by Scott Fybush
May 24, 2013
Radio World Broadcasters and others assess response after Superstorm Sandy. (One in a series of stories wrapping up news and themes from the spring NAB Show.)
When the weather is at its worst, broadcasters are at their best. That’s the message emergency planners for radio and TV have been trying to spread for years, and broadcasters speaking at the NAB Show in Las Vegas say it was borne out in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy last fall.
“Most broadcasters did a lot of work in New York on storm preparation,” said New York State Broadcasters Association President/Executive Director David Donovan, part of a panel on “EAS, Superstorm Sandy and Accessible Emergency Warnings: A Discussion of Broadcasters’ Role as First Informers” in the Broadcast Engineering Conference.
Broadcasters had an advantage before Sandy in the form of accurate predictions of the storm’s path and timing, according to Donovan. That allowed them to plan for one of their biggest concerns: the availability of fuel to keep generators powered and news vehicles moving after the storm hit.
“New York City is made of islands, and when the bridges and tunnels aren’t functioning, you’re going to have problems,” Donovan said.
Indeed they did. While most of New York’s FM and TV stations sailed through the storm with the help of fully fueled generators, “where we ran into problems was AM,” Donovan said, “because a lot of towers are in New Jersey in the flood zone, so there was some flooding that knocked out power.”
Preparation worked there, too, though: Donovan said partnerships among AM, FM and TV stations kept content flowing even as specific transmission paths were knocked out. WINS(AM) moved its programming to sister FMs in the CBS Radio family, while WOR(AM) began carrying WNBC(TV) audio after losing power in its own lower Manhattan studio.
Donovan said the value of all that preparation quickly became clear as other communication paths began to fail. Without power in the worst of the storm-ravaged areas, including lower Manhattan and much of Long Island’s south shore, television, Internet and phone service all went down within hours of Sandy’s arrival.
“New York City saw a 70 percent increase in radio listenership that night,” Donovan said. “Radio was the key to keeping the people informed that night.”