Thursday, January 25, 2007

EXCLUSIVE... 911 Calls in North Dakota Town Reveal Dangers of Media Consolidation

Democracy Now

Five years ago this week a train derailed in Minot, North Dakota leaking thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the air. One person died and hundreds were hospitalized. The city’s six non-religious commercial radio stations – all owned by Clear Channel – never aired warnings for local residents. In a broadcast exclusive, we air the 911 tapes for the first time, and speak to Eric Klinenberg, author of “Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media.” Five years ago this week, a one-hundred-twelve car train derailed just outside Minot, North Dakota - the state’s fourth largest city. The accident occurred shortly before two in the morning on January 18, 2002. Minutes later, the train’s conductor called the local emergency dispatch.

* Minot, North Dakota 911 Dispatch Call.

Two hundred forty thousand gallons of anhydrous ammonia leaked out of the train producing a vapor plume that floated over the town. Limited exposure burns the eyes, the skin, and the lungs. Larger doses can shut down the human respiratory system. The chemical leak in Minot, North Dakota ended up killing one person and hospitalizing hundreds. But questions remain to this day over how the crisis was handled and the role played by media consolidation.

The radio giant Clear Channel owned all six commercial stations in Minot, North Dakota. None of them broke into regular programming to provide emergency information to the city’s residents. After the town’s Emergency Alert System failed, local officials tried to call the stations - but no one answered. The stations continued to play music piped in from out of state.

The sociologist Eric Klinenberg examines this tragedy in the opening of his new book “Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media.” He traveled to Minot, North Dakota and obtained the 911 tapes from that night. In a moment Eric Klinenberg will join us here live, but first - let's hear some of the phone calls. These recordings have never been aired before.

* Minot, North Dakota 911 Dispatch Calls.

On that night five years ago in Minot, North Dakota, callers flooded the emergency dispatch seeking information on the chemical spill. The operators urged panicked residents to tune into KCJB nine-ten AM. This Clear Channel-owned station was the town’s designated local emergency broadcaster. When residents of Minot, North Dakota tuned into KCJB -- there was no emergency information about the chemical spill.

* Eric Klinenberg. Associate professor of sociology at New York University and author of the new book “Fighting for Air: The Battle To Control America’s Media.” He is also the author of “Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago.”

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