WTOP Flashback: How we handled a telephone learning curve on Sept. 11, 2001

A new phone system posed challenges in covering Sept. 11, 2001

WASHINGTON — As WTOP gets ready to move to our brand-new newsroom in Friendship Heights, Maryland, we’re looking back at some behind-the-scenes moments that occurred during our 30 years on Idaho Avenue Northwest.

In the second week of September 2001, WTOP upgraded to a state-of-the-art digital phone system. As anyone who works in an office knows, there is always a learning curve with a new phone system.

“People needed to know how to do basic things, like place a phone call, transfer a phone call, send a call to voicemail, that sort of thing,” said WTOP technology manager Brian Oliger.

So the company that provided the new phones planned to have trainers in the newsroom to lend a hand, as we attempted to cover the news while learning the new phone system.

“There’s always a lot of apprehension whenever you introduce new technology, especially in a place that’s — even on a normal day — as chaotic as a newsroom is,” said Oliger.

Then came the terror of Sept. 11, 2001.

“When the attacks happened Tuesday morning, there were trainers all around, still helping people get used to the new phones,” said Oliger. “I’m sure quite a few calls got hung up on accidentally.”

WTOP's Neal Augenstein recalls his first report from the Pentagon

Despite the technical challenges, information needed to be gathered and broadcast.

“We all knew this was certainly the biggest story of the year, and for many people the biggest stories of our lives,” said Oliger. “But I think we rose to the occasion.”

“Everybody knew they had a job to do, and it was vitally important that we get that job done,” Oliger said. “We did it, but it wasn’t pretty.”

“It was a good thing we had the trainers on hand at the time, because it helped a lot,” he said.


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