The week in audio: 9/12; StoryCast 21: 9/11 Janice Brooks: Inside the South Tower and more
Today is the 20th anniversary of 9/11 – planes smashing into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, George Bush reading to infants, the sudden, horrifying collapse of the twin towers, the terrible dust. Two decades on, there were a few retrospective programmes – though not perhaps as many as you might have expected. Radio 4 contented itself with a 45-minute roundtable discussion.
Of course, even if there had been no anniversary programmes at all, we’d remember 9/11. But how would we remember it – and why? 9/12 attempts to understand. Hosted by the journalist Dan Taberski, familiar to many from Missing Richard Simmons, this podcast looks at the morning(s) after the night before: the consequences, immediate and far-reaching, of al-Qaida’s outrageous attack. Not the political results, more the ripple effect of 9/11 on US culture. How it changed the way Americans approached their lives. Their reaction. The societal aftermath.
Taberski is a warm, shrewd interviewer, and impeccable presenter, and the shows build into an aural essay, broken up into episodes. He worries away at the idea we have of 9/11, rather than the actual events. We hear from those who weren’t affected at the time (they were at sea for a reality show, cut off from the media for months). Do you need an image to understand such an event? Also: when are you allowed to make jokes about it? The writers of satirical newspaper the Onion had to put out an issue the same week as the attacks, but how could they be funny? (They managed.) We also hear how 9/11 led to one woman signing up for the US navy, and another man siding with the terrorists. How conspiracy theories blossomed and evolved. And how, in the following months, US Muslims were asked to present themselves to the local authorities, and then taken into custody for no reason at all. “It was as if I’d moved to a new country,” said one woman. “That’s how it felt.”
I especially enjoyed the Jon Ronson-esque fifth episode, A Failure of Imagination, which concerns the CIA asking Hollywood to help work out what the terrorists might do next. Just a few weeks after 9/11, film directors such as Oliver Stone and Spike Jonze, plus the screenwriters of CSI and Die Hard and loads of other creatives, all gathered in rooms to bat around bad-guy ideas, to imagine how more attacks could take place. Later, they were asked to test security systems by actually playing the bad guys themselves: “Your target is the Washington monument, your mission is to blow it up, you will put an orange sticker on it to show you were there.” The last episode is exceptional: Taberski’s personal take on what “never forget” actually means, what it is that makes a memorial, and why we might want one.
Janice Brooks’s 9/11 story is far more straightforward. It makes up episode 13 of Sky News podcast StoryCast 21, which showcases personal tales from big news events. Some of the previous episodes have seemed a bit off-beam – there’s one about the “biker wars” of the Midlands: me neither – but this episode is a coup. Brooks was in the south tower when the planes crashed, and she simply tells her tale, explosion by explosion, step by step, minute by terrifying minute. We don’t hear anyone else. The detail is searing, the images vivid.
Brooks, from the East End of London, is so very normal, so able and straight, and you live every moment with her. She starts off steady, but is in floods of tears by the end. She doesn’t have the luxury of wondering why we remember 9/11, or whether we’re remembering in the right way: even now, she gets terrifying flashbacks.
This week was Shaun Keaveny’s final one as the host of 6 Music’s afternoon show: what a shame it is to lose him. I was sad when Annie Mac and Grimmy left Radio 1 recently – both such warm presenters, who wear their knowledge and wit lightly – but they left because they wanted to, deeming it time to move on. You sense that Keaveny has been pushed, rather than happily skipping off into the sunset (or on to Absolute Radio: he’s narrating the funny, Jon Holmes-scripted Rockanory, which features apocryphal rock stories – so far, Status Quo and a dead kangaroo. He also has a new podcast, The Line-Up, where he interviews stars about their ideal festival lineup.). Keaveny’s little Twitter videos this week – “last ever Friendly Fires spin” – have been touching.
His afternoon replacement, Craig Charles, is good at his job, but he’s far less identifiably 6 Music – Charles’s funk and soul-based show could appear on many other stations. Indeed, he’s already a Saturday night regular on Radio 2. Really, this is such an odd move by 6 Music. Was it made because Charles’s show is broadcast from Salford and the BBC has made a commitment to more shows coming from outside London? Putting location before listeners: the BBC moves in mysterious ways. No doubt everything will settle down, as it always does, but Keaveny will be very missed.