Victims of disasters often turn to social media for updates and comfort, but what happens when Internet service is interrupted (or in poor and rural communities, where it’s inaccessible to start with)? And while those fleeing may have lost access to computers, tablets or phones, one medium that tends to stay available is terrestrial radio.
In my newspaper column published August 27th in the Davis Enterprise, I referenced the important role of local media outlets in communities when disaster strikes. Since then, two more stories have come to my attention. Over Memorial Day weekend, Wimberley, a small community located in the hill country of central Texas, was the epicenter of a record-setting flood. Homes and people were literally swept away with the floodwaters.
Wimberley Valley Radio had only recently been granted a construction permit for a low-power FM station, and wasn’t yet on air to help convey the scope of the flood and provide life-saving information. Acting Station Manager Susan Raybuck writes, “We were just preparing to launch a fundraising campaign for our capital campaign to get on the air by July 2016. In the aftermath of the flood, we worked to get accurate, reliable
information out on Facebook and on our website…but it hurt to know so many might not find [the information] and would feel alone and desperate.”
One of Raybuck’s board members suggested they “just go on the air.” With the help of community radio friends from Austin they borrowed an antenna and transmitter, tested the equipment, and applied for an emergency permit, which they were granted. The station immediately began connecting the displaced with needed information and resources.
Closer to home, those fleeing the massive Valley Fire around Clear Lake, CA this summer found information and solace via KPFZ-FM, 88.1 FM. Founded in 1995 as a low-frequency pirate station, KPFZ earned renown fighting a proposed prison in Lake County. It’s now a legal entity with an appreciative local audience. The station took on-air calls for weeks during and after the fire, from people wanting to hear updates, to those inquiring about missing pets, or offering services for evacuees.
This is not a role that community-based media hope to play, ever. But communities fortunate to have local media should know that aid during crisis is but one of the many roles their grassroots media fulfill—along with serving as hubs for digital literacy and education, hands-on skills building, collaborative planning, low-cost production services, local content, and more.
Our staff has spent the summer-into-early fall evaluating our public access services and planning for some changes, which we’ll be rolling out in the next month. Excited to share some new things. One of those changes is In the Studio. The show’s been reformatted to shorter segments and gotten a “facelift.” Thanks to Diane Dedoshka and Alex Silva-Sadder for that work.
On a personal note, I’d like to say thanks to the DMA community for the support and caring this last month as my mom passed away. I’m very grateful to be surrounded by such kind folks. Hoping you find much to be grateful for in this season of thanks.
--Autumn Labbe-Renault, Executive Director