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#TBT: Twenty-four years ago, ESPN paced national news coverage of the World Series earthquake

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Welcome to another edition of Front Row’s #TBT: Throwback Thursday.

Twenty-four years ago tonight, according to Bill Marx of the Orlando Sentinel, “[ESPN reporter] Bob Ley was the most important man in American journalism.”

Marx was writing about ESPN’s coverage of the 1989 World Series, or more precisely, the 18-second earthquake which registered 7.1 on the Richter scale and occurred moments before Game 3 at Candlestick Park, where the host Giants and rival A’s were expected to play.

“I’ve always been very proud of my colleagues with me at Candlestick Park prior to Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, when an earthquake struck,” Ley told Front Row. “We were able to be on the air within 15 minutes, providing the first national coverage of this story – a natural disaster for the Bay Area – through what we could see and report at the ballpark.”

Because ESPN’s production truck had a generator, it was able to provide live reports – including the first national pictures from the tragedy and images of the collapsed Bay Bridge — while most of the region was blacked out. The truck provided one of its two telephone lines to the San Francisco police department, using the other to call ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. headquarters and book satellite time because none was scheduled until after the game.

ESPN’s coverage reflected a team effort involving on-camera reporters Ley, Chris Berman, and remote production employees in San Francisco as well as in Bristol.

“Everybody who was there, independently working for us, knew in that 20 seconds, knew that we went from covering the World Series to covering something bigger,” Berman told Pete Dougherty of the Albany Times-Union in 2009. “We didn’t know what it was, how big it was, but we knew it was something big. To this day, there’s a special bond among the people who were on.”

Editor’s note: Front Row cannot publish video from ESPN and ABC’s coverage because of rights restrictions.

Laurel Daggett contributed to this post

UPLINK ESPN company newsletter from 1989. Click to enlarge.
More details on ESPN’s coverage of the story from UPLINK, the company newsletter from 1989. Click to enlarge.
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