On June 17, 1994, Scott Ferrall was 28 years old and not watching Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.
He was’t the only one.
Because on that day, television networks and cable news channels across the country aired two hours of nonstop coverage of a Los Angeles freeway police chase in which O.J. Simpson famously fled authorities in a white Bronco.
“It was a strange deal,” KNX 1070 host Randy Kerdoon said on Ferrall on the Bench. “I was (working), and when I left after doing the morning show, it was just about the time they could not find O.J. Remember, they were looking all over for him and he was going to turn himself in and then he didn’t. And then there was a police officer that stood in front of the press corps and announced that O.J. Simpson was a fugitive from justice, and . . . everybody (was) just (shocked).”
“I’m watching this scene unfold,” Kerdoon continued, “and it was incredibly, incredibly surreal. And surreal seems to be the key word. I’ve heard so many people use it. You watch this unfold – this Bronco chase, police everywhere, the concern, one of the local sports anchors was on the phone with O.J. telling him (to) turn (himself) in. It was just crazy town. It really was.”
And virtually every channel aired it.
“For all I know, the Discovery Channel had it,” Kerdoon said. “I mean, every single oddball channel that you never expected to carry something like this was carrying it live.”
Even NBC, which was airing the NBA Finals, elected to go to a two-box. The Simpson chase was in the big box, and Game 5 was in the small one.
“I had to squint to see how much time was left in the second quarter, as if anyone else in the world cared,” Kerdoon said. “But it was just a phenomenon. It was history happening right in front of you.”
Of course, TV lends itself to that extremely well. Kerdoon recalls as a child watching – live, on black-and-white television – an attempted rescue of a Los Angeles girl who fell in a well.
“Live television at an event then was just unheard of, and they got ratings through the roof,” he said. “People would eat their dinner around the television set.”
Needless to say, the Simpson chase was about a thousand times more riveting.
“It just got weirder and weirder and more drama-prone and drama-prone,” Kerdoon said. “And I think the craziest thing we saw to this whole thing was people pulling off the freeway or pulling to the center divider and trying to get a glimpse of O.J. in the backseat. That was the strangest thing I’d ever seen. This just told you how odd this story was – and it came so close to being a tragic ending.”
The whole chase unfolded, of course, shortly after Simpson was charged with killing his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. He was eventually found innocent – a verdict that remains controversial to this day.
“In this instance, like it or not, the legal system found him innocent,” Kerdoon said. “You have to move on from there.”