September 11, 2001. My Experience In New York That Week, From Howard Stern’s Studio To Meeting Bill Clinton…

Twenty Years On…

I was in New York on September 11, 2001 – until now I’ve never posted about that day…but, twenty years later, I wanted to share what I experienced and give credit to some of the people who were there with me.

I was Senior Vice President of Programming for E! Entertainment Television, as well as the Executive Producer of Howard Stern’s E! TV show.

In 1994, I worked with a great team that launched the show – capturing everything that happened on his radio show and airing it as a TV show: we installed 7 robotic cameras in his radio studio – a studio that, at that time was shared with the other DJ’s at the station.

That radio studio at the time was so small that, whenever Howard had a band in, the drummer had to set up in the hallway!

We built a small production studio in a closet – thanks to the technical wizardry and leadership of Bob Baskerville to make that happen..

As the show, and E! both grew, we built Howard a brand new radio studio that also outfitted with TV cameras as well.

Howard was a consummate professional to work with, as was his Producer Gary Dell-Abate, Robin Quivers and Fred Norris as well.

This is a picture of me from the air check I have of that entire day. On the morning of September 11 2001, Howard brought me into the studio at around 8:15a ET – he gave me a chance to promote my wife’s new syndicated dating show, “elimiDATE.”

I walked out of the studio around 8:35a, excited to call my wife a few hours later so she could hear it – she was in Seattle for “elimiDATE” filming.

Moments later, Scott The Engineer came into our control room on the way to Howard’s studio with this comment:

“A small plane hit the World Trade Center.”

Moments later Howard interrupted his show to report the same thing on the air – and for the next 6+ hours, Howard stayed on the radio live as the horrific events of that day unfolded.

Since Manhattan was locked down, for the rest of that week, the E! team worked with Gary and his available team to put Howard’s radio show on the air every day. Bravo to Gary for showing his true leadership skills in handling such a difficult time.

Howard’s listeners needed him to talk about the unfolding events in the city.

On that first night, as the city was struggling to comprehend the horrific events of that day, I stood on 5th avenue and looked south: it was obscured with dust, sitting stagnant in the air. The city was in shock.

E’s sister station was the style network. There were many style employees in town to cover Fashion Week, and E!’s head of Marketing, Stephen Croncota was there overseeing it.

Stephen showed incredible leadership as he organized a plan to find a way to get buses to the hotel to begin taking the employees cross country back to Los Angeles.

There were others there in “leadership” roles as well – but they didn’t show any of it. Stephen did – a consummate professional under the most trying of times – and I wanted to thank him again for his role over those next few days.

By that Friday, we had gotten all E! and style employees out of the city. I was the last one in town, and after we finished with Howard’s radio show, the New York based staff all went home.

These Are My Photos From That Day…

I left the studio in mid-town and began walking south, a brown haze still in the air. Suddenly a mass of people were running toward me, and one person shouted: “There’s a bomb!” as he raced by.

It wasn’t true, but that was the level of anxiety and confusion that was still pervasive in the city.

I kept heading south, ultimately walking down to Union Square on E. 14th street. These are my photos from that day, which I have never shared before. This is what I experienced in the next hour:

Butcher block paper was laid out everywhere on the ground, being signed by countless people, messages paying homage to those who lost their lives, and mourning those still missing…

It was there the police had blocked off streets south toward the site of the attack. I walked along 14th, going west when I saw one street open.

A mass of people were slowly moving through the street, clearly following a single person in the middle of the crowd.

Cheers were coming from the crowd, as well as people looking down from the many apartment buildings that lined the narrow street.

I couldn’t tell who it was at first, but the ongoing cheers around a single figure was mesmerizing. I called my wife, now back in Los Angeles after her own harrowing post-9/11 staff bus trip from Seattle, and held the phone up so she could hear the crowd.

As they cheered again, I looked to my left, and standing just a few feet away from was Chelsea Clinton.

She was watching her father, the former President of the United States, walking with the crowd…he was there to offer solace.

I watched for several minutes as we slowly moved south along this street, which had been blocked off to all traffic. Suddenly I heard a police siren blare loudly.

A screaming police car sped toward us on the street, and everyone quickly backed up to clear the street. I found myself pressed against a parked car, tightly wedged in among the crowd.

Suddenly, pressed up against me, surrounded by two Secret Service agents, was Bill Clinton.

After the car passed, he stepped back, shook my hand, said a few words and moved on to others in the crowd.

I kept watching as he spoke to hundreds of people, offering solace…I will never forget that moment, and how healing his appearance had been.

As I said, I’ve never shared these photos, and I do not like looking at any of the destruction from that day…but over twenty years, I have thought about the events at that time, and those who stepped up at a crucial time.

The following year, Bruce Springsteen released his brilliant album called “The Rising”, which looked at 9/11 and the impact it had on our country and the world.

If you haven’t heard it, it’s powerful, difficult at times, and also inspiring in a healing way.

You can hear the title track and more about the album here:

I know that many experienced this tragedy up close, and many lost loved ones as well. It changed the course of our country’s history forever..

Categories: Books / Media, Memoirs, New York, Travel, Travel Memoir, TV Show

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22 replies

  1. John, this post is deeply moving. Sharing your photos of that day had to be a difficult thing to do. The one that grabs me is laying out butcher paper for people to write messages. Oh, my!

    I loved Howard Stern! He had a great show.

    As to the guys and gals who didn’t take on leadership roles, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ Hubby tells me of the higher-ups in the Navy when Pearl Harbor was hit. That event separated the leaders from the rest of the crew. Much the same happened at 9/11.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. I didn’t realize you were there on 9/11. Thanks for sharing your experience. It was such a terrible time but it’s good to be reminded that so many people stepped up to support each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It would be a far more ‘real’ and powerful experience to have seen all of this, John. It was shocking enough for those of us who just watched it all from afar. Thanks for sharing your pictures of that day’s events.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Powerful words, pictures and memories. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow John, amazing story and photos. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can only imagine what that was like for you, John. To be right there in the thick of it had to impact you in a whole different way than most of us will never understand. Thank you for sharing your photos and discussing what you saw that terrible day.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, your story is intense. I can only try to imagine how emotional and life changing that day was for the people actually being in the vicinity of the attack. I believe the majority of the adult population on your planet remember what they were doing that day. I worked at a cafe in Gothenburg at the time, and there was a new girl starting that day. She had just moved to the city and didn’t know a single soul. She became very emotional and invited herself to my home, and stayed for several days claiming she couldn’t be alone with her thoughts. Even people in Europe where deeply affected by the event, therefor I can only imagine how it must have been experiencing it first hand.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing your experiences of that day. I watched it all unfold live on tv in Britain and remember the overwhelming feelings I had. My mum and step dad had flown out through Boston airport for a holiday on September 10th so my sister and I were trying to get a hold of them on the phone as they had an open ticket and we’re thinking of flying out again. We weren’t sure if they were okay — thankfully they were. We were on the phone to them as the first tower collapsed. I will never forget that day so I cannot imagine how you must have felt at the time. Thank you for all you did as I’m sure Howard Stern staying on air did a lot to help people.


  9. This is powerful stuff, John.


  10. John, it must have been a horrific experience to be so close to the horror as it unfolded that day…a day that changed many peoples lives forever…x

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your very powerful and moving story. This gave me chills. You saw despair as well as extraordinary bravery that day and lived to tell.

    Liked by 1 person

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