Thursday, October 20, 2005

Monday-Tuesday Night

After about 2 hours of trying to get the station back on the air, I finally gave up. I knew it had to be something at the transmitter site. The generator at the site was full, I knew that. My initial thought was our phone "circuit" service. I could not reach the transmitter site by phone at all to see if either the main transmitter or back up was available or if I could switch. I finally gave up. I had been awake at this point for around 30 hours straight. I awoke Sunday morning at my usual 5 am time (yes, I'm only 37 but I rise very early) and had been at the radio station studio since then. The on-air staff had been rotating shifts to try and stay fresh but I just could not sleep while we were broadcasting. I think I fell asleep Monday morning around 11. I talked to Rob Hunter later that day and he and Shane had both stayed awake through the entire storm.

When I awoke, (sleeping on the floor, I got about 3 hrs) the weather was still bad, but I knew we were on the back side of the storm. I went outside to see if the studio building had been damaged. Windows on the building had been broken on all 3 floors but the location of our studio had been spared. It's strange how all other areas of the building had received broken windows but the one area that was occupied. Someone watching over us possibly.

Everyone at the station thought we still had a possibility of getting broadcasting capabilities back. If you are a broadcaster, you understand what I mean. If your not, your probably thinking "Get the heck out of there". Broadcaster's are a different breed- all we want to do is broadcast, just ask my girlfriend.

As Monday afternoon grew into Monday evening, everyone was upbeat but still concerned. We could not reach anyone. We charged all the cellphones with generator power just to make sure we had the ability to try and call out. We as a staff discussed the situation and all decided to wait and see what might possibly be done to get the transmitter back up. The winds/rain with the storm finally tapered off around 6pm. We entertained ourselves with board games. Thank goodness for Rob and Daniel's girlfriends, they brought the games.

We went to the roof after dark to see what could be seen. Beauty and tragedy. The night was possibly the most beautiful evening I have ever seen in New Orleans. No area had power so all that could be seen in the sky were stars. I don't mean 10 or 100 stars. I mean thousands upon thousands of stars. Little dipper, big dipper, you name it, on the night after Katrina, the sky had more stars than I have seen in my entire life. That's the beauty. The tragedies were the fires. Everywhere. From our rooftop location at I-10 and Clearview, we saw atleast 5 HUGE fires. 1 in Kenner, 1 towards the East, 1 near the Lakefront (we thought) and 2 others close to the city. We called Government Agencies to alert them to the fires. The response? "There's nothing we can do". This was the first time, but not the last, that government told us they couldn't help.

We monitored the Emergency Management Station to find out what was going on around the city. They had no more information than we did. Daniel and I were the last two people awake, I went to sleep, ready to get back up Tuesday.

When we awoke Tuesday, information was slowly coming in. We got our TV service back up and monitored Fox News. Some of the levees had broken. I knew this was a disaster. When I saw that St Bernard parish had received major damage, I knew our transmitter site could be in trouble. I spoke with my boss in Atlanta. He advised to evacuate the staff. The station staff including myself did not want to leave. I argued, cajoled and almost begged to no avail. He demanded we evacuate.

The station staff had been monitoring the only remaining radio station on the air. That station did not have phone service whatsoever. I made the decision to contact them by cellphone to advise that our phone system was working and that if they wanted to use us as a phone service for people/government needing assistance to do so. It took some time for them to decide to do it, but they finally gave the station numbers out for people needing assistance or for government personel needing to get emergency information out.

The phones blew up. Within a 2 hour span we had over 150 calls of people/families trapped in their homes and attics. Families with children, elderly, some homes with 15 people there needing medicine. Our plan was to take down all of their information (address, phone, # of people in the house, etc...) and then relay that info to FEMA. We had three people taking down info and two people attempting to contact FEMA. My staff and myself felt overwhelmed frankly. It's extremlly difficult to speak with people on the phone who were in a critical state. The staff handled it very well. I cannot say enough about the job they did.

FEMA was another matter. Our first attempts to get them the information we met with "We're not ready to start rescuing people". What? We couldn't believe it. We attempted again only to be told, "Can you e-mail the list?". We all were frustrated at this point. Trying again, we were told that "We're not sure where that street is" or "Can you call them back to get directions"!! I could not believe what was happening. Trying again, we were transferred to a woman who did not speak English. After all this frustration, we were able to get the names,addresses and such to FEMA but the process took entirely too long. I just pray that the citizens we spoke with were saved.

I knew at this point we would have to leave. We could do no more. We were all frustrated at the inability to help more. Justin got a friend of his on the cell and asked him to search for hotel rooms in Houston. His friend was able to reserve 3 rooms for us on the internet. I did not think it would be wise to leave without somewhere to stay.

We had been in contact with the 1 remaining radio station on the air in New Orleans. We offered our studio to them if they needed to broadcast from there. We offered our services as a on-air team to give some of their people a break. We offered to do anything we could to help serve our city. It was beyond competition to us at this point. It was about saving New Orleans. We never got a response to our offers to them. If the roles would have been reversed, we would have gladly accepted their help for the good of the city. As we were driving into Houston around Midnight, they announced their partnership with the other "Corporate Radio Group" to simulcast their resources.

(SoapBox Moment) This is why corporate radio has ruined what I call real radio. I've worked for some radio corporations before. Never again. It's my view that, as the only other legitimate news/talk station in the market, we were seen as competition, even in this most dire time for New Orleans. The decision was made to use FM Dj's as information dispensers instead of a staff that was versed in newstalk. I have no proof, but for what other reason would help not be accepted?

We arrived at our hotel around 12:30, checked in and crashed. Next I'll share some stories of people we met in Houston who had gotten out of the Superdome.

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