Stations in Texas and Florida will be honored with a prestigious National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Education Foundation award for their hurricane coverage during the Celebration of Service to America Awards gala on June 12.
As Hurricane Harvey approached Houston, residents evacuated or hunkered down, preparing for days of rain. Broadcasters, though, prepared for days of non-stop reporting, aimed at keeping community members as safe as possible during the storm.
“We never went off the air. We never stopped with the broadcast,” Michael Berry, a show host on iHeartRadio’s KTRH, said.
Just a week later, broadcasters in Florida similarly risked their own safety to provide residents with up-to-the-minute information about Hurricane Irma.
For their efforts, the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation is proud to present its President’s Special Award to broadcast stations in Florida and Texas, in recognition of their remarkable coverage during last year’s hurricanes.
Stations in these regions demonstrate the importance of broadcasters’ role as “first informers” during natural disasters. They provided life-saving information around the clock during worsening conditions. And after the hurricanes, broadcasters were a lifeline for residents looking for food, water and shelter. These are just a few of their stories…
The amount of flooding in Houston overwhelmed first responders, who were unable to reach families and individuals in need of help. The sheriff’s office told reporters at Sinclair’s KFDM that they needed help.
“I went back on the air and said this is what the sheriff has told me. It’s beyond them. They need people helping rescue people,” reporter James Ware said.
Within two hours, good Samaritans were out in their fishing boats, rafts and Jet Skis, helping to rescue those in need.
TEGNA’s KHOU broadcasted live throughout Harvey, even as their own studio flooded. Eventually, the storm knocked them off the air, but not for long.
Employees drove through the flooded area to Houston Public Media, where they set up a makeshift studio.
“We did it with duct tape and whatever else it took. It was our most difficult hour and our finest hour,” Len Cannon, one of the station’s anchors, said.
Radio played a vital role in getting information to residents of the Florida Keys during Hurricane Irma.
“In the Keys, radio was king. It was everything,” Julie Guy, a show host on Entercom’s WLYF, said.
As the hurricane dramatically shifted its course – and tornadoes broke out – broadcasters stayed on the air, ensuring residents had the information they needed to stay safe.
Nio Fernandez, a host on Beasley Media’s 92.5 Maxima, realized there was a need for Spanish language radio coverage of the storm, given the high number of Spanish speakers in Florida. Fernandez stepped up to meet the need and broadcast in Spanish for the next 19 hours straight.
“It went by so fast, it seems like a blur,” Fernandez told Inside Radio. “I just started talking and translating the information we had coming in from the English-language TV station. I began reading the creepers along the bottom of the TV screen, ‘there’s a tornado warning in this county.’ When breaking news alerts would come up on the TV screen, I would translate those. It was just a constant back and forth.”
Left without power, cell service and internet, community members relied on radio not just for information about the storm, but about relief efforts following it.
“All the cell phones were out. The only thing we had left were three landlines left in the Keys,” Rodney Richardson, a Sugarloaf Key resident, said. “The radio told me where I could go pick up water, where’s the FEMA, what’s the status of power.”
In a visit to Houston after Hurricane Harvey, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai praised broadcasters for their work during the storm during a visit to Graham Media’s KPRC-TV.
“People really want information when there’s something that’s threatening them and their families, and broadcasters step into the breach and provide that information,” he said.
More than 2.47 million American jobs depend on broadcasting, and the local broadcast radio and television industry - and the businesses that depend on it - generate $1.17 trillion annually for the nation's economy.