It hasn’t been a front page news story, with the Summer Olympics and the presidential election being so prominent in the news lately. However, at least 13 people are dead and 40,000 homes have been damaged because of flooding in Louisiana. The Red Cross calls it the worst disaster since Hurricane Sandy four years ago and estimates damage so far at $30 million.
Guaranty Media General Manager Gordy Rush and his team have been dealing with the flood and its aftermath since last week. And while the world is obsessing over the Ryan Lochte lie and what Donald Trump will tweet out next, Rush was serving his listeners and the local community as only radio can. Guaranty Media has four stations in Baton Rouge: Talk 107.3 FM WBRP, 104.5 ESPN Baton Rouge WNXX, Eagle 98.1 WDGL, and 100.7 The Tiger WTGE. We spoke to Gordy about the situation in his state.
Radio Ink: When did you know this was going to be a very bad situation?
Gordy Rush: We knew that it was going to be bad on Thursday, August 11. We have a great partnership with the CBS affiliate in our market, WAFB-TV, and their weather team. They identified that this was going to act much like a tropical storm except it would not have originated in the Gulf of Mexico. The atmospheric conditions were such that the rain was going to continue to get fed, yet there was nothing to move the rain from our part of the state.
The record two-day rainfall in some of our market had a 0.1 percent chance of occurring in any year, the equivalent of a “1,000-year rain,” according to the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center, which is a bureau office of the National Weather Service. The rain backed up many of our rivers and lakes, causing two of our four metro parishes to have as much as 80 percent of their homes take flood water. The event was comparable to the flood damage in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
Radio Ink: What was your plan of action to serve the community once you knew this was going to be one of those events where your stations could shine?
Gordy Rush: Our plan of action was to go live and local, which we did beginning Friday. Our talk station, Talk 107.3 FM, was simulcast on our 100,000-watt classic rock station, Eagle 98.1, to take advantage of the signal strength to reach Southeast Louisiana. Our country station, 100.7 the Tiger, which is also 100,000 watts, broadcast around-the-clock coverage from WAFB-TV.
Radio Ink: Tell us specifically what you did.
Gordy Rush: We basically had to go live Saturday with a skeleton crew. Our morning team on Talk 107.3 FM were both out — one was in Mexico on vacation and another was trapped by water. Five other on-air employees were unable to get to work. We funneled all of our on-air resources to staffing Talk 107.3 FM and went with 6am-midnight coverage from Saturday through Tuesday night. This included country and classic rock jocks who had to cover and join the one talk personality who was able to come into work, Clarence Buggs. We had salespeople serve as show producers and support staff. Our social media manager was unable to get to work, so he ran the station’s Twitter and Facebook accounts out of his house, which was a vital part of the operation.
Radio Ink: How did your team perform?
Gordy Rush: Our team was relentless. James Gilmore, our country midday talent, who is
also fighting stage 4 kidney cancer, produced 12 hours of Talk 107.3 programming over the weekend, then went to help another employee clean out his house after the flood water went down. Cade Voisin had to evacuate his house unexpectedly at 3 am on Sunday morning and brought his wife and cat to work. He produced shows on Talk 107.3 FM not knowing whether or not his house had taken water. He found out Tuesday his house did not take water. Our program director for Talk 107.3, Chris Courtney, produced shows for six hours a day despite evacuating his father to his house and cleaning out his father’s and sister’s house, who were both flooded, after his shift.
Finally, in my role as market manager, I did 32 hours of on-air coverage on Talk 107.3 FM between Friday and Tuesday night and produced another four hours as a board operator. It was all hands on deck. I finally went home Wednesday night; I’d slept in my office.
Radio Ink: Were there one or two things that happened where you knew your stations were really taking care of the listeners?
Gordy Rush: We were the lifeline to those that didn’t have electricity or those that had AT&T phones. AT&T’s main facility took water, and all AT&T phones were useless. For the second time in two major events in our state — Hurricane Katrina and the 2016 flood — cell phones were useless.
Interstate 12 was shut down due to flooding and hundreds of people were stuck over a 50-mile stretch, in some cases for over 28 hours. The Louisiana State Police were AT&T customers and I-12 fell under their control. We took calls from those trapped (that didn’t have AT&T) and became a link between the state police and the people that were stuck.
We were in constant contact with the Department of Transportation on road closures and spent hours taking calls helping people get from Point A to Point B.
Finally, we were a lifeline for all public officials to get information out to the public.
Radio Ink: What is the plan moving forward?
Gordy Rush: Help this community recover!
Radio Ink: Is there anything radio managers reading this story can do to help?
Gordy Rush: Remember why your station has its license: to serve your community.
Send a note of congratulations to Gordy and his team for a job well done at [email protected]