Today I was supposed to be in Oklahoma City. I planned on it. The flight was arranged, the accommodations had been made, and unless a global pandemic change the entire landscape, I was set to go…
You see, 25 years ago today, another event changed the way we see the world. It was on this anniversary that two Americans decided that it would be a good idea to drive rental trucks filled with explosive fertilizer and blow up the Alfred P Murrah Federal building in downtown OKC .
I was a morning radio host along with my partner Bob Campbell on KJ-103. It was a Top 40 music program with all the zaniness that one would expect from a radio show in the mid 90s.
But April 19th, 1995 was going to be different.
It started out the same, walking in to 50 Penn Place taking the elevator to the studio and not thinking anything but getting to the coffee machine. Songs were played, jokes were made, and traffic and weather always seemed to come together.
We made it through the show and at 9am, we started the last hour. It was 2 minutes later that there was a sound that didn’t emanate from our speakers.
The Murrah building was about five miles from our studios, but the explosion sounded like a jet was making a fly-by past our building. It shook the windows and rattled the walls.
From the 10th floor we could see huge billows of black smoke rising from downtown, but we had no idea what the reason was for it.
A co-worker happened to be downtown near the explosion and was able to call us for a live report. He told us and our listeners that the explosion had obliterated about half of the building. At the time he could only speculate that it was a gas line explosion. No one could even imagine at the time anything more complex or devious.
About twenty minutes later, we were shocked to see that there were FBI agents coming into the studio with full flak gear. They instructed us to evacuate the building.
We didn’t know this at the time, but the bomber intended the blast to be retribution for the FBI’s attack on Waco and Ruby Ridge. What the terrorist did not realize was that the FBI was not in the Federal building in downtown but was located only one floor above our radio studio.
After the building was safely evacuated, my co-workers and I met up at a local Denny’s to make sure everyone was okay and to go over the events of the morning.
When the authorities gave the all clear to reenter the building, it was our morning show that was the first to enter at 6am the following morning. The nervousness was palpable. Every time we saw a white box truck pass by 10 floors below, we wondered if they had an ulterior motive.
As we got back on the air, going back to our wacky, zany morning show was not an option. We didn’t play music and we wouldn’t for a very long time. We took calls from our listeners to hear what they were going through, what they experienced. People finding out what they could do to help. Figuring out what the first responders needed. We had local authorities on the air to give assurances that everything was being done and what was happening on a city, state and national level.
The calls that touched me the most, were the people calling in to tell us about people that they were trying to find or knew that they had already lost. From the people just going to work like any other day to the children in the day care, it was such a senseless act of violence.
The people of Oklahoma City and the the entire state were my true beacon of hope. From the first responders to the everyday people just wanting to help in any way they could.
I have wanted to go back and visit the memorial so many time over the past 25 years, unfortunately life pulls you in a thousand different directions. I often think about my time in that wonderful city and I know that I will get back there soon. I want to be able to remember the people that we lost on that tragic day, but also to honor the wonderful people that carried on their legacy.
I will never forget.