It didn't matter that the format was usually talk, music or sports; on Tuesday, almost all of the country's 12,000 radio stations were news stations, providing wall-to-wall coverage of the terrorist attacks.
"It's similar to the Kennedy assassination and Pearl Harbor: Radio was there to provide immediacy and to link people together in common bond," said Chris Berry, ABC Radio's VP of News.
Most stations dropped their commercials. At New York's WINS(AM), which planned to remain commercial-free through the weekend, insiders estimate that the losses will be close to $500,000. Bonneville's WTOP(AM) Washington reinstated ads on Thursday after losing at least $100,000, according to station estimates. Many stations have carefully sorted through the spots, weeding out those that are "too upbeat" or had jingles. WTOP, for example, pulled a spot for the play The Vagina Monologues.
Some stations substituted public-service announcements for commercials or read informational commercials, such as how to make insurance claims or obtain emergency prescription refills.
Unionized staffs are getting overtime pay for working around the clock, which station execs say will be another huge cash drain.
New York and Washington stations sent their feeds to sister stations across the U.S.
"Our staff is sort of like the rescue workers," said Scott Herman, vice president and GM at WINS. "Sports guys are working sports angles. Our business guys have working on the impact on businesses. Everything is related to the story."
Radio networks, such as Westwood One and ABC Radio, assembled a menu of programming offerings for affiliates, from long-form reports and features to hourly updates. CBS Radio offered five updates an hour; CNNRadio, four an hour. In addition, CNNRadio and Fox News Radio had in-depth coverage. ABC Radio provided instant updates and a 7 p.m. long-form report.
Westwood One's Shadow Traffic service in New York used its traffic cameras to provide the TV networks some of the first video images of the World Trade Center attacks.