“When the power is out and you can’t get information from cable or TV radio is there. We have a unique role as first informers/first responders.”
That’s according to New Jersey Broadcasters Association President/CEO Paul Rotella, speaking to FCC commissioners and the public at a hearing on strengthening the nation’s communications infrastructure in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
NJBA staff went to actually stay at stations two days before the storm hit. Many of them “got stuck there,” Rotella said, as he emphasized the lengths radio personnel went through to make sure their stations remained on the air. As an example, Rotella described a manager for a Greater Media station carrying an antenna in his hand as he walked down the street to get the station’s equipment out of the water and debris.
Rotella said he’s working on a bill to introduce into the New Jersey legislature that would make sure authorities recognize broadcasters as first informers/first responders during a crisis.
Similar bills have passed in Nevada and most recently, Illinois.
If passed, the bill would ensure New Jersey broadcasters have a credential. There’d be “an awareness by state police and other authorities so when a broadcaster comes by and says, ‘My transmitter site is two blocks away’ and I need to refuel the generator, the station would have a credential,” according to the broadcasting association executive. There would be an education requirement before a broadcaster would be designated as a first informer/first responder; the credential would “have an official designation attached to it so there’s an awareness and respect for what we do,” Rotella said.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said when she was a little girl staying at her grandmother’s house during a frightening storm, being able to hear what was then WPAL(AM), Charleston, S.C. helped her keep her sanity as several family members squeezed into a small home with one bathroom.
Echoing Clear Channel’s John Hogan from an earlier panel, Rotella said anyone who works in radio has a passion for the industry and that broadcasters take their alerting responsibilities seriously.
After a full day of panels beginning in New York City and ending in Hoboken, N.J., FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said some good ideas were generated from the hearing. The FCC plans to hold others in several parts of the country. “I still think this is just the beginning” as the various communications industries and the FCC responds to what went well and what did not regarding communications infrastructure in the wake of the storm.