Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and Microsoft mogul Bill Gates were about to discover what real power is.
Schell and Gates were separately, but simultaneously, holding court before TV cameras-Schell to discuss the previous day's Mardi Gras riots, Gates to address an educational symposium at a Westin hotel ballroom-when the 6.8 earthquake hit.
Both scenes provided dramatic footage for local audiences at KIRO-TV , as well as national cable and network audiences.
Viewers saw chandeliers shaking and attendees exiting at the Westin. Meanwhile at the mayor's conference, KIRO-TV reporter Brian Wood was shouting for his newsroom to "come to me" live.
News crews all over the city were dropping their assignments to go live with shots of quake damage and seismology reports. "Nobody did a planned story all day," said KIRO-TV News Director Bill Lord.
"Everybody was told to get out of the building, although some news people stayed," said Dave Lougee, who was news director at KING-TV before becoming general manager. Within minutes, "all the news and operations people ran back in and on the air. It's more than just an adrenaline rush," he added, praising all the Seattle broadcast news media already exhausted from covering riots late the previous night. "Everybody knows they have an enormous public service to fulfill. ... Everybody got vital information on quickly."
KOMO-TV , the ABC affiliate, had problems briefly with powering its satellite feed, prompting ABC to ask KIRO-TV for the use of its video. K IRO-TV refused and also refused to give NBC permission to use footage of the Gates conference on Nightly News. The network, citing fair-use doctrine, used a few seconds anyway.
NBC affiliate KING-TV did not give Fox News Channel permission to use its footage, but Fox said the footage it used came courtesy of Northwest Cable which, like KING-TV, is owned by Belo. It also used footage from ABC affiliate KOMO-TV and Fox affiliate KCPQ(TV) .
"At about 11 seconds into the quake," said KOMO-TV News Director Joe Barnes, "I rushed into the newsroom and said, 'Get on the air!' We were just minutes away from our 11:00 news anyway."
Even with his relatively small staff, KCPQ's Todd Makhtari quickly got his station's three trucks on the road, soon joined by trucks borrowed from Fox and more flown in by station owner Tribune, along with reporters and photographers. "We had Chinese food brought in for dinner," Makhtari said. "My fortune said, 'Idleness is the holiday of fools.'"
Washington's first earthquake in more than 50 years rattled some radio stations more than others. Seattle's unscathed KISW(FM) played songs like You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC. Other stations, among them Olympia's KGY(AM) , rose above their broken recorders and computers to cover the drama.
At KGY, the station contended with a burst hot-water tank and damaged equipment. Citizens, including Washington's secretary of state, walked in or called up to report how they dealt with the quake.
- P. Llanor Alleyne contributed to this story