How Music Radio Reacted To 9/11
This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Charlie Schlenker talked with WGLT Audio Director Jon Norton about his recollections of that day 20 years ago. At the time, Norton was the operations manager for the Bloomington-Normal cluster of three stations under the umbrella of AAA Entertainment ... hip hop, classic hits, and a rocker.
Norton said he was dropping his daughter at daycare when the first plane hit the towers and he got to the station about the time the second hijacked airliner hit.
NORTON: We had a syndicated show out of Springfield playing on the rock station. It was playing in Peoria, Springfield, and in Bloomington-Normal. Ray Lytle was the host. He had one of his ‘man on the streets’ out there kind of making fun of the whole situation. And it was obvious he didn't know what was going on and didn't quite grasp the situation. We finally just went to music and explained to Peoria and Springfield why we did what did and that, you know, our country was under attack. It took about 10 minutes, I think. He came back on the air and then did seven of the most amazing hours of radio I've heard on rock radio … certainly in Bloomington-Normal. It was it was just amazing.
SCHLENKER: What was he doing?
NORTON: He took a tone that was unlike what he was normally doing … the whole shock jock thing. And he really showed how talented he was. He turned into some combination of reporter and more a Peter Jennings personality on the air. He talked to local people … took phone calls …
SCHLENKER: In the days following and weeks following, what was the response for music stations? How did they tweak their playlists?
NORTON: The most notable was Clear Channel (Communications, now iHeart Media) sending a memo to all of their music stations and probably even their talk stations with what was purportedly a ban on 164 particular songs. And if you talk to different Clear Channel people, you know, whether it was a ban … whether it was ‘this is strongly suggested’ and then internally if something from corporate says ‘it's strongly suggested’ you better follow it, but the list was out there. 164 songs supposedly that were banned post 9/11.
SCHLENKER: Were a couple of them obvious ones and others had scratchers? What kind of songs?
NORTON: Yes, and yes. The obvious ones, “I Feel Safe in New York City," AC/DC had just released that song I think within last few months or certainly relatively close to 9/11. And that was pretty obvious that shouldn't be played.
SCHLENKER: Did it affect the trajectory of that song?
NORTON: Oh, absolutely. It was done immediately. Yeah, it was it was done as a current. Absolutely.
SCHLENKER: What other songs were you thinking of?
NORTON: Well, the other obvious one was the group Drowning Pool. The song was called “Bodies.” The song starts (whispers) “when the bodies hit the floor, when the bodies at the floor.”
SCHLENKER: And again, not sensitive in context.
NORTON: Yeah. At AAA we didn't take that same tact as Clear Channel. There were some songs … those were two notable ones … that yeah, needs to go out at least for a while.
SCHLENKER: What songs were removed that probably didn't need to be removed?
NORTON: Well, it's interesting … All songs by Rage Against the Machine were pulled because they were seen as anti-American. That … the “machine” being capitalism and/or government oppression is the whole idea behind Rage. Alanis Morrissette's “Isn't it Ironic” was apparently on that list. Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” was on that list. I was unclear if that was because Cat is/was a Muslim, or if “Peace” Train wasn't something they wanted. I was unclear.
There were some Beatles songs on that list. “Ticket to Ride,” “Day in the Life,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” The Bangles “Walk Like an Egyptian.” I'm guessing because it was a Middle Eastern reference. It's pretty weak. Bruce Springsteen's version of Edwin Starr’s “War” was on that list. You know, “war, what it is good for, absolutely nothing.” Remember the old Youngbloods song from the late 60s you see in every movie that goes back to the 60s? “Get Together” by the Youngbloods? “Come on people, smile on your brother,” you know, it's a peace song. It's interesting that made that list.
SCHLENKER: In hindsight, was some of that OK to do for just for the moment, the historical moment?
NORTON: You know, it's easy to say now that Clear Channel especially overreacted. But in the moment, emotions were so high. And we didn't have a template for this. I think it was wise to take some of those songs out, obviously, some of the ones we've talked about. Others … Yeah, in hindsight, it appears they absolutely overreacted to that. And yet it could almost be construed as that. You know, they were eschewing songs about peace, like they were taking a stance.