After reporting 9/11 as it happened, this thought has haunted me for 20 years
Twenty years later, people still come up and tell me they were listening to New Jersey 101.5 and my voice was the one that first told them a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. For the next several hours, morning host Jim Gearhart and I reported on the unthinkable.
I was not supposed to be on the air with Jim that day.
Both of my sons were born in September and we were preparing for a backyard birthday party. Family and friends had already arrived from out of state. My oldest had turned 3 just days before. His favorite show was "Bob the Builder," and I had spent weeks creating life sized wooden cutouts of his favorite characters to decorate the back yard. My youngest son would celebrate his first birthday on the 12th.
I had taken the morning off on the 11th to spent time with family and continue with the party prep. After having breakfast with my mother, I decided to go into the office for a few hours. I arrived at the station around 8:45 a.m.
There was a long bank of television screens along one wall of the newsroom, and as I walked by them to my office each one began to change to images of smoke coming out of the North Tower. I stood in disbelief, not comprehending what I was seeing. I had had a wonderful dinner at the famed Windows on the World restaurant just a few days earlier.
Then the alert came. A plane had hit the tower.
At the time, it never occurred that the act was deliberate. It was, however, a significant news story. I gathered what information we had and headed into the studio.
Signaling show producer Mike Lavelle that we needed to break into the show with a news bulletin, Gearhart recalled later, "I could see by (Eric Scott's) face there was something not usual here."
After that first report, I went back into the newsroom. The rest of our staff was gathered around the TV screens, still trying to make sense of what we were seeing and hearing. Was it a small commuter plane? Was it one of those sightseeing flights that carry tourists? Initially, there was no mention it could be a deliberate attack. It was not a thought that even entered our minds.
I went back into the studio to relay what we had learned to Jim and our listeners. The on-air conversation with listeners that had been about school fundraisers had now turned to callers saying they could see the smoke rising into a perfectly blue sky.
Even at that point, though, the idea that we were under attack had not even occurred to us.
Then came the call that changed everything.
A man called in from the docks in Bayonne where he was working. He was calmly describing what he could see, then screamed, "There it is! Something else hit! Something else just hit the tower! Oh my God! Something else — a plane just hit the tower. It hit the other tower! And there's a mass explosion. Jesus, Mary and Joseph."
Then we knew. We knew this was no accident. It was deliberate. America was under attack.
For the next hours, days, weeks and months we tried to comprehend the incomprehensible.
Many things changed that day. A deliberate attack, an act of terror, was no longer an afterthought. It is now the first thought anytime anything bad happens.
Aside from the tremendous loss of life in the attacks and the war that followed, this is where my mind goes whenever I think about 9/11.
My children's birthdays come just before and just after September 11. Twenty years after the attacks, and they are now grown men. Like their entire generation, and the generations that will come after, they have never known a time when we have not been vulnerable to another attack.
The threat of fear has silently woven its way into our way of life, and the world will never be the same.
h3>Listen to how New Jersey 101.5 reported 9/11 as it happened
Eric Scott is New Jersey 101.5's senior political director with almost 30 years of experience covering the state's political scene. He is the anchor of "New Jersey's First News" every weekday morning at 5:30 on New Jersey 101.5.