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The Insider

Sep 24, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Of patron saints, hindsight, and looking forward
If indeed New York station WCBS-TV’s star has risen from the ashes of the World Trade Center, it will not be simply because the station threw itself into the story. If Peter Lund had not been convinced that the expense of a backup transmitter at the Empire State Building was worth fighting for-on two different occasions-WCBS likely would have found itself in the same situation as its local competitors: doing technical triage after the World Trade Center tower collapsed killing seven local station engineers, destroying those stations’ analog transmitters and effectively knocking them off the air in New York.
Though the other stations continued to be received by cable subscribers, WCBS had no or minimal English-language competition among the 25 percent or so of the New York market that is not cabled. Suddenly, through an apocalyptic tragedy and a series of the bitterest ironies, a station that couldn’t get out of deep last place- and couldn’t get as much as a single ratings point with early morning newscasts-suddenly was doing double-digit ratings and shares.
Until the `80s, all New York stations transmitted from the Empire State Building. Then they moved to the much taller World Trade Center. In 1984, when WCBS’s lease on the Empire State Building space was set to expire, Mr. Lund, as the station’s general manager, argued to network bosses that the expense of maintaining a backup transmitter on the old site was worthwhile.
The argument was replayed after Westinghouse bought CBS in 1995. This time, Mr. Lund was network president, and the Westinghouse owners had to reconcile “a significant amount of debt” and the promise to Wall Street to “wring” all the synergy-driven savings they could out of the stations.
“Reasonable men could disagree comfortably about the need for an expensive transmitter at the Empire State Building,” said Mr. Lund, who himself had been convinced of the need by tech types at the CBS flagship station. “There is a patron saint of the backup transmitter some place in the engineering department at Channel 2,” Mr. Lund said. “It’s serendipitous, isn’t it?”
Lest someone suspect Mr. Lund of nominating himself for patron sainthood, The Insider wants to point out that she, being old enough to remember such things, went looking for Mr. Lund, not the other way around.
A different kind of drive
A number of odd bedfellows were spawned in New York after Sept. 11 as task forces and emergency management teams set up bases, and as firms and individuals who’d lost whole offices at the World Trade Center or near ground zero borrowed friends’ offices and conference rooms.
Cops and investigators from multiple investigative agencies have swarmed the Chelsea Markets, a nouveau-quaint shopping and office complex in a building that has a lot of history, whose primary tenant is estrogen-driven Oxygen. Oxygen had two technicians tending its equipment at the World Trade Center. They got out safely. The equipment did not survive. In the days after the terrorist attack, Oxygen’s Chelsea Markets location functioned as a collection site for relief supplies and a feeding site for volunteers.
Meanwhile at Times Square, the World Wrestling Federation restaurant and entertainment complex became a “safe haven and home base” for rescue workers. The ongoing corporate effort would range from public service announcements in support of the Red Cross to a tractor-trailer stuffed with supplies needed by and dispatched to relief workers. Further north, on the fringes of Central Park, the nation’s most powerful and prolific public broadcasting station, WNET-TV, became a busy outpost for the city’s office of emergency management for a simple reason: An absurd number of phone lines easily activated, ordinarily for pledge drives. Last week, said a WNET spokeswoman, about a hundred people a day were taking calls. They would be welcome, said the station, “as long as they need to be here.”
`This is the world we live in’
Anchors, reporters and producers at CNBC and CNNfn felt particularly acute shock and grief because the attack tore a gaping hole in the world they cover. “We lost a lot of regulars,” said a spokeswoman for CNNfn. “This is the world we live in … many of the people we work with were directly affected,” said a spokesman for CNBC. Like so many other companies, CNBC helped contribute to volunteer and charity efforts. On Sunday, the channel provided four hours of airtime to the financial community, which was returning to operation the following day. But, throughout, said the spokesman, “We’re trying to do some personal things to help our people day to day.” CNNfn staffers, like those in CNN’s New York newsroom, have access to grief counselors and massage therapists. They also get frequent reminders from management that post-traumatic stress is a real thing and that they need to take advantage of the support being offered because “we need everyone to be healthy.”
In memoriam
News Corp. donated $100,000 and pledged to match, dollar for dollar, any employee contribution to a fund in memory of Tom Pecorelli, a Fox Sports Net cameraman who was aboard one of the hijacked flights and whose widow Kia is pregnant with their first child. Contributions can be sent to Memorial Fund for the Benefit of Kia Payloff, c/o Bruce Brar, Washington Mutual, 22001 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA, 91346.