"We had just finished a comedy break, and we were playing commercials when we felt the rumble," recalled Brien Phelps, part of KLOS's (95.5) new morning broadcast team, which three weeks ago came to Los Angeles from Birmingham, Ala. "Literally, the sound board looked like an ocean wave."
His disc jockey partner Mark Thompson said that just for a moment after Thursday's earthquake, he thought about leaving his booth and going home to his wife and 10-month-old son in Northridge. But he didn't. On Thompson's way home later Thursday, he replayed their program's tape in his car. "During the first few breaks, we did inject humor, but as the morning progressed, we grew more serious."
KIIS's (102.7) Rick Dees, who was on the 11th floor of a Sunset Boulevard building, began playing the Commodores' "Brick House" when the quake hit. "I started shaking. Normally, when there have been little tremors, I say to the listeners, 'Now, if you don't get out of bed, I'm going to do that again.' This time, I thought it was the end of life as we know it today."
Until Dees reviewed the show's tape after 10 a.m., he did not recall what he said on the air. "I was calmer than I thought I would be. I said, 'OK, this is an earthquake. . . .' The problem was that in my mind I did not know what intensity level it (the earthquake) was going to be, and that translates into pure fear."
Dees suspended his regular show--as he did for the Challenger space shuttle disaster in January, 1986--and started giving out information.
"If I were going to predict what I was going to do," he said nearly six hours after the quake, his voice still shaking, "I'd run like hell, but I guess I passed the litmus test."
Around town, disc jockeys stayed at their stations.
When the quake hit, the normally lighthearted and flip-sided on-air personalities were the first voice that the city heard. Some spoke with humor, others grew more serious, some immediately took listener calls, while others, such as Gary Owens and Al Lohman at KFI-AM (640), ducked under their desk as the quake knocked the station off the air for 15 seconds.
"Lohman and I looked at each other, we felt the rumble, and we saw the little spindles that hold the records falling out," Owens said. "The sound monitors were all shaking, so we ducked."
Back on the air again, the two veteran radio personalities put on instrumental music as a way to calm the nerves of listeners--and perhaps their own--and then took calls.
At KPWR (105.9), Jay Thomas said the station was in the middle of playing Madonna's "Causing a Commotion."
"Everyone in the building began screaming like banshees. I knew to stand in the doorway along with eight or nine other people," Thomas said, adding that when he went back on the air he decided to inject some humor. "I said, 'You are not having a great sexual experience.' "
The next song they played was Prince's "Housequake," he said.