A Dam in the Stream

If Clear Channel can't afford Internet radio, who can?

By its very nature, print media couldn't be as immediate -- particularly the Rocky Mountain News, which, because of its joint-operating agreement with the Denver Post, has no Sunday paper. Nonetheless, shuttle reporting dominated its Monday edition, as if tragedy had struck one, rather than two, days earlier. Turnabout was fair play in this case, because the previous weekend, a midair collision over Denver that took place on Friday, January 24, meant that the Post -- which, thanks to the JOA, has no Saturday paper -- was in precisely the same situation and reacted identically. The paper blew out its crash coverage on Sunday without much acknowledgment that the accident was no longer breaking news.

Part of the Post's Columbia package was a column by sports scribe Woody Paige recalling that he and his daughter had been in Florida on January 28, 1986, when the Challenger space shuttle went up in smoke. This reference set off knowing chuckles among journalism-community veterans, because, according to lore, Paige had been assigned to write about the Challenger's launch, but missed the story of the year when he chose to take his daughter to Disney World instead. A version of this tale ran in Westword in February 1986 and was alluded to, without the mention of Paige's name, in a February 3 News article by Charlie Brennan, who was present when the Challenger shattered. The Post itself joined the chorus in March 1998, when reporter Jack Cox wrote, "After the launch had been scrubbed three or four days in a row, [Paige] had decided to follow it on TV" -- a decision that made him infamous, "to his everlasting chagrin."

But Paige insists that this infamy is misdirected. The way he tells it, he'd been asked to go to Florida by KNUS radio, where he was also on staff at the time, to helm a broadcast from Disney World. He planned to take his daughter to the shuttle liftoff while there, and since University of Colorado grad Ellison Onizuka was among the astronauts in the crew, Paige says he asked then-editor Tony Campbell if he'd be interested in a piece about the launch. As Paige remembers it, Campbell responded to this offer "by saying 'Fuck, no. Nobody cares anymore.... We don't want any fucking thing on the space shuttle." Paige didn't have a problem with that, so he headed to Florida sans a Post assignment. He and his daughter waited through one launch that didn't happen; then, on January 28, "I phoned the Cape and was told there would be a two- or three-hour delay. So I went to do my radio show." After the calamity, Paige got a call from Campbell asking for a column after all, and he came through with one about the reaction of folks at the Happiest Place on Earth that stoked more than a decade's worth of misunderstandings.

Lee Larsen has pull at Clear Channel.
Anthony Camera
Lee Larsen has pull at Clear Channel.

"I'm chagrined, all right," Paige says. "I'm chagrined that this thing has become an urban legend. And I'm chagrined that I did what the paper asked me -- which is a mistake I've made too many times in my life."

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