I’m Michael O’Shea. I serve as president of Amaturo Sonoma Media Group, owners/operators of five market-leading radio stations in Sonoma County in California Wine Country.
My community, Santa Rosa, was devastated in October a year and a half ago, when vicious wildfires swept through our city at 2 a.m., literally evaporating 7,000 homes, 100 businesses and killing 43 of our citizens.
My AM-FM news/talk station KSRO, on the air with continuous service for over 80 years, was the only true “first informer.” And when the power was off, land lines dead, cable TV off the air, cell service off due to bandwidth starvation and many cell towers melted in the fire, there were only two ways to seek help in the middle of that terrible night: 1) knock on your neighbors door; and 2) local radio.
My station, with auxiliary generators buzzing to keep our signal viable, literally saved lives that night, at a time when ALL other forms of communications were simply GONE. After the initial 72 hours of true emergency and the next months-long period of initial recovery, local radio (and KSRO) stepped up and served its community at the highest level possible.
We were awarded two Marconi Awards at the NAB’s Radio Show in Orlando in September as a result of our lifesaving efforts.
As a recent article in Broadcasting & Cable pointed out, when it’s Armageddon time, and we need immediate lifesaving information the most, that is when infrastructure is most likely to become disrupted. We are so increasingly dependent on the smart phone in our hand 16 hours a day for virtually every source of info. When there is nothing but a little dial going round and round trying to find something to re-transmit is when we are most vulnerable.
Then the “old-school” Walkman or other small radio with batteries (fished from an old gym bag or tackle box in the garage) becomes a literal life line. I heard this exact story from hundreds of my listeners after our disaster.
I helped produce a documentary short film about our fire emergency and how the community pulled through to get through. Our skilled director pointed out how local radio was as important in those wicked moments as the firefighters and sheriff’s deputies banging on the doors of sleeping residents.
Our film, “Urban Inferno, the Night Santa Rosa Burned,” is on the international film festival tour now, winning festivals in Las Vegas, Chile, Australia and India.
I’m posting here a short clip from the film, and a full YouTube HD version. I’m asking my industry colleagues to share it with anyone who could make a difference in appreciating what local radio has done for decades and continues to do today.
Michael O’Shea is president of Amaturo Sonoma Media Group in Santa Rosa, Calif. Radio World welcomes commentaries on this or any relevant industry issue. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.