Continuing our spotlight on how radio is preparing for this massive storm staring down the east coast, today we hear from two more managers who are putting everything possible in place to keep their people safe, stay on the air, and provide listeners all the information they will need if the storm hits their community. Sherry Dollar is the Market Manager for the Cumulus cluster in Charleston, SC, and Wayne Mulling is the Regional Market Manager for Community Broadcasters in South Carolina. Here’s how they are preparing…
Radio Ink: What’s the latest on what you are hearing about where this will land? Sherry Dollar: If Hurricane Florence stays the course – still projected to make landfall Thursday late or Friday morning in the Wilmington area. One of the projected things to watch is once it hits – it making a west to southwest turn and sitting, dumping a lot of rain with tropical winds.
Wayne Mulling: From the latest reports that we are seeing today, it looks like it may miss NC altogether now. For days the news sources have been prognosticating that is where it was headed. Now, it looks like it will hit Myrtle Beach head on, and by Saturday the eye of Florence will be right over Florence. Who knows at this point where it will end. The problem is the stalling. If it stalls, it could dump up to 20 inches over the Great Pee Dee Area, and cause severe flooding to the area. Most probably that is what will cause the most major damage.
Radio Ink: If the forecast is accurate now, how will that impact your facilities? Sherry Dollar: If Hurricane Florence stays on its current track – it would appear that Charleston would face the brunt of the event on Saturday and Sunday. After the initial landfall, depending on the model, it could produce a lot of rain and tropical winds Saturday and Sunday in the Low Country. Currently projecting 2-4 feet storm surge. Flood is a big concern. Fortunately, we have systems in place for these scenarios. Our building is already surrounded with sandbags at all entrances. We have storm shutters ready to install to protect our News Talk studio and common area where staff will be reporting from. Our building is projected safe up to a Category 3 Hurricane.
Wayne Mulling: It will most definitely impact our facilities, but we have been preparing with our entire team for the past several days. We have three markets in SC. One in Florence, and the other two in Sumter and Orangeburg. Depending on how long Florence hangs around will be the determining factor of how much it will impact the Sumter market which is closer to Columbia, and depending on how far south it swings will determine how much the Orangeburg market is impacted.
Radio Ink: If you lost power for an extended period of time how will you be able to stay on the air the entire time? Sherry Dollar: We are planning to stay on the air for as long as possible. From a technical standpoint we are fortunate enough to have Regional Director of Engineering/Southwest Justin Tucker here. He has made sure that we have full building generator redundancy with multiple days of fuel. Both Fiber and Coax Internet with LTE cellular backup. Tower sites have generators that will run station at full power for multiple days. We also have emergency cellular-based STL available if we lost one of our RF paths to a tower site. After making sure our teams are safe from harm’s way, our responsibility as broadcasters is to keep the community informed. Engineering works hand in hand with programming to make sure that is possible. Infrastructure is critical and we are lucky to be working for Cumulus Media that’s putting a lot of resources into our technology.
From the programming department, Ops Manager Bill West is working closely with the entire programming team that’s decided to be a part of the “stay” team. Together he and morning show host Charlie James have put together a talent schedule if wall-to-wall coverage through our sister station WTMA is called on. We have secured three hotel rooms and provisions for the “stay” team that will last for several days.
Wayne Mulling: We have an awesome team of Operations Managers and engineers here, that work closely with our programming and production staff as well. We have been fortunate to have great relationships with our local businesses across our footprint on the I-Corridor, and therefore have been prepared since before finding out the direct path of Hurricane Florence. We have a number of both stationary as well as portable generators that are ready to roll, as well as gasoline, and diesel on hand to keep us running. Additionally, the way our stations are set up in SC, we have the ability to feed all of our station frequencies from one central location. so, as long as we have power, we can do that. Additionally, our team is ready to roll to move generators around to the tower sites, to broadcast directly from a tower building if necessary. We have picked five of our most powerful stations to keep on the air at all costs. And that is our game plan for now. In our biggest market, in Florence, we are hooked up with a huge generator here, that has a tank that can keep it running, and us with power, for up to two weeks.
Radio Ink: When will you go 24/7 on any of your stations? Wayne Mulling: When we know for certain the path that Florence will take once she hits land. We have also partnered with our TV partner, WMBF in Myrtle Beach. The plan is, if Florence makes direct landfall on Myrtle Beach, they will come to Florence in our secure building here, and broadcast from one of our extra studios.
Radio Ink: What do you tell your team when something like this approaches? Sherry Dollar: First, safety is priority one for the entire team. I encourage everyone to make the best personal decision for them and their situation. I support them 100%. Secondly, as broadcasters, over-delivering our commitment to the Charleston community is what we do best. Each June we gather the “Crisis Team” before the start of Hurricane season and make sure we have a solid plan. Starting Friday of last week, we started meeting internally to discuss lines of communication and responsibilities. Each department has a role, from engineering, programming, business/traffic office, sales to promotions. Since then, we’ve met multiple times a day to disseminate information to all departments – adjusting as Florence adjusts – it’s all hands in the middle.
Wayne Mulling: We started having discussions early last week about it. Every team member in the state knows who to report to, who to text every day, to let their direct report know where they are, etc. I am a firm believer that the more open communication there is among all employees, that more synchronization and cohesiveness takes place as well.
Radio Ink: How is the community preparing and what are you broadcasting to them to help them prepare? Sherry Dollar: We have two types of listeners tuning in – those that are evacuating and traveling in their vehicles and those that have chosen to stay back and hunker down. It’s imperative that we are giving them continuous information – from evacuation routes, where gas is available, traffic situations, to all the emergency numbers that those that chose to stay behind might need. We have updated lists in all studios. We are encouraging listener engagement through calling in the studio lines with their questions, to interaction with our team on our social media platforms.
We are prepared to go to wall-to-wall coverage if specific things were in place. We would be wall to wall through 1250 WTMA. Broadcasting as one voice – regardless of format –across all 5 of our stations. 1250 WTMA morning show talent Charlie James and Ops Manager Bill West – coordinate a schedule that utilizes ALL of our talent. All talent, broadcasting as one voice across all five stations, making sure we are getting the information out around the clock and in a timely fashion. That is determined by the proximity of the storm, the power of the storm, and how much it will directly impact Charleston. Post reporting sometimes being just as important to put our city back together – we have continued wall to wall 24-48 post-storm to ensure that happens. Again, depending on the situation. We have gone wall to wall and will do it again – pre, during, and post event if necessary.
Wayne Mulling: The community has taken this very seriously. There appears to be no panic. Just everyone doing what needs to be done and working together. We have had community leaders, from the Chief of Police, to the Mayor, etc. on air every day on our Talk Radio station in Florence, and our Talk Radio station in Sumter. Additionally, every time the hospitals, or police, or Chamber of Commerce contact us, we roll out the info to whomever is on the air at the moment and talk about the communicated information live. We have an awesome Operations Director in Florence, Dave Baker. Everything rises and falls on leadership.
Radio Ink: Is the community taking this seriously? Sherry Dollar: I think so. I’ve interacted with some local residents that have been in the Low Country most of their life and this time decided to evacuate. Living in this beautiful vibrant city surrounded by water also comes with the potential storms. People here are very aware of hurricane season and I do believe they are taking it serious and taking the necessary precautions.
Radio Ink: It’s times like this that radio shines, wouldn’t you agree? Sherry Dollar: Absolutely. Radio is a friend. Radio is a lifeline. Radio is familiar. Radio reminds you that you are not alone – that familiar voice on the other side that you listen to daily – that friend that is in the trenches with you during the time of crisis. Radio is “inclusive” not “exclusive.” During a time of crisis, it’s the long-time friend that is comforting, informative, and necessary to maintain some form of normalcy.
Wayne Mulling: I absolutely do agree. And we have worked hard to make ourselves the top source to go to for information when situations like this happen. Through on-air, digital assets, and Social media, all working together to make us the most trusted source in town.