With communications crippled by Hurricane Katrina, radio and TV stations in the New Orleans area are trying to follow an audience that is dispersed but still hungry for information about home.
Thirteen radio stations owned by Clear Channel Communications and Entercom have banded together to run a single broadcast out of Baton Rouge, La., with personalities from powerful New Orleans news station WWL-AM taking the lead.
The New Orleans television station WDSU-TV, an NBC affiliate, has signed a deal with Paxson Communications to have its signal carried through next Tuesday on the Pax television station in Houston, which has absorbed many evacuees from the hurricane-stricken city.
Meanwhile, CBS affiliate WWL-TV is having its signal carried on Yahoo and on several digital cable outlets across the country.
“We know that the people who are evacuated want to know about what is happening to their home and we’re communicating that in what can certainly be described as creative distribution,” said Terry Mackin, executive vice president of Hearst-Argyle Television, WDSU’s corporate owner.
Banding togetherThe ad-hoc United Radio Broadcasting Group took shape the day after the hurricane struck when Gabe Hobbs, senior vice president of programming at Clear Channel, called Ken Beck, his counterpart at Entercom. That’s sort of like the managers of the Yankees and Red Sox working together.
Using personalities from all 13 stations, they have broadcast a continuous stream of news updates. They take phone calls from listeners who want to vent, and try to help locate missing people.
“It’s a perspective that you’ll hear nowhere else,” Hobbs said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing a generator and fuel to help keep the station going, he said.
The parking lot of the Baton Rouge office where the station is being transmitted is littered with RVs, where some radio station employees are living with their evacuated families.
An audio stream of the broadcast is available on www.stormaid.com, or on links provided by other Clear Channel or Entercom stations. The signal has also been picked up by broadcasters in Mobile, Ala.; Beaumont, Tex.; and Lake Charles and Jefferson in Louisiana.
It will continue “as long as it takes,” Hobbs said. “We feel like we’re still weeks away from not doing it.”
A lifeline for displaced peopleThe transmitter and offices of WDSU-TV were damaged by flooding but aren’t a total loss, said Tom Campo, spokesman for Hearst-Argyle Television. “Getting the station up and running is just a matter of time,” he said. “However, the audience is another question.”
WDSU-TV programming began airing late last week to the few people in New Orleans able to see it through the Pax station there. This week, the station has agreed with Pax to expand the reach into Houston, to show the station on the Time Warner cable system in Jackson, Miss., and is working on deal for Baton Rouge, Mackin said.
Upon the evacuation of WWL-TV’s studios in the French Quarter, the station began broadcasting out of facilities at Louisiana State University. Portions of WWL’s coverage is being seen on public television stations in the state, and on commercial stations also owned by Belo Corp. in Dallas, Houston and Austin, Tex.
The Yahoo deal was also significant; Rick Keilty, Belo’s senior vice president, said he heard from someone who was trying to use a computer in the Jackson, Miss., library and all the terminals around him had people watching WWL-TV.
“Obviously there are a lot of displaced people out there and it’s been a lifeline,” Keilty said.