Silence and the 9/11 coverage

If there’s one thing radio people hate, it’s the sound of silence. That made Sunday’s broadcast of 9/11 services a challenge for broadcasters because it involved the awesome power of silence.

Which many of them ruined, according to the NPR ombudsman in an article today.

“I expect that NPR, of all media, trusts its listeners’ intelligence and patience,” a listenere Diana Krauss from Brunswick, ME, wrote to NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos. “Alas, (host) Audie Cornish needed to interrupt the first moment of silence TWICE to tell us that we were listening to a moment of silence, thus destroying it.”

Margaret Lowe Smith, the acting senior VP of news responded:


In our planning, we thought long and hard about those moments of silence- They posed serious technical and production challenges, which we couldn’t ignore. But most importantly, we wanted to show respect for the moment, the memory of the victims and their families.

Technically, radio stations have silence sensors that go off if they detect dead air. It’s a way to alert station engineers of a dropped signal. We had to avoid that happening. And, for our radio listeners, when there is silence on the air, there is often confusion. All that added up to having to make some brief comment during the longer moments of silence. Our host, Audie Cornish, did that with great respect and sensitivity.

In his article, found here, Schumachker-Matos did not offer a verdict of his own.

  • Jim!!!
  • Jim Shapiro

    I too frequently find my blood pressure rising due to the dead air emanating from my local San Diego NPR affiliate.

    Henceforth and hereafter, I shall consider such occurrences to be the opportunity for a healing moment of silence.