Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Radio and Hurricanes

Over the more than 30 years I've been a DXer, one of the times I have taken advantage of throughout the years to DX that rare station is during a hurricane. The most recent event, Hurricane (Super Storm) Sandy, hit an area with a wealth of full-time, 50,000-watt AM stations. I was able to monitor the hurricane through New York 50 kW stations WABC 770 and WCBS 880, as well as KYW 1060 in Philadelphia, WBZ 1030 in Boston and KDKA 1020 in Pittsburgh. Of the stations I heard, KYW and WCBS had continuous local coverage of the hurricane as it slammed into the New Jersey coast. WABC used the ABC Radio Network for its coverage, including reports from hard-hit southern New Jersey, while KDKA was simulcasting the coverage from the CBS television network. WBZ did a call-in show with reports from areas in the path of this dangerous storm. All of these areas, at the time I heard these stations on October 29, were either hit hard by Sandy, or about to be hit. I thought WCBS did the best job of coverage, even mentioning the simulcast on WWFS 102.7 (Fresh 102.7) during the emergency, and carrying the news briefing from New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, at 10:00 p.m. local time (0200 UTC). 

I also monitored the Hurricane Watch Net on 14.325 MHz during the emergency. This is where I got firsthand reports from Amateur Radio operators in the area. One operator was reporting an outage in St. Albans, VT, while another in Springfield, MA was operating on emergency power. This is usually the best place for firsthand information on the hurricanes as they're approaching landfall, as well as for damage reports after the fact.

In recent years, I have not been hearing very many AM stations on day power during hurricane emergencies. Early in my DX career, I was able to hear a number of daytime-only AM stations on the air at night to relay hurricane information to the listeners. During a 1983 hurricane, I remember pulling in KANI 1500 Wharton, TX (I usually get KSTP St. Paul, MN on that frequency). When I got the verification from KANI, the verification signer noted that the reason why I received this little 500-watt station so far north is due to skip conditions from the hurricane. In 1985, I pulled in WASG 1140 Atmore, AL and WBHY 840 Mobile, AL as Hurricane Elena slammed into the Gulf Coast. In 1989, when Hurricane Hugo slammed into the South Carolina coast, WSB 750 Atlanta, GA (I lived 25 miles from downtown Atlanta at the time) provided continuous reports for the affected areas, along with WBT 1110 in Charlotte, NC (which got hit hard by Hugo). Two months after I returned to Hazelwood from the Atlanta area, I pulled in WINZ 940 Miami, FL during Hurricane Andrew. That station was on 50 kW non-directional during the hurricane, which inflicted major damage on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Even when Hurricane Floyd hit the North and South Carolina coast in 1999, I was able to monitor WBT 1110 for information. Contrast that with Hurricane Katrina, where the main station for coverage was WWL 870 New Orleans, instead of hearing other stations on day power. Another station I remember being on day power and pattern during a hurricane emergency was WPDQ 690 Jacksonville, FL (now WOKV). I remember hearing this one on regular schedule as WAPE. I'm thinking that many people in the affected areas are depending more and more on a powerful AM station, such as WWL, WBT or even the New York powerhouses than having local AM stations going to day power or pattern to provide information to their local audiences.

This is yet another effect of the changes that have taken place in the radio industry since 1996.