January 27, 1997
A Super Zany Weekend
It’s certainly not every weekend which begins with someone threatening to blow up your workplace. But as I drove to work on Saturday, January 25th, that’s just the situation I faced.
Let me set the scene for you. I spent a peaceful Saturday morning, geeking out on the computer with my brother Morgan. Why were we geeking? Long story short, he’s in San Jose, I’m in Studio City, and we’re playing SimCity 2000 Network Edition against each other. ‘Nuff said. I finally tear myself away from our urban masterpiece, and head out for my 12:30pm call time at KCAL-TV. On a normal day, I’d rock out, listening to a tape or the radio. But this was another in the long line of unending, overcast, rainy, cloudy, moist-damp-and-wet days that we’ve been having all winter. So, figures I, I’d best tune in my local radio traffic report to make sure it’s smooth sailing on the 101.
Here, roughly, is the sequence of events:
Radio Guy: "12:18 now, let’s check traffic and weather together, every six minutes, on KNX-1070, here’s Doug Dunlap." (Or some other traffic shmoe.)
Traffic Guy: "Okay, Bob, (again, the anchor may not have been named "Bob," but most radio newsmen are, so this seems like a safe bet), still working that huge traffic tie up in Hollywood …
Me: (thinking) "Uh-oh, I’m headed to Hollywood …"
Traffic Guy: "… where there’s a major problem on Melrose Avenue … "
Me: "Yikes! The station is on Melrose! Hopefully, the problem is far away …"
Traffic Guy: " …at the intersection of Gower …"
Me: "Oh my god, that’s exactly where I’m headed! Is there a big traffic accident, or … ?"
Traffic Guy: "… where a man is parked in front of the KCAL studios claiming to have 5,000 pounds of explosives in his truck."
Me: "Holy ____."
And thus began my first real Big News day in Los Angeles. Oh, sure, I was here for the Simpson criminal trial verdict, but that seemed so ordinary compared to this. Here was a guy who appeared willing to blow up KCAL, for whatever reason, and seemed willing to do so at any time! What’s the deal with that?
After finally hooking up with my KCAL collegues, we were then faced
with a chaotic sitaution at best, and a disasterous one at worst. Why,
of all the TV stations in the market, did this psycho pick KCAL as his
target? (In a later interview with his family, we found out it was because
they admired KCAL's reputation and integrity, along with our investigative
reports. It's probably just as well he didn't know our investigative reporter
Bill Gephardt had been let go in a particularly ugly round of budget cuts
by our new owners.)
Forced to flee from our station, we began a day of broadcasting with bailing wire, tape, helicopters and live trucks. Never before has one TV station so depended on the kindness of strangers. By early afternoon, we'd established a makeshift base of operations at a nearby production studio. Just getting on the air was challenge enough -- producing a product up to KCAL's usual standards was near impossible. But somehow, some way, we muddled through. By the time police arrested the man in the truck, it was getting close to our normal weekend showtime. CNN's Los Angeles bureau volunteered to let us use their computers and editing bays, so by 4:30 or so, we moved up to their facility on Sunset Boulvard, wrote and edited as fast as we could, then headed back to our "new" studios.
One wag generously noted the overall look of our show that night was very, very "Public Access" (Think "Wayne’s World"), while another said it was the best looking college newscast he’d ever been associated with. Okay, fine, it didn’t look pretty, but with breaking news in our own backyard, we did the best we could.
When it was all over, it was time for one of those big market moments. After the evacuation order was lifted (the man's truck was filled only with water drums, not explosives), and we finished the show, we headed back to our recently-threatened home studios on Melrose Avenue. Across the street, Patty, daughter of Lucy, of the famed "Lucy’s El Adobe" restaurant, had opened for a private party. KCAL survivors only, please. We eagerly cooked our own quesadillas, poured our own drinks (cherry Cokes for me), and celebrated the fact that in addition to not getting blown up, we had done a damn fine job of covering a very big story. And that was pretty cool.