Late yesterday afternoon, while watching the NFL RedZone channel, I heard what sounded like a smoke alarm going off on the set. Moments later, host Scott Hanson interrupted his coverage of the Bills-Eagles game — at a crucial juncture — to announce:
We have an alarm going off in the studios of NFL RedZone right now, in our studios here in Inglewood, California. We are being told we need to evacuate the building. We do not know the nature of the emergency…. The control room needs to evacuate at this time. The studio, in which I’m standing, needs to evacuate at this time. We are all good right now. We are remaining calm but we are following protocol.
The crew kept the game feed on the air and after a couple of minutes Hanson tweeted:
Well, that was…. interesting. Alarm has stopped. Apparently all clear. Still waiting on details.
It turned out to be a false alarm — no fire, no smoke, no problem.
The whole thing reminded me of an incident I lived through at WCXR/Washington in the late 1980s. I was doing the morning show, and the rest of the station staff would wander in around 8am for sales meetings or to get to their desks to begin the day. Many of them would stop by the studio to say hello or share some small talk during commercial breaks.
On this particular day, I noticed that several of my colleagues were walking out the door around 8:30am. After a few minutes, I sent Karin, my intern, down the hall to find out what was going on, and she reported back that there was no one else in the station. I looked out the studio window at the courtyard three floors below, where I saw all of our radio colleagues, along with a couple of hundred other people who worked in neighboring offices.
It turned out that the fire alarms had gone off in the building, and everyone had evacuated. I had a crew of ten people working on the show at the time, and none of us had heard anything in our soundproof studio — and no one down the hall had thought to come in to let us know the building might be aflame.
We didn’t panic, assuming it was yet another false alarm. Instead, we stayed in the studio and talked about our situation on the air. I ran the show in such a way that we tried to share everything with our audience, and everyone on my show had my permission to say anything they wanted at any time — and they did.
My sports guy, Dave, joked that this proved what he’d thought all along — that we were the least important members of the staff. John, the news guy, disagreed, saying that this proved we were so valuable to the station that they wouldn’t dare pull us off the air. Dan, the deep-voiced production god, said the sales manager probably wanted to make sure we didn’t miss any commercials because we were so sold out they’d never be able to make them up. My producer, Leigh, decided she was going to put together an emergency tape that played “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” over and over again in case we ever did have to abandon the studio. Karin joked that catching fire was not the way she wanted to earn college credit. The traffic reporter, Victoria, worried that, if we did go up in flames, there would be no one to report on the inevitable backups on the main street in front of our building. Listeners called in to share similar circumstances that had happened at their jobs.
I assured everyone that not only were we safe, but we’d come out of this as winners, because I was going to demand that management give us hazard pay for working in these conditions. Then I played all three minutes of Arthur Brown’s “Fire.”
When it turned out indeed to be a false alarm, the rest of the staff returned to the station. The General Manager poked his head in the studio door to make sure we were all okay, then apologized for the lack of communication, promising to have the engineer install a red light in the studio that would flash the next time the fire alarms went off in the building. He eventually did, but there were no more alarms, so the beacon never did light up and we never had to abandon the show.
Then the Program Director popped in to say, “Sorry about that. By the way, I didn’t even know we had Arthur Brown in the music library!”