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Louisiana Flooding Challenges Broadcasters

Head of state broadcast association speaks up on value of FM chips in such situations

Broadcast radio operations are slowly recovering in flood-ravaged areas of southern Louisiana, according to Polly Prince Johnson, president/CEO of the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters. Catastrophic flooding there last week damaged at least 100,000 homes in what some are calling the worst natural disaster in the United States since Hurricane Sandy.

Radio broadcasters in Baton Rouge, Lafayette and other small communities were hard hit, Prince Johnson says. A handful of stations, including some owned by Cumulus Media, iHeartMedia, Townsquare Media and Guaranty Broadcasting, were off the air for a time due to flooded transmitter sites, she says, but have returned to broadcasting. In some cases entire transmitter buildings were flooded out, leaving some broadcasters relying on their auxiliary sites.

“This has been a very traumatic event for this area. Devastating of course. The broadcasters did everything they could to remain on the air and broadcast emergency information for as long as they could. It’s taken a lot of effort by some to get back on the air,” Prince Johnson says.

She said at least one station remains dark. WOMN(AM) in Franklinton, La., owned by Pittman Broadcasting Services, is “still off the air and might be for a long time,” she said Thursday. The station suffered extensive damage to its ground system.

Prince Johnson also is advocating for a congressional mandate ordering all wireless providers to activate chips in smartphones enabling the built-in FM tuners to receive local radio signals. “AT&T didn’t have any service at the high point of the flooding. People couldn’t make calls but if they had the (NextRadio) app on their cell phone they could have listened to local radio for emergency information,” she says.

The Broadcasters Foundation of America, a group that provides emergency financial aid to broadcast professionals and their families who find themselves in acute need, has begun the vetting process to get money to flood victims who lost personal property. Prince Johnson says those broadcasters who suffered damage to their homes will be eligible for a $1,000 emergency grant.

Prince Johnson said there was no flood damage at LAB’s own headquarters in Baton Rouge.

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