Wednesday, 7 July 2010

5 Years On...

It’s 5 years ago today that terrorists attacked London.

I remember that day really well... getting on the Bakerloo Underground line at around 8am, passing through Edgware Road, to hop over to Piccadilly Circus and then the short walk up to Leicester Square, where I was working at Capital FM as Programme Director. It was a beautiful day and London was on a high after just being awarded the 2012 Olympics the day before.

I was in the radio station around 8:30am and was preparing for the day ahead. I wondered over to the newsroom just before 9am, where the news editor at the time, Matthew Schofield, was looking a little concerned. He’d just had reports in of smoke being seen coming from an underground station. At first it was thought to be an electrical fault, with a related fire, but as the minutes slowly ticked by, the true horror of that day slowly started to unfold.

As the nature of what was happening became apparent, the whole team at the station swung into action with a kind of reflex that is shown at times of crisis by true radio professionals. Reporters dispatched themselves across London, taking considerable risks, as no-one was aware of the extent of the threat at that stage. Were there more bombs to come? No one knew.

Within minutes we had correspondents live at various different points across the capital feeding eye witness information and describing minute by minute, what was happening. Then the listeners kicked in with their stories... and they were a massive help in piecing together what was a jumble of facts and rumour at that stage. Every available team member was answering phones, recording, editing, putting calls through to the studio. It was an amazing sight. The whole programming staff felt the gravity of the situation, knew this was unchartered water, but at the same time instinctively knew what to do. It was incredible to be a part of.

Here’s an extract from the day, quite early on in the morning, with one eye-witness describing the scene of the explosion on the bus;


And at 10:30am, Capital FM went ‘all speech’ and simulcast with other London stations Xfm, Choice FM and Capital Gold, as the need to provide Londoners with the best possible information regarding a very fast-changing situation became the over-riding concern.

From then on until 8pm, there was nothing but news. No music, no ads, no interruptions, just a constant flow of information as the facts started to emerge. It was the only thing to do, and throughout the day we even got reports of the emergency services on the ground, not knowing the full extent of the attack, sitting in their vehicles tuned into Capital for the very latest. That day, it felt we had a really important role to play, and the sense of responsibility became very tangible. It’s a very different feeling to playing pop records, I can assure you.

For days following the terrorist attacks, we received a huge amount of emails and calls praising the coverage. That’s a very humbling experience when you realise you’ve done something that has helped people enormously at a time of real panic across a city, and something you don’t get every day if you work in a commercial radio station.

I remember one email in particular. It was from a woman who was working in the centre of London. She’d been using the Underground only minutes before the attacks and this had really shook her up. For hours, she couldn’t reach her boyfriend who was also working in the centre of London, because the mobile phone system went into meltdown.

She stayed glued to the radio all morning to hear what was going on. Eventually they made contact and he was OK, and had made his was back out of the centre of London and headed home. As all the transport was down for the rest of the day, there was an enormous exodus of people on foot heading out of the West End in the afternoon , crossing the bridges, looking for a way back home.

This particular women said she had to walk for several miles, but fortunately she had a portable radio with her and plugged her headphones in to keep listening to Capital on the long walk back. She still felt frightened, shocked and very confused as to why this had happened, but in her email thanking us for the coverage, she paid a lovely compliment. She said that walking home listening to Capital was like “walking home with a friend”.

So 5 years on, not only do I pause to remember the 52 innocent people who lost their lives in the attacks, but I also remember with great pride the hard work done by a really dedicated team of radio professionals at Capital FM who kept London informed at a time when information was the thing listeners strived for most.

I felt the true power of radio that day.

The Programming team on July 7th 2005 consisted of...

News Editor: Matthew Schofield
Content Directors: Sheena Mason, Annie O’ Neill and myself
Producers: Nathan Freeman, Stephen MacKay, Becky Rogers, Jamie Scott, Richard Spencer, Rich Steel & Jo Stoller
Presenters: Richard Bacon, Neil Bentley, James Cannon, Gareth Roberts and Matthew Schofield
Reporters: Hugh Broom, Paddy Bunce, Tracey Spurrier and Margherita Taylor
Journalists: Olly Barratt, James Keates, Andre Morgan, Debbie Ramsay and Tony Shepherd


Matthew Schofield said...

Just read this on eRadio - really nice post Nik, thank you.

I doubt any of us who were involved in that incredible team effort will ever face such a challenge again.

But looking back, I think what makes me proudest of all was that we exceeded our listeners' - and the industry's - expectations.

No-one would ever have expected Capital to go all speech for 9 hours but, as you say, it just seemed the right thing to do.

Nik Goodman said...

Thanks Matt.

Your instincts took over, and you made lots of great decisions on that day.

Exceeding expectations - we always try to do it, but it's harder than it sounds! But I agree - we managed to achieve it on that day.