Anchors Ernie Anastos, Bill Ritter, and Chuck Scarborough Relive Their Most Difficult Professional Challenge–9/11

Despite working their famous calm exterior, some of New York’s veteran anchors endured emotional pain, tears, and a personal scare in covering that catastrophic Tuesday ten years ago.

The tragedy of 9/11, which of course started in the morning, was one of those rare breaking news stories when nighttime anchors were pressed into action.

One by one, the highest of high-profile anchors were on the air at the height of the disaster.

We begin our special Fishbowl series 9/11: New York Remembers by reexamining the 9/11 attacks with the Holy Trinity of New York anchors: Ernie Anastos, WNYW/Channel 5 (then with WCBS/Channel 2), Bill Ritter, WABC/Channel 7, and Chuck Scarborough, WNBC/Channel 4.

Bill Ritter, who lives in Manhattan, had the easiest trek to WABC’s Upper West Side studios. He got a call from his producer after the first plane struck the north tower at the World Trade Center. Even before knowing the full extent, Ritter was making his way to WABC.

Thanks to a short commute, Ritter (above, with Diana Williams during WABC’s 9/11 coverage) was on the air just after 10 a.m.—meaning he was describing to viewers as the second tower imploded.

“It felt so numb,” Ritter admits. “I can remember everything as though it were yesterday. And yet if I really think about it, it all sort of seems like one big fog.”

For Ernie Anastos, his typical morning routine pointed him to the unfolding tragedy.

“It was meant to be,” Anastos recalls. “I turned on that TV and—whoa!”

Once the second plane hit and it wasn’t just a horrible accident, Anastos called the WCBS news director who suggested that he hustle into work.

“I was really concerned, if I would be able to get to the studio,” Anastos says. “I was concerned because it was on the West Side.”

Not surprisingly, Anastos did find some road blocks getting into the city from his Westchester home. He still managed to get on the air before 11 a.m.

Chuck Scarborough, the legendary WNBC anchor, first got word of the crash from his sister-in-law. Her husband, and Chuck’s brother, Jeff was a veteran WNBC cameraman who headed to lower Manhattan with reporter Rob Morrison (now WCBS/Channel 2 morning anchor).

“It was perplexing,” Scarborough, a longtime commercial pilot, says.

But it would become much clearer after Scarborough (above, with WNBC co-anchors Sue Simmons and Jim Rosenfield on 9/11) showered. A second plane smacked into the second tower, and the magnitude of the sinister terrorist plot was growing by the moment.

Scarborough, like his anchor brethren, began his tenuous drive to 30 Rock from Connecticut.  His marathon day began after 11 a.m.

The iconic Channel 4 anchorman, though, was not informed that his brother was missing following the collapse of the towers. After shooting video of each tower imploding, Jeff Scarborough, reached at his Colorado home, told FishbowlNY that he was found by NBC personnel in a state of shock, barely able to speak.

Jeff was driven to the WNBC studio, a short time later, where he was reunited with his brother, Chuck (see video clip below). He would receive a citation from WNBC several years later for his work under duress.

But while Jeff, with Channel 4 for 27 years, was overtaken by the disaster, back uptown the imagery of a tower collapse was most difficult for the anchormen.

“The biggest challenge as a reporter, as an anchor [was] to be on the air during that time—wow, not easy,” Anastos says. “But it wasn’t near as difficult for me as it was for all those people who’d lost life.”

Prior to the towers tumbling down, Ritter recognized that they were nothing more than a fiery deathtrap.

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