Listeners to Emmis’ WRKS-FM/98.7 Kiss FM know Bob Slade very well. He’s been the award-winning morning newsman (at times afternoons) since RKO started Kiss started 30 years ago.
While those years in live radio served him well, he never could have planned for what was about to happen on September 11, 2001.
In today’s installment of 9/11: New York Remembers, FishbowlNY talks with Slade for his memories of that fateful day.
“I was going back to my office, and all of a sudden I looked up and there was a flash,” Slade tells FishbowlNY.
The Kiss studios since 1996 have been located in the West Village, just a mile or so from the World Trade Center.
So Slade knew there was a problem. He monitored the police radio to get details about the first plane crash into the north tower.
“We were told it was like a cargo plane.” Slade recalls.
Regardless what type of plane it was believed to be in those early moments, he needed to get information on the air.
“The [Tom] Joyner Show was already in progress,” Slade remembers. “So it’s a local story. We had to just pot that down and go on the air.”
Joyner did a nationally syndicated show (based in either Dallas or Chicago at the time).
Slade broke into Joyner’s show for WRKS listeners around 8:50 a.m. (the first plane struck the Trade Center, you’ll recall, at 8:46 a.m.). Slade’s next regularly scheduled newscast wasn’t until 9 a.m.
Thereafter, Slade kept doing local bulletins and provided live updates for Joyner’s national show on the ABC Radio Network.
With a non-existent news staff, Slade and WRKS sent DJ David Ellis to ground zero after the second attack. Slade encouraged the young announcer to push his way as far as police would allow.
“He could hardly do the report,” Slade recalls. “He was crying.”
Ellis had an emotional outburst from seeing many people jumping from the World Trade Center towers.
“Well look, you got to get yourself together,” Slade told Ellis. “I need you to do this report. Just try to get through it.”
Ellis gave his account of the scene live to the Kiss audience, managing to get through it without breaking up again.
“That was a rough day,” Slade remembers. “We spent the whole day here; myself [and] our producer at the time was Billy Robinson. We spent a lot of time on the air here.”
Just as TV stations were either providing wall-to-wall network coverage or their own local non-stop reporting, WRKS offered their listeners a blanket of coverage as well.
“We had to spring into action,” Slade remembers. “The programming people gave us a lot of latitude on how we handled it. They gave us a lot of freedom on where to go with this.”
As the sole anchor, the tragic news meant a lot more on Slade’s plate.
“I stayed on the whole day, doing reporting not only for Kiss, but for Hot 97 [WQHT], and for Smooth Jazz CD 101 [now WRXP].
Kiss did not resume normal programming that first day—instead carrying the live ABC News feed. Slade handled the local news updates.
“There was nothing to play,” Slade says. “Who wants to hear music? Everybody was concerned about what was going on.”
Therefore, Slade, a prominent voice on the station, couldn’t get swept up in the story.
“It’s a job, you just go through it,” Slade, 62, says. “It’s rough. I can imagine what it must have been like for the Kennedy assassination.”
Slade, who did breaking news updates all evening on 9/11, stayed the night at the Kiss studios.
Taking his first break since the terrorist attacks got underway at around noon, Slade explored the outside world.
“By that time, all you saw was dust and it was coming our way,” Slade recalls. “People just tried to stay off the streets.”
Of course, the dust cloud that enveloped the streets of lower Manhattan put a pall over an otherwise picture-perfect day.
“We were so used to the sight of the World Trade Center. You could always see it,” Slade reflects. “I used to catch the Path train back to New Jersey; you’d go to the World Trade Center. I hate going down there now—today, because it’s just not fixed.”
For Slade, heading to work on 9/11, there were certainly no indications of the drama that New York City was about to endure.
“Five o’clock in the morning, it’s a great day. It looks fantastic,” Slade recalls. “The next thing you know four hours later, it’s turned upside down.”
Join us tomorrow for the thoughts of a popular Rock jock, who had to change direction on air during 9/11.