An image from the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center
Storms like Sandy, which made landfall Monday event, are when radio stations with a commitment to local service can really shine.
FEMA urged people in East Coast states to take steps to prepare. Local officials asked residents to stay off roads and indoors to avoid expected dangerous winds and heavy rain. News reports said the storm could affect as many as 60 million people and leave many without power – an emergency situation in which radio is particularly well suited to help.
In Washington, Hubbard news outlet WTOP(FM) said it would start simulcasting on its sister frequencies 1500 and 820 kHz starting Monday evening, supplanting its usual Federal News Radio content. “The addition of both AM signals will provide broader coverage, reaching residents in areas including Annapolis, Baltimore and the Eastern Shore,” it stated.
WTOP also noted,“In the past weekend, the station added nearly 1500 followers on Twitter @WTOP and on Sunday alone WTOP.com logged 2 million page-views, with 280,000 unique users.” The station has embraced online and mobile media; for instance, its listeners can receive breaking news alerts and texts, and can receive all local power company phone numbers by texting the word “power” to the station.
Non-news stations also reacted.
In New York, sports stations ESPN NY 98.7 and ESPN Deportes Nueva York on 1050 AM gave up most of their sports content in favor of weather, simulcasting local ABC television Channel 7 “while conditions warrant,” with “SportsCenter” updates inserted hourly.
The FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System for communications providers was activated, according to the commission’s John Healy, for areas in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.
Earlier, the FCC released an Advisory Tip Sheet (PDF) for consumers about staying in touch in natural disasters. After eight tips related to phone calls, text messaging and power problems, it ended with this ninth succinct tip: “Tune-in to broadcast and radio news for important news alerts.”
National Association of Broadcasters President/CEO Gordon Smith issued a statement saluting “the remarkable work of our radio and TV station colleagues now putting themselves in harm’s way to keep millions of people safe and informed on the devastation of this deadly storm.”
He also quoted FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate on CBS News saying, “Probably one of the things you don’t really think about anymore is having a battery powered radio or a hand-cranked radio to get news from your local broadcasters … Cellphones may be congested. Radio is oftentimes the way to get those important messages about what’s going on in the local community.”
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