have one of those days? How about when “one of those days” for six months
us at WAWZ(FM) in Zarephath, N.J., were having “one of those days” in August
last year as we prepared to meet “that nasty girl,” as General Manager Rea
Crawford calls her: Hurricane Irene. She was headed straight for the town,
which has been home to our Christian radio station since 1931.
A view of Irene’s work at the Zarephath campus.
time it got to us it would be weakened to tropical storm level, but we were
bracing for more than just a little wind and rain. Zarephath is only 60 feet
above sea level, bordered to the north by the Millstone River and to the south
by the Delaware River and Raritan Canal.
enough, by the time Irene was finished with us, Zarephath and the surrounding
area — a campus that includes several other Pillar of Fire International
ministries besides WAWZ(FM), as well as the Zarephath Christian Church and
Somerset Christian College — were under almost eight feet of water.
news was that the residents had been evacuated. The bad news was that property
damage was extensive.
studios were on the second floor of a chapel building; we were spared the worst
of the damage. The only casualty in terms of station equipment was our studio
generator. Amazingly, the studios never lost power during the storm, despite the
fact that the main distribution panel for the building was under water.
The Bunker earns its keep
prevent the water damage from becoming mold damage, the first floor of every
building on the campus eventually would have to be gutted. Hardwood floors would
be uprooted and drywall and plaster removed, leaving the muddy campus looking
like a war zone. The resulting pile of debris would dwarf most houses. Then
there was the inevitable stench of muddy river sludge and mildew, making all
but the heartiest unable to linger more than a few hours at a time.
So how did we continue broadcasting?
Midday Host Betsy Spina in ‘The Bunker’
WAWZ has a fully functional backup studio at our transmitter site in
Martinsville, N.J., 600 feet above sea level. We lovingly refer to this
windowless slab of concrete behind our transmitter building as “The Bunker.” After
all, that’s sort of what it was: a refuge and haven.
not the first time our facilities had been flooded. For decades Zarephath would
flood with severe weather, most notably Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which caused
as much damage as Irene.
particularly unforgiving Nor’easter in 2006 — one that flooded the basements
and parking lot, and turned the adjoining Weston Canal Road into plain old
Weston Canal — station management had decided something needed to be done to avoid
2008 we looked at a 7-by-18-foot storage room attached to the back of our
transmitter building that had housed paging transmitters during that industry’s
heyday. As it happened, we’d been planning to remodel our main studio and would
need temporary facilities anyway. We decided to build the new backup studio.
This met the need for a temporary studio in the short term and would provide an
emergency facility from then on (see “Renovations Bring WAWZ Into the 21st
Century,” Radio World, Oct. 8, 2008).
later, in the aftermath of Irene, The Bunker would earn its keep. We moved
on-air operations there the night before the storm arrived in Somerset County, carrying
a few pieces of production gear with us, and not knowing when we’d be allowed
back at home base.
A listener volunteered this travel trailer to help provide
this kept us on the air and gave us rudimentary production capabilities, it
soon became clear that we needed more space. Thankfully, one of our listeners
stepped up with a 30-foot travel trailer that he towed to our site and let Chief
Engineer Ron Habegger and I equip with electrical and Internet service.
Once we were
allowed back on campus, we collected a couple of production workstations and
turned the RV into a production studio, complete with a kitchen and indoor
bathroom — a major step up from the Port-a-John we had been using.
There’s no place like home
base at Zarephath continued to stink of mildew, diesel fuel and who knows what
of that, the mold abatement work had left everything covered in dust. Plus, it
wasn’t a question of if we’d ever get flooded again, but when. So now management
reconsidered whether to move back.
the studios off-campus again and began looking for available rental space. In
the meantime, the second floor was given a good cleaning.
November 2011, three months after the storm, we resumed broadcasting and
production from Zarephath, with staff working across the street at the
Children’s Ministry Center. (The sales staff worked mostly from home, and the
station manager worked from any Starbucks with Wi-Fi.)
Tom Bruemmer, Ron Habegger and Curt Yengst install
negotiations weren’t going well with prospective new landlords. Building a
radio station in an existing office space is sometimes easier said than done,
especially when you’re trying to explain your specific needs (“You want to put
a window where?” “Why does that
corner office need to be soundproof?”).
some particularly disappointing meetings, our management team was at a loss. We
are Christian broadcasters, after all, so we decided to hold a quick, impromptu
prayer meeting; then we adjourned for the day.
As Rea Crawford
was driving away from the prayer meeting, he happened to pass a local
industrial development in neighboring Somerset, and glanced at the large office
buildings there. He came upon the headquarters of Village Office Supply and he
noticed that the Supply’s parking lot didn’t look very full for a building of its
size. So he pulled in, entered the lobby and asked if they had any office space
out, Village Office Supply had laid off about 50 employees two years earlier,
and they hadn’t yet decided what to do with the space. They’d considered
renting it but were reluctant to deal with brokers, lawyers, etc.; but when we
presented our situation, they decided to open their doors to us, allowing us to
do whatever we needed to create the space we wanted. They even loaned us a
couple of their delivery trucks for the move. It was a match made in heaven!
Johnny Stone and the
morning crew work in the new studio.
January 2012, we signed the lease and construction began. On the week of
Valentine’s Day, we sent on-air staff back to that ever-romantic Bunker for a
couple weeks, while Ron and I dismantled the old studio and, with the help of
volunteers, painstakingly reconnected everything in our new studio, which is
almost twice the size of the old one.
after a labor-intensive several days, we began broadcasting from the new
studios on Feb. 23 — without a hitch.
that successful first broadcast in our new temporary home, we’ve made plans to
construct a building specifically for the radio station that will be more
permanent. And we’ve started a capital campaign to raise necessary funds. Meanwhile,
after spending the last half-dozen months working from as many different
locations, it’s great to finally be back together again as one big, happy
Curt Yengst CSRE, is assistant engineer
at WAWZ(FM). For more on the history of the station, see the story “Rea
Crawford Hits a Milestone” at radioworld.com, keyword WAWZ.
Thanks to Rea Crawford, LuAnn Schafer,
Stacey Stone, Ron Habegger and David A. Dein for photo contributions.