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Could a Community Radio Station Save Your Life? Hurricane Irene’s Radio Heroes

Community Radio Station KZYX in Philo, CA (Photo: J. Waits)

It’s really no surprise to Radio Survivor readers that terrestrial radio is vital during an emergency. We’ve seen some amazing stories about how stations have stepped up to provide needed information and help after disasters around the world, such as in the wake of recent tornados in Joplin and Tuscaloosa and after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Hurricane Irene was another reminder that having a transistor radio close by can be a vital survival tool.

WDEV in Vermont was one such station that assisted residents during the flooding following Hurricane Irene. In an article on, David Goodman describes how the national media pronounced the hurricane danger over, while Vermont faced horrific flooding. He explains that independent, local radio told a different story:

“WDEV, an 80-year-old family-owned independent radio station that serves the northern half of the state with local news, music, and Red Sox games, opened its phone lines and hearts to worried residents who told each other in real time what was happening around them…

WDEV staffer Tom Beardsley ventured outside the studio at 10 p.m. to find an elderly woman on Main Street in Waterbury struggling through flood waters to escape her home. ‘If there are emergency personnel in the area, we could use your help here right now,’ he said urgently, finally signing off so that he could offer a hand himself.

All the while, WDEV was coping with its own disasters: flood waters were rising around its Waterbury studio, and the station had lost power and Internet communications. The radio station was kept alive by generators — and listeners. News director Eric Michaels gave out his personal cell phone number and urged listeners to call or text in information about where help was needed and how Vermonters were coping. Michaels, Beardsley, reporter Lee Kittell, station owner Ken Squier and meteorologist Roger Hill pre-empted regular broadcasting and stayed on the air for 24 crucial hours.”

Another independent, local radio station, WRIP in the Catskills also pre-empted programming to provide help to listeners in the flooded region near its New York studios. DJ Big Jay Fink staffed the booth at the local radio station, assisting callers in search of help:

“For days Mr. Fink, who was soon joined by his colleague Joe Loverro, played matchmaker, soothing stranded residents, taking down numbers to relay to rescue workers and passing on information about makeshift shelters and closed roads. The two personalities and other WRIP employees guided listeners through the arrival of the National Guard, carrying emergency supplies, to towns like Prattsville, and kept people apprised of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s trip on Wednesday to that community, which was devastated by the storm.

People listened, first from radios powered by batteries or generators, and later from their cars as they drove around to survey the damage, which may top $1 billion in New York alone, Mr. Cuomo has estimated.”

These stories out of New York and Vermont provide yet another reason to cherish local, independent radio. Do you know of other post-Irene radio heroes?



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