We were able to monitor the radio coverage of Hurricane Michael all day long Wednesday on both iHeartRadio and Tune-In, depending on which radio station or company we wanted to listen to, as radio stations went wall-to-wall once the storm approached landfall. Late last night we reached out to three managers to get their assessment on how their teams performed.
We spoke to Kevin Malone, the Market Manager for Community Broadcasters who was in Ft. Walton Beach when the storm hit. Paul Rogers is President for iHeartMedia in Panama City iHeartMedia, which has about 80 stations in the markets affected by Michael. And Doug Hamand is Vice President Programming Operations for Cumulus which owns 5 stations in Tallahassee, 5 in Ft. Walton Beach-Destin, 5 in Pensacola and 5 in Mobile.
Radio Ink: So, how bad was it? Did the forecasters get it correct?
Kevin Malone/Community Broadcasters: When compared to what we expected the storm thankfully was not as bad. Although it was devastating for parts of the panhandleour metro which consists of Okaloosa and Walton County has at this point seen minimal damage that I am aware of. This of course can and likely will change as reports come in and residents return to their homes. That can’t be said for our friends in the panama city beach metro. It appears they sustained massive amounts of damage. The forecasters did an excellent job of predicting both the course and magnitude. As it approached landfall the storm as predicted veered to the east ever so slightly taking it away from my metro. There are areas in the southeast section of Walton County that did experience some damage to structures and flooding. When the forecasters made the late call as to the severity of the storm they were accurate. When it made landfall just southeast of Panama City it was packing powerful C4 winds.
Doug Hamand: I believe they did! Not sure of the damage as we haven’t been out to investigate.
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: Panama City blew up to be stronger than anyone expected, with no time for people to change their minds about evacuation. It’s really bad there. Tallahassee timing was close, but much less of a rain and tornado event than forecast. Trees down all over town and many roads impassable.
Radio Ink: Did people listen to what you told them, to what the authorities told them before the storm hit?
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: In both markets, a surprising number of residents refused to evacuate, despite stern and even alarming warnings from us and the emergency authorities we have put on the air.
Kevin Malone/Community Broadcasters: From our vantage point it appeared the community followed the instructions of local authorities. The roads were empty all day, a couple bridges were closed due to high winds and of course all businesses and schools were and remain closed. All of our non-essential personnel was encouraged to stay home and look after their homes and families.
Doug Hamand: We deeply hope so. Both Ft. Walton Beach and Tallahassee were on in the wee hours of the morning with pertinent information serving their communities.
Radio Ink: Were the stations able to stay on the air the entire time?
Doug Hamand: All of our Ft. Walton Beach stations stayed on the air. All but one in Tallahassee went down, due to public power outages. WBHX Jamin’ 96.1 was and still
is on the air.
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: In Tallahassee, yes, and thank God, as our Panama City stations took a direct hit and were all knocked off the air (WFSY Sunny 98.5 just came back up). We have been able to have original regional coverage from here in Tallahassee and feed it via the iHeartRadio app to all five streams in Panama City, providing vital information there as everyone else was knocked off the air.
Kevin Malone/Community Broadcasters: Our chief engineer Jeff Garrett did a superb pre planning job in advance of the storm. We never lost power at the transmitter or studios. All four Community Broadcasters stations stayed on air throughout the storm both entertaining and informing. We did go wall-to-wall on all 4 for a few hours at 1130 central.
Radio Ink: How did your team perform?
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: Couldn’t be more proud! Two 4-man teams in Tallahassee have rotated in six-hour shifts since midnight Tuesday night, anchored by Preston Scott, Jason Taylor, David Allen, Ryan Carter and veteran Capital newsman Rick Flagg. Since both Jason and Preston regularly air in both Tallahassee and Panama City, they know the market well and have been taking calls and providing emergency information regionally for every county from east of Tallahassee to west of Panama City. Our engineers — Charlie Wooten in Panama City and Randy Moore in Tallahassee — have been working over 24 hours non-stop at this point. The coverage from Dr. Shane and Tess and our crew in Panama City as the storm approached was breathtaking, riveting and frankly frightening. Our entire company was listening via the iHeart app. I hope we archived it somewhere. They didn’t get a chance to continue the coverage after getting knocked out, but I know theirs will be a critical voice tomorrow and during the long recovery that lies ahead.
Kevin Malone/Community Broadcasters: Fortunately several of our dedicated staff have previous storm reporting experience. I think the local community would agree that we did as good a job as possible. They tracked down and interviewed every influential person from police chiefs, chamber presidents, mayors, City managers, even listeners and the national hurricane center. Many slept at the station on Tuesday night and some are remaining this evening.
Doug Hamand: They did amazing! At about 11:30 a.m. Eastern, both markets went wall-to-wall coverage with their local staffs and their local TV partners. Their information
was top-notch. They all had city officials on the air with them, EOC information, CNN had reporters in both markets as well that we took advantage of. Chris Kellogg (OM)
and his Ft. Walton Beach team, as well as John Baker (OM) and his Tallahassee team, really stepped up and went above and beyond. Our Vice President of Engineering
Yancy McNair was stationed at FTWB and then made his way to Tallahassee to help us get stations back on the air. Truly a FORCE (Focused, Responsible, Collaborated
and Empowered) Cumulus effort.
Radio Ink: How do you/the stations plan to help the community after the storm? This is really when radio excels isn’t it?
Doug Hamand: Absolutely! This is where radio shines and once we catch our breath and see exactly what the needs are we’ll hit the pavement and help in any way we can.
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: We will be working on a response. Panama City is going to need a LOT of help, as are the storm-surge coastal communities to our south, who were devastated. And yes, this is absolutely what Radio does best!
Kevin Malone/Community Broadcasters: Of course we’re gonna support our communities in any and every way necessary. We have calls scheduled for today, Thursday with authorities to determine the high priority needs and our communities can count on us to help and deliver.
Radio Ink: Anything surprise you?
Paul Rogers/iHeartMedia: The inability to reach our own people (in Panama City), and how concerning that was. It was also stunning to see iHeart’s concern and response to our local needs. Getting emails from Bob Pittman and Rich Bressler, asking how the company could help, was humbling and very reassuring.
Kevin Malone/Community Broadcasters: Yes, that so few people could make such a large impact. As you might expect we operate with a fairly lean staffs but you’d never have known that if you were a listener. Proud of the team and the selfless effort they put forth.
Doug Hamand: Not really, this is what we do. We entertain, we inform, and we are there in the best and worst of times. Very proud of our teams on the Gulf Coast. Now
our prayers are extended to our Cumulus families inland in Georgia and the Carolinas.