How ready is your station for a disaster? It’s not “if,” but “when”…

Panama City Tower Hurricane Michael Charlie Wooten
Photo courtesy of Charlie Wooten

Wildfires in California. Hurricanes in Florida. Earthquakes in Alaska. If it seems like the parade of natural disasters isn’t stopping lately, you’re not wrong.

Appearing on the “Top of the Tower Podcast” this week, Charlie Wooten, chief engineer of iHeart Media’s Panama City, Florida cluster, shared his experiences riding out Hurricane Michael in late October. The storm took down the STL tower at the cluster’s studios and wiped out the three-tower array of its AM station, 590 WDIZ.

But thanks to lots of careful planning before the storm, iHeart’s stations were the only commercial radio stations that kept programming going, providing vital information to the public. Underground fiber and iHeart’s national satellite connectivity offered multiple paths from the studio to the various FM transmitter sites, IP telephony provided phone numbers that emergency officials and the public could call with information, and iHeart even had a backup news team at its Tampa studios to take over coverage and provide some relief for the staff in Panama City.

Wooten says iHeart’s national engineering network also provided essential support, with engineers from other markets driving and flying in to serve as extra help when he needed it most.

A staunch believer in emergency preparedness, Wooten says his stations’ survival in the storm shows the importance of having backup plans for everything a broadcaster needs.

“I don’t mean just a backup transmitter. Backup power, backup STL, perhaps a backup studio location, because backups – that’s what kept us going is that we had backups. My main three 100kW FMs never lost carrier,” Wooten said.

Aside from the towers that went down, Wooten’s other big issue turned out to be the generator at the studio, which didn’t come up as soon as he expected it to – even though it had just been tested under load a few days earlier.

“When you check it on Sunday and it cranks and it works and then Wednesday it doesn’t, I’m not sure what you can do to predict that failure or mitigate it.” “We would have had it on a lot quicker but we had to wait until it was safe to go outside.”

Want more insight into disaster recovery and preparation?

In this episode of the “Top of the Tower” podcast, WHGL in Canton, PA gets back on the air after a snowplow clips a guy wire and takes down its tower.

And in, I speak with public radio and TV managers in Alaska about their experiences in last week’s earthquake, which knocked one station out of its studio, potentially for months to come.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Wooten
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1 Comment
  1. Eric Jon Magnuson says

    The Current article just got posted…

    The situation with KONR relaying KSKA was somewhat of a positive coincidence: KSKA was knocked off the air, but could still produce coverage–while KONR stayed on the air, but needed to clean up its studios.

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