As Puerto Rico continues to struggle with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, broadcast organizations stateside have been reaching out to brethren in the U.S. territory hoping to help to bring stations back online.
About a week after the storm, many radio stations across the island lack proper power generators or diesel, and others are still outright out of commission due to the effect of severe winds and heavy rain, according to Eduardo Rivero, vice president of the Puerto Rico Broadcasters Association.
“As you may imagine, our radio stations were severely hit,” he said in an email to Radio World Wednesday.
“Bottom line, I would say that less than 50% of the broadcasters are now on air or partially on air,” he said. “The major AM-FM networks have been able to get back on air their metro stations, some with limited power or coverage. Others are broadcasting over the web.”
“But our spirit is up,” he said.
The PRBA formed a steering committee to evaluate and handle offers of assistance after hearing from the National Association of Broadcasters, the Federal Communications Commission, the Society of Broadcast Engineers, the Association of Federal Communications Consulting Engineers and various suppliers and broadcasters in the continental United States.
“It is important to feel that there are brothers and sisters that care about what has happened down here due to Hurricane María,” he said.
Members of PRBA are at work on a field census to assess damages while a local attorney are handling official inquiries and assistance offers from government, institutional, volunteer and professional sources. Due to communications problems that still exist on the island, Rivero was hoping to set up a conference call each morning at 10 a.m. to answer messages and continue to coordinate efforts with the rest of the team. At one point, 95 percent of cell towers were out of service, according to the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS).
In various online forums, U.S. broadcasters expressed concerns about the situation facing broadcasters in Puerto Rico nearly as soon as the storm hit.
David Layer, vice president of advanced engineering at NAB, has been active in coordinating help. He has said the needs of stations include parts and components to make repairs to their facilities, including studio equipment and transmitters as well as engineering expertise to help get stations back on the air.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who visited Texas and Florida to see the damage from Hurricane Harvey and Irma, wrote in a blog post on Oct. 4 that Hurricane Maria had a “catastrophic impact on communications networks” in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The FCC has assisting with repair and restoration, and the FCC has tapped its Universal Service Fund to help carriers. This fund typically provides federal subsidies to companies to make voice and Internet communications services more accessible and affordable in places where the cost of providing service is high. But the blog post did not make mention of any restoration assistance for radio and TV broadcasters.
The FCC also released a document called the Hurricane Response Effort, read it here.
The commission took steps to address one issue sure to affect broadcasters: bureaucratic red tape. Earlier this week, the Media Bureau extended a deadline for updating public file material from Oct. 10 to Nov. 13. This applies to those broadcasters in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were damaged by the storm. The commission also extended the filing dates for EAS participants affected by all three hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — to Monday, Nov. 13.