Another dangerous hurricane is about to crash into Florida’s Gulf Coast. Hurricane Michael is expected to slam Florida’s panhandle Wednesday and is now a powerful Category 4 storm. We reached out to both iHeartMedia and Cumulus who have clusters of stations along the panhandle to see how both companies were preparing.
iHeartMedia tells Radio Ink they have about 80 stations that could be affected some way by this monster storm. Cumulus has 5 stations in Tallahassee, 5 in Ft. Walton Beach-Destin, 5 in Pensacola and 5 in Mobile. Paul Rogers is President for iHeartMedia in Panama City and Doug Hamand is Vice President Programming Operations for Cumulus.
Radio Ink: What is the latest forecast track and how close to your stations will this storm hit?
Doug Hamand/Cumulus: Looks like it’s still forecast to hit our Ft. Walton Beach and Tallahassee stations Wednesday midday. We believe it will be necessary to begin our live and local wall-to-wall coverage at 5 a.m. (of course dependent on the storms heading and speed).
Radio Ink: How have you been preparing your team, Paul?
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: We began communicating over the weekend via email and daily phone call meetings yesterday and today. We rereleased emergency preparedness plans to full staff in both markets and have kept them updated on both storm projections and benchmark stages in our plan throughout.
Doug Hamand: All Cumulus stations have a very detailed hurricane plan, that we update every year. Last Friday, when we learned the probable path, each market — Mobile,
Pensacola, Ft. Walton Beach, and Tallahassee — all had hurricane meetings. Monday we had follow-up meetings with assignments handed out due to the certainty of the path.
Tuesday, final plans in place, when to start with our reports, at what time do we go live and local with wall-to wall-coverage. Obviously, all stations have gone through their checklists as far as fuel, food, generators etc.
Radio Ink: How have you been preparing your communities?
Doug Hamand/Cumulus: All Cumulus stations are running updated reports on all brands twice an hour. Special reports and latest information is going out from their local EOCs and TV partners and from NOAA. This will increase as the storm approaches.
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: We’re letting them know twice an hour that we will be here for them with wall-to-wall coverage as soon as conditions deteriorate, and will stay with them during and immediately after the storm. We’re referring them to our iHeart StormWatch page on our websites for crucial information. We have regular storm updates from Dr. Peter Ray at FSU and from the Weather Channel for Tallahassee and from TV partner WJHG in Panama City.
Radio Ink: When might you plan 24/7 coverage?
Doug Hamand: All Gulf Coast stations will make the call as to when to go live and local with wall-to-wall coverage. This will be led by the News Talk station in the building
that will feed our other music stations. (Tallahassee — due to no News Talk — our Classic Hits will lead). Right now in Ft. Walton Beach and Tallahassee we’re thinking that may be as early as 5 a.m. Wednesday morning or sooner. Of course, if the eye or severity changes, Pensacola and Mobile are at the ready as well if the storm shifts.
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: Wee hours Wednesday. Storm coverage already began this morning in our morning show with Dr. Shane and Tess on WPAP in Panama City, and on The Morning Show with Preston Scott in Tallahassee — the stations that will be anchoring our cluster-wide coverage in each market.
Radio Ink: Have you experienced this before and are you using that knowledge and experience to help you plan now?
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: Yes. All of our department heads have been through multiple hurricanes and tropical storms, and our Chief Engineers (Charlie Wooten in PC and Randy Moore in Tallahassee) have been through many in their 70-plus years combined experience.
Doug Hamand: I ran a cluster of radio stations in Tampa from 2006 to 2016. We were always prepared and “never” had to pull out our plan. Now that I work from home
for Cumulus in Tampa, I have had to pull it out of the desk drawer three times.