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Rotella Hails N.J. Radio Engineers and Other Staff

‘Some stations had triple redundancy. … And you know what? They needed it’

Garden State residents were at the center of Sandy’s impact. New Jersey Broadcasters Association President and CEO Paul Rotella spoke with Radio World’s Emily Reigart Friday about the storm’s impact on the state’s broadcasters and efforts to prepare and recover.

You were personally impacted by this storm. What strikes you most?
I know these people. I know where they live, and I know a couple of them did lose their houses. And they’re staying on the air. They’re serving their listeners, sometimes at personal risk.

How did your member stations prepare for the storm?
There are two types of preparedness. There’s commercial consumer — what I call hype — preparedness. It doesn’t really give people information. It just gets people excited. Then there’s the professional hype, professional preparedness …

From a broadcast standpoint, we were professionally prepared, and that’s because of the hard work of the station manager all the way down to the person that’s cleaning up the floors. Particularly the engineers.

I know on Sunday I gave my stations a call to see if they needed any help getting ready from us. They had people coming in with sleeping bags, so they knew they’d be there for a couple days. They brought food, they brought changes of clothes, they brought their personal effects. And they camped out at their station Sunday night waiting for the disaster that ensued Monday and Tuesday. That was one level of preparedness.

What was the other level?
The second level was very important. The engineers and the leadership in the station, the people who are producers, work with the equipment did their submarine drills, I used to call them.

Was everything working correctly? Did they have backup resources? What kind of backup plans did they have? I’m a big fan of redundancy. Some stations had triple redundancy. … And you know what? They needed it.

It wasn’t just having these generators. Having a generator and making sure it works right are two different things. So they tested them. And the other variable that a lot people didn’t think of was do you have enough gasoline to run your generator?

After all of that preparation, how well do you think stations weathered the storm?
People are saying things like, well, a couple stations did go down. Yeah, if you have 10 feet of water, a station will go down. But if a station does go down, it doesn’t matter so much because one station alone can reach millions of people. So if you have hundreds of stations and one goes down, people are going to hear it, they are going to get their information. That’s what the ubiquitous nature of radio is all about.

What do you think people can learn from this experience to help in future disaster preparation?

What I’m hoping for in terms of preparedness is that cell phone carriers light up the FM chip in cell phones, that they have them placed in cell phones if it’s not — it can be done for pennies — and if they don’t want to open up the chip because they want to make money off the streaming rate, at least let them turn it on in times of emergency so that each cell phone becomes a radio.

Look for more of this interview in an upcoming issue of Radio World.

Paul Rotella became the NJBA president and CEO in 2008. He serves on the board of directors for the Media Ratings Council and is a member of both the National Alliance of State Broadcasters and the National Broadcasters Association.