San Francisco's killer earthquake sent a televised jolt throughout the nation Tuesday as the three major networks and CNN scrambled to send live and videotape reports from the scene.
For network news staffs, it was controlled pandemonium. At times CNN augmented its own coverage with video feeds from three stations, all of whom it credited on the air. The stations were independent KTVU-TV and two NBC affiliates, KCRA-TV in Sacramento and KRON-TV in San Francisco.Because ABC had planned to air the third game of the World Series from Candlestick Park, it had the largest staff and the most electronic gear at the scene. With all-sports ESPN, which it co-owns, it aired some of the widest, earliest live and taped video coverage of the quake's aftermath.
The ABC Sports blimp provided early live and taped aerial pictures of a one-block fire in San Francisco, a shattered highway, and the broken upper section of the Bay Bridge. ABC Sports reporter Al Michaels, at an ABC control truck at Candlestick Park, helped describe the scenes.
At one point, ESPN, which was to cover the World Series game but wasn't broadcasting it when the tremor struck, showed a live, quaking picture of the field at Candlestick Park as an aftershock hit.
ESPN reporter Bob Ley, describing his initial move to leave the park after the quake, reported that San Francisco Giants manager Roger Craig "was right behind me. It was scary."
Although all-news CNN got the first jump on the story for cable viewers, ABC's Michaels had been on the air when the quake hit, doing a pre-game report at Candlestick Park.
The ABC picture turned to static, a still slide for the World Series appeared, then ABC cut to the series, "Roseanne." Then, at 6:10 p.m. MDT, an off-screen announcer said there had been a major quake in the San Francisco area.
CBS anchor Dan Rather, in a "flash booth" for bulletins in New York, began his first report, lasting one minute, at 8:21 p.m. (6:21 p.m. MDT). He was followed two minutes later by ABC's Washington-based "Nightline" anchor, Ted Koppel.
NBC's man at the quake scene, Bob Jamieson, wound up trapped in San Francisco traffic after leaving Candlestick Park. He had to report by cellular telephone from his car.
Two of the networks, CBS and ABC, signed off coverage after 12:30 a.m. EDT (10:30 p.m. MDT), with CBS the first to go, returning to "The Pat Sajak Show." ABC's Koppel signed off 10 minutes later.
However, Rather returned with a startling update shortly after that, reporting that as many as 200 persons were killed in the quake.
Although NBC's continuous coverage went past 1 a.m. EDT Wednesday (11 p.m. MDT Tuesday), it was was the slowest off the mark earlier. A staff member said its coverage started at 8:40 p.m. EDT (6:40 p.m. MDT) Tuesday with a bulletin by Burbank-based correspondent Keith Morrison.
Eight minutes later, Mary Alice Williams anchored for NBC from New York but without the pictures that ABC and CNN already were airing. She said that NBC's TV signal from San Francisco had been temporarily knocked out by the quake.
Shortly after 9 p.m. (7 p.m. MDT), anchor Tom Brokaw succeeded her, with NBC airing its first live shots from San Francisco.
All three networks relied on live and taped video pictures and interviews from their San Francisco affiliates, KGO-TV for ABC, KPIX-TV for CBS and KRON-TV for NBC, with ABC having more of its own coverage on the air.
During its coverage, ABC illustrated with tape footage what it said was the gallows humor of some fans at Candlestick Park. It showed several persons holding a paper banner that said: "The Sleeping Giants Have Awakened."