I began to notice a crowd forming in Studio A. They were in the back of the studio watching news coverage on the TV. Before I knew it, there were more and more sale persons and staff crowing into that studio. We had other TVs in the building and I found it real strange that they all wanted to see the one in the studio.
I casually asked our engineer Lynn why everyone was still in there and he asked me out of the room and in to the hallway. He told me that I was not to tell anyone, but there was a bomb threat across the street at the Department Of Water and Power Sub-Station. He wanted the staff in that studio because it was furthest from the street and built like a bomb shelter. He told us to stay in the studios until they can figure out what to do. By then Mike our PD had arrived. Before I knew it we were being asked to evacuate the building. We put KNX up on the air and walked out of the rear exit of the building. We were taken to the grassy field out back where the KHJ-AM towers and transmitter building were located. Was this safe??? Confused co-workers were arriving to the station and were parking in the grassy field.
Our PD came up to Jim and I and asked us if we wanted to volunteer to go back in the building to continue broadcasting station id’s and updates. We went back in and stayed there for about 15 minutes. How strange, here we were, Jim and I sitting here and wondering what would happen if we heard an explosion. I joked with Jim that I wasn’t going to die listening to KNX. So I loaded “Sleepwalk” by Santo and Johnny and told Jim that the moment I hear a boom I’m pushing this button!!! The next thing that happened is the door opening and our chief engineer gave the order that Jim was to leave the building and that I could stay if I wanted to. I agreed to stay, but did ask for a hard hat and walkie talkie to communicate if anything was to happen. I called my wife and mom and told them what was going on. My wife was angry at me for staying behind but I told her that I needed to do this. My mom was crying on the phone and yelling at me to get out of there, but I reassured her that I was safe……. ( I didn’t really know if I was). After about 20 minutes being left by myself in the studio, I was given the order to evacuate the building. I joined the rest of the staff out back and before I knew it we were given the all clear to return to the building.
I remember wandering around the hall, I wanted to get out of there and get home. By then all air traffic was grounded and the Los Angeles skies were very quiet. I think it was about 2pm that I finally realized that I had nothing else to contribute, so I decided to go home. My trip home was eerie. The freeway was wide open and you couldn’t help but look up at the skyscrapers in downtown L.A. I was gripping my steering wheel the whole way home.
I learned a lot that day, I matured as a producer and matured as a human.