Radio stations around the world Friday dropped their usual programming for a few minutes for a simultaneous Good Friday broadcast of "We Are the World," the enormously popular pop song aimed at helping African famine relief efforts.
Before the broadcast, at 10:50 a.m. EST, organizers said stations in at least 25 countries and Muzak--playing a voice for only the second time--would play the song by 46 American artists.
The cable rock channel MTV also joined in, along with Voice of America and Armed Services Radio. The Associated Press Radio Network transmitted the song over its network line to some 1,100 stations around the country.
At President Reagan's request, Air Force One picked up a radio signal playing the song, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said. Reagan had never heard the song before, but was moved as he listened to it, Speakes said.
"We'll have 5,000 stations playing it, and that's a conservative estimate," said one of the organizers, Harvey Melnick, director of marketing for Radio and Records magazine, before the broadcast. "This has turned into a radio phenomenon, with stations banding together in the hope that millions more dollars will be raised to fight hunger."
Several hundred people sang along with "We Are the World" on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
There were cheers when the song started, and during the line, "We stand together as one," members of the crowd pointed their index fingers to the sky. They then clasped hands and raised their arms.
When the song was over, they sang choruses without music. "One more for the people who couldn't be here," yelled Dan Daniel, disc jockey at WYNY.
At least 21 stations in the New York City area played the song, along with some 90% of the stations in the District of Columbia.
"It has been colossal. I have never heard anything like it before. I was tuning up and down the dial and heard it," said Ron Chapman, program manager of KVIL in Dallas.
In Richmond, Va., radio station WRVQ broadcast from outside City Hall and encouraged listeners to congregate there while the song was played. The two disc jockeys at City Hall estimated at least 800 people turned out, said Treeda Smith, station news director.
"You can feel the electricity," said Mark Van Wagoner of station KSL-AM in Salt Lake City. "I mean, how many times do we get together for one common purpose."
At least 12 Michigan stations played the song. "We got about 20 to 25 calls from people saying 'Thank you for playing it,"' said Dick Purtan of WCZY-FM in Detroit.
Muzak, which pipes background music into 110,000 offices, shops and factories around the country, broadcast a human voice only once before, spokesman Charles Furlong said. The first time was to announce the release of American hostages from Iran in 1981.
Muzak reaches about 80 million Americans daily through satellite transmissions to more than 200 ground stations around the U.S., Furlong said. "We saw this as a way to double or triple the number of people we can reach" with the famine relief song, he said.
Muzak is owned by Group W Broadcasting, a subsidiary of Westinghouse Electric Corp., and Furlong said Group W's 11 radio stations agreed to participate in the airing along with several other major networks.
The Good Friday broadcast was started by stations in Georgia and Utah.
Recorded by U.S. artists after last month's American Music Awards show, "We Are the World" has netted an estimated $8 million for the USA for Africa relief fund, a nonprofit organization founded by the singers.
Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Billy Joel, Dionne Warwick, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Ray Charles were among the 46 singers who participated. Jackson and Richie wrote the song.