John Montone is a longtime morning mainstay at 1010 WINS. He is most associated with his “person on the street” interviews that allow him some license. Montone can have some fun finding the quirky, off-beat slices of humanity.
However, without missing a beat, when developments, warrant Montone gets serious, jumping into breaking news mode. News was at its most serious on Sept. 11, 2001, as we continue with our special series “9/11: New York Remembers.”
The biggest story prior to 8:46 a.m. was Primary Day in New York City. Montone worked that story from the Upper East Side. After going live, Montone was in the process of filing his taped reports. He was paged by the station that a “small plane” hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center.Even if initial reports were accurate, Montone knew it was still a big story.
“I immediately start driving down York [Avenue] and on to the F.D.R. [Drive] where I did notice some ambulances were screaming down south too,” Montone tells FishbowlNY. “So I kind of got behind them.”
As he got close to the scene, listening to WINS, a second plane (now known to be jetliners) hit the other tower. “It became pretty obvious to me that we were under attack,” Montone says. “Large planes just don’t fly into the two towers coincidentally.”
He says knowing what was developing sent a “temporary shiver” through him, but as a professional newsman Montone “blocked everything else out.” Montone says the enormity of the story made it very difficult to cover. “It was much too big to really get your mind around.”
Montone eventually parked his truck on Broadway, a couple of blocks away from the destruction. Unlike most others, with recorder and cell phone in hand, he was running toward the devastation.
His cell phone was rendered useless. So Montone, who had spoken to several people as they evacuated, ran back to his vehicle to call the station from his car phone, which also wasn’t connecting.
His last chance at getting on the air was to find a pay phone. He went to a record store near City Hall where he was a regular customer and they gave him a landline. Montone went live, complete with tape from others.
Then Montone took off to get closer to the World Trade Center. He stopped by the Century 21 department store where he spoke to the doorman. “Shit’s falling.” the man said as he grabbed Montone, who later realized that the man was referring to people jumping from the burning towers.
As he saw the black smoke billowing, Montone thought to himself, “Look what these sons-of-bitches have done to us.” But with no time to ruminate, Montone had to describe the scene for WINS listeners. He noticed a “mob” gathering on Broadway. So he made his way to gather audio for the next live update.
“As I was running up, there was a line of firefighters going in,” Montone recalls. “I didn’t give it any thought at the time. But, of course, many of those young guys were killed. They were going into something that everyone else was running away from.”
As he got to Broadway, Montone found more people who were ready to talk. “I was interviewing a woman when she screamed, ‘It’s coming down!’ In my mind’s eye, I thought of the building just toppling over,” Montone reflects. “I looked, it was a matter of a second, but it was kind of a whooshing sound. I can only say it was like being under a great wave, but it was dry. The building had just disintegrated.”
Montone, in an effort to get the story, was now completely covered in ash. Following the collapse, Montone got pushed, by momentum from the crowd, into a building with an entrance on Broadway and Nassau Street.
As the building started to fill with the smokey toxins, people were coughing and choking. Montone finally emerged hoping to see the beautiful, sunny day.“But what I saw instead reminded me of nuclear winter,” Montone recalls. “Ash was falling all over, and you couldn’t see the sky.”
That left everyone disoriented.“People were walking around almost in circles, like they were lost, like they didn’t know where to go,” Montone says. Still, with a job to do, it was at that time Montone realized the recent scrum left him without a tape recorder.
“I still have a story to tell here,” Montone recalls. “I tried to get a pay phone, [but] there were just lines [for] the pay phones.” Montone, though, was beginning to suffer breathing problems.
On a nearby side street, Montone found his pay phone—or so he thought—in a Burger King. “I was telling them who I was and why I needed a phone. The woman said, ‘Honey, you don’t need a phone, you need water,’” Montone says. “She made me drink the water and essentially throw all the stuff out of me.”
After cleansing himself, Montone began his quest for another pay phone. He connected with someone who worked at an office building near South Street. With an elusive phone in hand, Montone had another three or four live reports.
By that time, around 11:30 a.m., several reporters had joined WINS coverage. “It was very tough for me to talk,” Montone says. “I had all this [stuff] in me that was still coming out.” Montone says breathing problems persisted for some time after 9/11.
“I’m not sure. I’ve had some sinus issues; maybe it can be attributed to that,” Montone says. “I don’t know what the long term effects are. I guess I try not to think of it.”
The bigger issue for Montone was the emotional effects of dealing with that tragic day. “[I’ve had] a lot of bad, bad dreams of planes hitting buildings,” Montone admits. “Waking up suddenly in the middle of the night went on for a few months.”
But another memory of that horrific day sticks with Montone 10 years later—those firefighters marching into the scorched towers. “Because so many of them died, and I’ve met so many of their parents and their brothers over the years… These young guys, a few hours away from kissing their wives goodbye, their kids goodbye, probably with plans for the next day and the rest of their lives.”