When 8 deadly tornadoes touched down in the state of Arkansas, Saga Communications was ready. Jonesboro Market Manager Trey Stafford tells Radio Ink the generators were on standby in case power went down and his team was ready to do what radio does best — inform the community. Here’s our interview with Stafford about what went down.
Radio Ink: How close are the stations to the storm activity?
Trey Stafford: The long – “quad state” tornado originated here in Arkansas. The National Weather Service in Memphis found the initial path and damage just North of the small Weiner, Arkansas community, which is about 20 miles South-Southwest of Jonesboro. The tornado moved Northeast to within a mile of Jonesboro’s Southern city limits causing damage along the way. The tornado passed within a half-mile of our KJBX transmitter site Southeast of Jonesboro, moving on toward Monette, Leachville, and on into the Missouri bootheel. All of this is in our prime coverage area.
The second wave of storms also produced a tornado at Trumann, Arkansas, about 10 miles Southeast of Jonesboro and, again, in our prime coverage area.
Radio Ink: What kind of warning were you all able to get and then get out to the public?
Trey Stafford: We talked about the forecast of severe weather all day, and we were on the air with the first Tornado Warning at 6pm when the storm began rotating in Southern Jackson County. We were wall-to-wall coverage on all six of our radio signals from that moment until almost 11pm Friday night. There was ample warning, which most likely led to the lack of loss of life in our area. We had only two deaths: one in Monette at the nursing home, and one in Leachville at the Dollar General Store.
Radio Ink: Explain to the rest of the country what it’s like in the affected areas?
Trey Stafford: Unless you are affected by the direct path of the tornado, there is little direct affect. Life goes on, and power has been restored to most areas outside of ground zero. For those at ground zero, it’s a different world. Homes are devastated or damaged greatly. People’s lives have stopped while they determine what their next move is, how they will recover. The patients in that nursing home have been moved all over the place, and lost all of their belongings. Their families are scrambling to figure out what will happen with their loved ones, where they will eventually be placed. City leaders are trying to work their emergency plans. Honestly, these three communities have had great leadership and the past few days have not been nearly as chaotic as I would think they would have been.
Radio Ink: How did you cover the tornadoes from the minute you knew they were coming?
Trey Stafford: We flip a switch and deliver simultaneous audio across our six stations once we have a tornado warning in our immediate area. I have done weather all of my 50 year career, so I take the lead. We had four people in-studio. Myself and Mitch Mahan on the air. Phil Jamison and Sarah Stringer providing support, screening calls, handling messaging and social media. We had at least three stringers out in the field and a professional storm chaser all providing active storm coverage and damage reports. As horrible as it was, it was a beautiful illustration of how local radio is supposed to sound.
Radio Ink: How are you covering it now?
Trey Stafford: Monday morning we planned special morning shows. We took away all humor and benchmarks and focused on important information those affected need. Those unaffected don’t mind hearing it – it’s interesting to them. So we aren’t sacrificing anything by concentrating on helping these areas that need it. Mayors, police chiefs, insurance adjusters, utility company leadership…we get them on to get the information out. We sacrificed normal programming this morning from 5-10am to get this stuff out.
Radio Ink: How do the stations plan to help the people affected by the tornadoes?
Trey Stafford: During our storm surveys on Saturday it became clear that many families had lost Christmas. Stuff they had bought, presents on hand. Gone. We saw a need to help Santa replace what had been bought for the kids. So we’re doing a toy drive in conjunction with our television partner (Gray Television KAIT) and a convenience store client with 60 locations. We will collect toys this week, then we have partnered with churches to distribute the toys to the families next week. Operation Santa’s Helper. Promos and liners were on the air by sunrise this morning. We don’t wait around.
Listen to one of those promos HERE.
Contact Trey to congratulate him and his team on doing a fabulous job keeping the community informed at [email protected]