Just as Mayor Giuliani provided a calming influence during the unthinkable events of 9/11, then-WNYW/Channel 5 Good Day New York anchor Jim Ryan had his patented easygoing demeanor to serve him well.
Good Day was in a commercial when the first plane slammed into the north tower at 8:46 a.m. By 8:48, WNYW cut away from a trailer for the movie Zoolander and went directly to political reporter Dick Oliver outside City Hall (watch the clip below). His location just blocks from the World Trade Center alerted viewers to the breaking news first, complete with an initial look at the smoldering north tower.
“Come back to me, come back to me!” Ryan recalls Oliver saying off-air. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center!” Before the news made its way to Ryan or viewers, executive producer Gail Yancosek had to make the call. “There’s some sense of urgency in Dick’s voice and I trust him,” Yancosek told her director. “Let me talk to Jimmy and the minute he’s ready to go, we’ll go.”
Ironically, Oliver was originally set up for his live primary day remote from the World Trade Center. “He had to get his signal from the World Trade Center and he was too close to it,” Ryan tells FishbowlNY.
As with all of the other TV and radio stations, it was instantly all hands on deck. Channel 5 went commercial-free for the remainder of the day. The Good Day talent, led by Ryan, Lyn Brown and weatherman Dave Price, stayed on the air for several hours.
“So began the day whose information was coming at you without a filter,” Price tells FishbowlNY. In those first hours, WNYW was flooded with calls asking about missing loved ones. “Put them through, I’ll talk to them,” Ryan told Yancosek, who today is executive in charge of production at CUNY-TV.
Furthermore, since the show was scheduled to end at 9 a.m., Ryan says Kai Simonsen, the helicopter reporter, who was back in New Jersey set to land, was turned back around toward lower Manhattan. Evening anchors John Roland and Rosanna Scotto were also part of the wall-to-wall coverage. Roland provided updates from the newsroom, while Scotto joined the team on set at 10:05 a.m.
“I was taking it easy at home when a friend called to say a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. My husband called soon after,” Scotto recalls. “He was working across the street from the World Trade Center and wanted to see if I knew anything further…We discussed that he was going to come home and pick up the kids at school, while I rushed to work.”
But it was Ryan who was the glue of Channel 5’s daytime coverage. “I got a sense of a deliberate effort on his part to remain calm,” Price says.
“I was the anchorman. It was my job to keep things going,” Ryan says. “The control room was a tremendous help because without them churning out ideas and providing interviews for us, it would have been [even more] difficult.”
Following the second plane slamming into the World Trade Center, Ryan wasted no time declaring it as a terrorist attack. “I remember yelling at him in his ear, ‘You can’t say that on TV,’ Yancosek admits. ‘We don’t know if that’s what this is. It could just be an accident.’”
But of course, with a plane hitting the Pentagon, and another in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, apparently also bound for Washington, it was clear that this was no mistake. As the morning wore on, Ryan says there were several times that he had to fight back the tears. “It was a very, very challenging day,” Ryan says.
Ryan, with Channel 5 since 1985 (and Good Day since 1988), says you get in the business to cover the big story. But he would have gladly traded it in for what was in front of his eyes on September 11. “On that particular day there was no sense of adrenaline,” Ryan admits. “It was just a sick feeling.”
Price would ultimately leave the friendly confines of WNYW’s Upper East Side studios for what was awaiting on the street. A former corporate human relations executive, Price became famous to viewers as the Good Day weatherman, before taking on the same role with WCBS/Channel 2, and most recently, CBS’ The Early Show. “That morning he showed he had every instinct as a reporter,” Ryan remembers. “All he wanted to do was get out there where the action was.”
Part of Price’s travels on 9/11 took him to the Javits Center, seeing many people drop off food and clothing. “I remember thinking, ‘This is New York. This is the New York that everyone says doesn’t exist,’” Price recalls.
More emotionally charged, Price went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a visit with then-Edward Cardinal Egan. He asked His Eminence—what do you say to people who will ask why did God let this happen? “Being in St. Patrick’s and being with a member of the clergy, the thick skin cracked there a little bit,” Price admits. “I’m not even sure I heard an answer.”
Back at the studio, Ryan got his own inspiration. In the confusion, moments following the attacks, Ryan’s wife, Emmie, instead of bringing their three-year-old daughter, Saoirse, to preschool in the city, opted for the safety of Channel 5—and daddy. “I had the comfort of knowing they were safe,” Ryan says.
Ryan and company remained on the air until around 4 p.m. when they were relieved by the evening anchors. “There must have been adrenaline flowing because we just kept going,” Ryan says. That adrenaline kept Price from “losing it” during his live interviews. But once the red light went off, it was a different story. “I left many of those interviews crying on the way back to the news truck,” Price admits.
Despite serving an important role for viewers, Price understands that others were the ones who truly made an impact. “All of these efforts, all of this activity was nothing compared to the effort of heroism of the first responders,” Price says.
As for Ryan, when his day finally ended, he headed across town to his West Side home. “I walked past the Sheep Meadow and there were people sitting out on the lawn enjoying a beautiful late summer day,” Ryan recalls. “I was thinking, ‘A tale of two cities’ … This idyllic setting in Central Park as compared to the chaos that was happening downtown. That struck me.”
As 9/11 unfolded, tomorrow a longtime TV anchor recalls rushing to get on air and alert viewers.