(By Adam Jacobson) Mario Rangel is a man of many hats. He’s known as the Sales Manager for three South Texas Radio-owned FMs and as a morning host on one of these stations in Uvalde, Tex., where he also serves as the chief of the town’s volunteer fire department.
He’s also a parent of a girl who attends Robb Elementary School, and as the academic year neared its conclusion, Rangel found himself in his daughter Madison’s classroom on Tuesday morning, snapping a photo of her as she and her classmates received award certificates and looked forward to summer vacation.
Just hours later, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered the school, walked into a classroom and opened fire. Nineteen students and two teachers would die; Madison was safe, but Rangel would not know this for four hours.
That’s because Rangel sprang to action to do his part in reacting, and then consoling and informing a community thrust into grief, with the South Texas Radio stations the only live and local source of news for Uvalde.
News crews from San Antonio, some 85 miles away, prepared to travel to Uvalde as Rangel focused on his fire department duties while instructing the staff back at the radio stations to do their best to cover the unfolding events. It wasn’t easy — COVID-19 crippled the South Texas Radio trio, claiming half of the full-time on-air jobs. With Rangel unable to go live on the air, station staff used the stations’ social media to deliver what it could on very short notice. This included live coverage of press conferences as late afternoon and early evening approached.
At 5am Wednesday (5/25), South Texas Radio’s KBNU-FM, KVOU-FM and KUVA-FM broke format, joined together, and went with nonstop news and information until noon. The weekly Ulvade Leader-News, pre-printed and closed before the tragedy, was distributed. On its front page: a feature on a member of the Uvalde High School Class of 2022 with the headline “Defeating Obstacles.” While San Antonio TV stations, national news organizations and the San Antonio Express-News all covered the stories, South Texas Radio provided unique and important details only an Uvalde-based operation could deliver.
“Local radio is important,” Rangel said. “We have an understanding of our community that drew people our social media and to our stations today. It all happened so fast. My daughter was in that school. I had to play fire chief, and play a father as well.”
On the South Texas Radio stations, further updates could see Rangel provide more comfort for a town in shock, but one that has come together. “We are a community in mourning, but I see a lot of unity,” he said. “We would never expect this to happen. We’re a little, small community. You never think it would happen in our hometown. As of now we still have parents without confirmation that their son or daughter is deceased.”