Tuesday, June 12, 2012
KGIL Radio: February 9, 1971, The San Fernando Valley's Longest Day
Another collection of radio broadcasts today, this time covering a bit of local history. The record documents the live coverage of the devastating San Fernando earthquake by KGIL, a local news radio station. The San Fernando earthquake was a major earthquake in Southern California's recent history, one that ultimately registered at a magnitude of 6.6 (the report on the record says 6.5.) In a spoken introduction, a representative of the station prefaces the record by describing that February 9th as "the single most historic day in the history of the San Fernando Valley, a day of tragedy and death, a day of passion and concern, and day that will remain fresh in the minds of everyone who experienced it for countless years to come. And far into the future, people in the Valley will ask each other, 'where were you when the earthquake struck?'" The thing I found most striking about these broadcasts was not really the information as much as how it was delivered. The newsmen reported with a sense of gravity that does not reflect the destructive force of the earthquake alone but also the fact that was radio was one of the only widely accessible sources of vital information. With the cell phones and internet connectivity we enjoy today, the radio is just one of many possible channels for information. On that day in 1971, if an emergency announcement about contaminated water or a lost child had to go out, the radio was the best way to spread the word, especially when power outages meant that TV was not an option for many valley residents. KGIL was most certainly aware of this, as evidenced by the self-congratulatory note they included in the jacket explaining how this record is not just a historical document of that day but also a clear example of the preparedness and professionalism that makes KGIL the radio station of the San Fernando Valley.
These broadcasts feature the voices of guests, newscasters in the studio and those driving around the affected areas. They deliver official feeds, reports on what they've seen and heard, and candid reflections on the human condition. The reports are full of destruction but also stories of cooperation, goodwill, and hope in times of tragedy. One reporter talks about giving a ride to a volunteer rescue worker who was hitchhiking home to his family after a night shift. A reporter on the second side lauds the way citizens look past everyday differences, namely race, and help one another. And throughout the record, reporters happily give updates on the Lower Van Norman Dam, which threatened to break but was brought under control as its 440,000,000 gallons of water were drained. At one point, a newscaster even interrupts the earthquake coverage to celebrate the safe return of the Apollo 14, which had just visited the site on the moon that the Apollo 13 had failed to reach. The record also contains practical information like an alert about where Red Cross shelters had been established, a call for physicians to report to a badly damaged veterans' hospital, and the warning that "the police have said that they will not think twice about shooting people that are attempting to loot." You even get a hint of valley culture and architecture as one reporter at the beginning of the second side laments rampant destruction in and around the "beautiful mall area", strewn with the shards of shattered plate glass windows.
See if you can catch the famous sample on Side 1. And for those of you with experience driving around Los Angeles, you might recognize the image on the cover as the view of the valley from the 405 North just passed the Mulholland Bridge.