Paul McLane is editor in chief.
Last week I passed along a great photo of the “thank you ” sheet hung out by listeners to AM station WMOA in Marietta, Ohio, after the recent nasty derecho storm; it was sent to me by Dennis Wharton at NAB.
Looking further at the station’s website I saw that WMOA takes pride in its coverage of such events. I emailed John A. Wharff III, the station president, to ask about its relationship with listeners and how WMOA handled the storm and its aftermath.
“Having a news staff made our coverage more effective,” he wrote. “Our two part-time reporters became more than full-time for several days. One is a semi-retired former news director with experience as a government public information officer who maintains good contacts with local first responders. He’s also a long-time National Weather Service spotter who previously arranged weather training classes for our staff and the community. Our second reporter, who has been on the job for a year, really stepped up and covered the second half of the days during our storm coverage.
“We conducted an after-action analysis of our emergency plan and are taking steps to improve our response,” Wharff continued.
“For example, one of the community’s largest employers could not contact the station by telephone while, at the same time, we could not receive e-mail messages for 24 hours, so we are making arrangements to ensure those communications during utility outages. Keep in mind we also had two of our three stations off the air, so we felt the pain of helplessness in those communities that we couldn’t reach with information. The flip side of that is that without any electric, limited cellular [and] no other radio signals, our signal at AM 1490 operating at 500 watts was transmitting a clear signal at easily double its normal reach (500 watts is half power).
“It was dumb luck that we had just ordered a few hundred battery operated radios with our logo on them. I was passing them out when I saw the sheet hanging from the roof. Most people were sitting outside their houses so they were happy to see me popping my trunk and passing out these radios. The news wasn’t always good, as the early projections from the electric company were 5–7 days for power restoration. The radio station got power back at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning (about 60 hours on generator), but for most others it wasn’t until Wednesday and even later, so the projections ended up being spot on.”
Wharff also shared with me a compilation of reader comments he’d received via email, Facebook or phone. It is recommended reading. Need a reminder of how important local radio continues to be for many listeners in times of distress? Check these out:
“It was real comforting to have WMOA on the air during the storm aftermath. Loved receiving the hourly updates and knowing what was going on.”
“Hey I just wanted to tell you man, thank God for WMOA, it’s been something to listen to that’s real information and at the very least for us, something to keep us company when all hell is breaking loose, thanks, keep up the good work, bye.”
“To the WMOA staff, I just want to offer my sincerest thanks to all who worked so hard to keep our wonderful city of Marietta informed as much as possible during the recent severe storm. I’m not normally one to listen to the radio because I enjoy gospel hymns on tapes and CDs. It was wonderful to be able to count on WMOA when we really needed them. Thanks so much and I hope this community can always work well together as they have these past very trying days. Keep up the great work!”
“I want to thank you and everyone at WMOA for the excellent job you have been doing in keeping citizens informed during the current widespread and long-lasting power outage in our area. Yours is the only locally owned and controlled radio station in this area (as far as I know). By utilizing your generator WMOA has stayed on the air continuously during this emergency. By using battery powered radios my family and thousands of others can feel better knowing we can hear the latest news and announcements. Your radio station has and is providing a valuable service to this area and should be supported by our emergency services system. Thanks again to you and all your staff!”
“My wife and I agree with everything our son sent you in an e-mail as I am on oxygen and need to know what is going on. Thanks thanks thanks so much.”
“As a resident of Marietta, I would like to thank you for your great coverage on the power outages in the area. I know they continue as I heard your reporter an hour ago say that many are still without ‘light.’ As a former station owner, I compliment you for being there for us. You were the only outlet that had the farsightedness to make sure you had back-up for events like this. Our stations were in areas smaller and larger in Texas and Arkansas. We did what you did: follow the mandate of the FCC and serve our community. I cannot find enough adjectives to describe how well you did what you did. I would also like to compliment someone named Ralph. He was great! Who said small-town radio is dead. You are keeping it alive and well.”
“Just wanted to let each and everyone at WMOA that the coverage that you folks gave during this time of need after the storm was just extraordinary. From management on down through your staff, you kept us abreast of all updates as well as any breaking events that would have an impact on listeners. I feel fortunate to reside in an area that has a staff that is as devoted and committed to the listeners. Giving up days off to working long hours, the news and entertainment were a great morale booster to all tuned in. Again, many, many thanks to each and every one of you at WMOA.”
“Great coverage under trying circumstance this weekend. My hat is off to you.”
“John, with the severe storms it was such a relief to dial up 1490 and get the storm update and Reds game on the old transistor radio. You guys are the best. You should do a promotion giving battery powered small radios away for severe weather. Not that many folks have them anymore. A friend said he was using his granddad’s.”
“Still without power in Reno and you guys have been an invaluable resource for us! Keep on keeping on.”
“WMOA was AWESOME during the outage! Just shows how much we have lost as radio stations are gobbled up by communications giants. At 7 p.m. Friday night, I was NOT in the mood to listen to a solid hour of music. I wanted to know how much damage the storm did. Thanks WMOA — hope you are on the air forever!”
“You have offered us calm during this time. I still don’t have power … but have battery powered radio and you all as company.”
“We would like to express our sincere appreciation during and after the power outage. A voice relaying vital information was comforting during the darkness.”
“Without you we would have no clue what was going on.”
And then there was the one shown below that appeared on his re-stocked, freshly cleaned fish tank in the studio from the local pet store. “Last week,” it states, “you all saved a lot of people just by being there.”