Defining Moments For Us All
Throughout everyone of our lives there are traumatic moments we will never forget. I call them defining moments. Some are personal, some we share with our friends, families, our community or our world. For my parents it was the assassination of President John F Kennedy and when man walked on the moon.
For me there are three events: the explosion of the Shuttle Challenger, the collapse of the bonfire and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. I can tell you where I was and what I was doing each time.
The Shuttle Explosion 1986: I was a cub reporter and anchor at KBTX. News Director Jeff Braun was out of town and left me in charge of the newsroom. I still remember the video tape of the explosion being replayed on CNN with the audio underneath “ Shuttle Challenger go with full throttle up”. For years I teared up every time I saw that segment replayed.
The World Trade Center attack: I was pulling into my driveway in Las Vegas with Starbucks in hand when my neighbor asked me” Why aren’t you at the TV station it looks like terrorist may have flown jetliners into the World Trade Center." The way we travel in and out and around America was forever changed.
Bonfire Collapse: November 18th 1999 I am awakened by a phone call from College Station friend Don Knowles. Its 4:45AM, Vegas time. I am hard asleep. He tells me” Mike bonfire has fallen, people are dead and injured, turn on TV. I know it's early in the morning but I knew you would want to know about this!“
I was News Director at another Channel 3 at that time, this one KVBC in Las Vegas. I called the anchors who were already on set, ready to go on the air for the morning news and told them to scrap what had been prepared for them to take CNN or MSNBC live. I told them what had happened and to stay with live coverage for as long as it was being offered. I told them I would explain the significance of it all after they got off the set. Two hours later, when the news was over and the anchors got off the set. I didn’t have to explain a thing!
I had intentionally hired several Texans in that News 3 newsroom. You see, Texans understand Texans and everyday, most Texans will put their nose to the grindstone to give you everything they have. On that day I called upon them to go out and produce stories that would teach the rest of the newsroom and Southern Nevada about the Spirit of Aggieland and the true tragedy of that days’ fall.
At the Bonfire Collapse 10 year Anniversary in November I ran into Bryan Sasser, now an award winning producer, from KPRC in Houston. 10 years ago he was a recent TCU grad who I had just hired. At the anniversary ceremony Brian reminded me how those in the newsroom at the time wondered why we were doing so much on some accident in some small college town in Texas. He also reminded me how by the time the day was over and the stories played, there was not a dry eye in that newsroom. He said at that point he understood why I had insisted on hiring Texans and while he was a proud Horned Frog was glad to be from the home state of Texas A&M.
I remember that day, a decade a go, like it was yesterday, the sadness , the agony and the emotion. For the month of November I relived that day, every day. Each script I proofed, each story I approved, each piece I sat through in the edit bay, all took an emotional toll on me. Several times a day I would have to excuse myself and walk outside for fear I would break down in front of everyone. Every evening in November I left at the end of the day to drive home in tears.
I am not an Aggie graduate, I never even took a class at Texas A&M. I wasn’t here when bonfire fell. But everyday in November I had a small idea of what people in this community felt and went through 10 years ago. November 18th, 1999 is a date that will never leave my mind.
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